Library Profile: Technical Services Department

Author: Susan Good

Tech Services staff newsletter
Pictured above (L to R): Joe Reimers, Beth Given, Lori Dutka, Laurel Cochrane, Joe Thomas, Barb Ritty, Dave Thornton, Sue Hamilton. Not pictured: Sandra Klein, Deb Fox, Amy Shirk

People often assume that a Library consists of only one department referred to as Public Service, but professionally known as “Circulation,” and that books magically appear on the shelves. However, Circulation is only one of four interdependent departments within the Kresge Law Library which also includes the Research, Technical, and Technology Services departments. Technical Services (or “Tech Services”) is the largest and least known among these to the patron. The primary and ultimate purpose of all departments in the law library is service, and together they serve the Notre Dame Law School community of faculty, students, and researchers, as well as the local legal community and ordinary citizens. At a fundamental level, the Circulation and Research departments facilitate the delivery of materials to the faculty and patrons, whereas Tech Services facilitates getting the materials for the collection and preparing them for delivery, in whatever format that may be. However, whenever a patron searches for a title in the catalog, they are also tapping into the world of Tech Services.

Within our Technical Services department, there are eleven faculty and staff members whose responsibilities fall under three major functions: Acquisitions, Cataloging and Database Maintenance, and Collection Maintenance. This infrastructure is hidden behind the scenes where the library’s resources, information, and materials are selected, acquired, purchased, organized, and made available on the shelves or online. providing access to the library’s information is the primary purpose behind cataloging a book, getting electronic resources into our catalog and making them available on a website, as well as procuring appropriate government documents. All of this work flow is behind the scenes, but is directed toward assisting faculty and students in their work. “If we are doing our jobs well,” Sandra Klein says, “everything we do should be invisible to the patrons.”

Metaphorically speaking, Tech Services has been described by those within the department as: a car (“you might not be interested in what’s under the hood, as long as it runs”); as football linemen (“who are not the stars of the play, but set it up for success”); as a back bone (“giving structure to the organization of materials”); as a baseball grounds crew (“getting everything ready for the game to begin”); and as yeast (“without it nothing is going to happen”). Amy Shirk describes the department as “a wheel, where everyone is a spoke. We are all connected within the department. We make everything roll. Materials would not exist in the library without us and consequently people would not have access to the information they need.”

Dedication to service and a passion for detail are the common characteristics possessed by everyone who works in the department even though their personalities are as varied as their former work experiences and backgrounds. Five of the eleven have Master’s Degrees in Library Science; the three professional librarians: Joe Thomas, Laurel Cochrane, and Sandra Klein, and two support staff: Amy Shirk and Beth Given. There are three licensed teachers: Lori Dutka, Sue Hamilton, and Barb Ritty. Deb Fox and Dave Thornton both came from the business sector; from ranking and real estate respectively, and Joe Reimers came to the library from an information technology background. Only two people focused solely on a career in library science from the beginning. This diversity in experience and academic backgrounds within the department brings a multitude of talents, creativity, and passion to the complexities of the work involved.

Joe Thomas is the Head of Technical Services; he oversees the department, its staff and functions. He describes the ultimate goal of the department and the library as a whole, as providing support for the law school in its scholarship and curriculum, thus encouraging full engagement in the research mission of the University. Tech Services is completely interdependent with the other library departments, “[I]f we don’t do our work properly, then the people who are doing Reference will have a much harder time doing their work, and the people in Access Services would have a hard time getting the materials physically to the people who need them. We are also very dependent on Dan Manier’s IT group because all of our work is completely technology based. We provide the information infrastructure to the library and they provide the electronic infrastructure for our needs. We can’t get along without them and I hope they can’t get along without us.” Joe further describes Tech Services as “function and availability: that is what our job is. We buy it, we get it here, we organize it, and we make it available.” He explains, “[I]n many ways, Tech Services is responsible for deciding what is appropriate for our patrons and what legal resources in particular are needed and then going through the proper channels … so that people can have access to it.” Describing his role as Department Head, Joe states, “it is really a nice position for me to be in because I get to look at more of the big picture and rely on other people to do the details which I think is really the hard work.” Tech Services has a “long established staff and great institutional memory about how things work best,” which Joe credits with creating a “pretty well oiled machine. … Like other departments in the library it is largely the people who make the difference.” Joe considers himself “lucky to have colleagues both here and at other universities who are very great to work with, very knowledgeable, and provide a lot of support directly or indirectly. [We also] have colleagues in the Hesburgh library who have been very cooperative and are a great support!”

