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Problem resolution queue. Photograph by Rick Fitzgerald, 2023

Problem Resolution: One of the Key Collections Management Actions

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The General Collections comprises of over 22 million books and bound periodicals. It is easy to imagine that there might be some problems here and there with the bibliographic records. The Collections Management Division (CMD) has two staff members – Tina Johnson and Rick Fitzgerald – dedicated to investigating and correcting any of these problems. Here is what they shared with me:


  1. How would you describe what you do?

Each item in the General Collections (be it a copy of a book or a bound periodical volume) should have a corresponding accurate and identifiable record in the online catalog so that the particular item is “known to be present,” is trackable, and may be requested by a patron. As collections items have been received over the last 200+ years there are many reasons why those records either do not exist or have errors. It is the role of the Cataloging Specialist/Problem Resolution Officers to investigate errors and correct them.


  1. What does problem resolution mean in the world of CMD?

Problem resolution covers a wide array of activities in the world of the CMD. It can mean resolving why an Automated Call Slip request (the Library of Congress’s online request system) was not properly routed, to resolving a discrepancy between a book in the general collection and its related bibliographic records in the online catalog. It requires a knowledge of the relationships between a physical item, its bibliographic information, Automated Call Slip (ACS), and the Library Archival System (LAS) – which is the tracking system for materials stored in our offsite storage facilities. All of these activities, plus many more, make more of the general collections readily available for the use of our patrons.


  1. What are some of the tasks you do in problem resolution?

No two days are ever the same. Some days involve being glued to the computer resolving cataloging issues that were identified from a number of workstreams in and out of CMD. For instance, during our retrospective inventory, problems such as location discrepancy, copy number discrepancy, no online bibliographic record, multiple online bibliographic records; through materials delivered to the charge stations, problems such as call number discrepancy, bound withs (these are physical items that are represented by more than one bibliographic record in the online catalog); from other staff in the Library, problems such as added volumes for materials stored offsite, call number changes for material stored offsite or in fixed location, removing something from offsite storage or fixed location so it can now be placed in a reading room’s reference collection. Other days are spent going to all three LOC buildings on Capitol Hill, playing detective: this may entail going to the book stacks in both the Adams and Jefferson buildings trying to locate a particular item, or checking out the card shelflist located in the Adams and Madison buildings in order to verify the bibliographic information for a particular item.

Problem resolution queue. Photograph by Rick Fitzgerald, 2023


  1. What are some examples of the more complicated/interesting problems you’ve had to solve?

Over time, the problems start to blend together into one continuous stream, but here are a couple of examples. A couple of weeks ago a Greek language title was flagged for resolution as a title discrepancy during CMD’s retrospective inventory. This led to a comparison of a shelflist card that had been incorrectly transcribed nearly forty years ago into the online catalog record. For these forty years the correct title did not appear in our catalog and a user looking for that title would not find it. The title of a single chapter appeared before the main title on the shelflist card (see photo below), and had been transcribed as the title in the online catalog. With a bit of patience, the record was fixed and Greek translation was learned in the process!

Another example came during vetting serial titles for transferring to an offsite location. A serial title that was identified as a candidate for offsite transfer had started in 1897, but subsequently went through several mergers, splits, and title changes. As it turns out, the first record in our system had the title starting in 1945, so nearly fifty years of Library-held content not accounted for in the catalog. This required a fair amount of retrospective cataloging work in order to fix.

Problem resolution example. Photograph by Rick Fitzgerald, 2023


  1. How does problem resolution relate to preservation and CMD activities in general?

Anytime you are working with the General Collections, regardless of whether you are a CMD staff member filling a request or reshelving material, a Collections Officer dealing with items from the collection in need of some type of repair, or a contractor processing material, problems will arise and in order to accurately represent the item in the online catalog and make them available for use by a Library patron, the problem will need to be resolved. Each time a problem is resolved, or an item is accurately represented in the online catalog, this is one more item that is accessible to our patrons.


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Comments (4)

  1. This used to be my job! I thought it was the best one I ever had, and was very glad to be part of the Collections Management team!!!!

    • Indeed Jim. Many, many problems to resolve always. You did a great job!

  2. Always amazed how quickly materials that were n.o.s. are located. I’m amazed to find out how small the team is!

  3. Greetings, Thank you so much for such an exhaustive information about the problems and issues your Problem Resolution Team is encountering and how the proper solutions are found. My understanding is that your team might be different from a team of contractors who specifically works on NAP returns. Is that correct? While I do understand that the scenarios can be different, I am also wondering if there are any efforts aimed at prevention or reduction of those instances. It would be interesting to know if similar efforts are applied to increase quality and reduce NAP returns which turns out to be quite an expensive endeavor for the Library.

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