The Acquisitions Unit
Sandra Klein, the Acquisitions and Collection Development Librarian, is responsible for selecting, acquiring and processing all the publications and information received in either paper or electronic format to be included in the library collection. Sandra, along with the Research Librarians, makes the majority of decisions regarding what will or will not be purchased. The faculty also makes requests through a Research Librarian liaison or directly to Sandra and the Acquisitions staff when they want a particular title for their subject area or want to put something on reserve. For the past 4 or 5 years, decisions regarding the acquisition of information in electronic or paper format have been based on budgetary considerations, as well as the publishers’ decisions to make information available solely in electronic format when it was previously available in hard copy. For example, the library used to get journals in print that are now only electronically available through HeinOnline.

Deb Fox, the Acquisitions Assistant, places orders for items requested by the faculty and approved by Sandra, who identifies a fund to be applied to a given purchase. Versatility and a sense of ownership come with this responsibility. Deb acquires books directly from publishers or vendors, as well as from other sources such as and Better World Books. She states, “It’s pretty much up to me how I get them or from where. I need to make sure that whatever the faculty and Acquisitions Librarian want gets ordered and arrives here for the collection.” In this procurement phase, cost effective procedures and the use of discounts are looked at with interest, tapping into Deb’s former life in the banking industry.

Lori Dutka, the Accounting Assistant, is responsible for accounts payable, organizing and processing the invoices and sending payment for subscriptions. Lori notes that the number of titles ordered in print decreased in recent years but the number of electronic titles has increased considerably. However, this switch from paper to electronic access did not have a negative impact on the library as expenditures were kept within budget.

The Cataloging & Database Maintenance, Special Projects, and Collection Maintenance Units
Laurel Cochrane, the Cataloging and Data Base Maintenance Librarian, oversees the creation and maintenance of the library’s database, a catalog of bibliographic, order, and check-in records. It is her responsibility to run all the information entered into the system to capture errors and then correct them in order to maintain accurate and accessible data. Laurel oversees the cataloging support staff as well as the cataloging process which involves describing the materials received into a controlled format (MARC) and inputting that information into our database in accord with cataloging standards.Most of the primary cataloging activity is provided by an outside vendor and records are downloaded into our database. However, individual records are also created in-house, including archival records, records for theses, and more. The patron, however, never sees the complex records with which the cataloguer or copy cataloguer works, providing numerous ways in which a record may be indexed and thus searchable for the patron. In the online catalog, patrons only see a simplified, public view of these records.

One major project Laurel is currently involved with is planning the move of books back into the renovated library. “Now that we are back into Biolchini Hall, [we are] bringing items out of storage and putting them in the stacks. A major issue is that we have large sets of materials that are currently housed in two to six different locations. It is going to be a challenge to get those all back.”

Barb Ritty, Cataloging Coordinator and Unit Supervisor, is responsible for making sure that the material received by the library is catalogued accurately and made available to the public in a timely manner. An eye for detail is paramount here, for if parts of a call number are in error or missing, even a period or decimal in the wrong place within a call number or record means the patron may never be able to find the book.

Amy Shirk, the Electronics Resource Assistant, is responsible for having the law reviews and journals bound in addition to adding and maintaining electronic resource titles in the library’s catalog and making sure that the links are live and functioning.

Dave Thornton, the Copy Cataloguing Assistant, works with rush orders from faculty and students but his primary responsibility is searching OCLC (the Online Computer Library Center) for bibliographic records and selecting those which most accurately describe books received. Specific information from the book in-hand has to be input into the record updating it with exact information regarding the title, publisher, imprint date, pagination, etc. Location designations for call numbers and other pertinent information are also added as needed.

Beth Given, the Collection Maintenance Assistant, assists in database maintenance, making sure that the information found in the check-in records are correct, and that location codes and other information is complete. She is responsible for loose-leafing, shelving, and serials check-in as well as supervising the majority of student workers in the department who assist her in these tasks.

Susan Hamilton, the Government Documents and Special Projects Assistant, processes government documents and carries out special projects. One such project involves translating from Spanish to English ninety-four DVD’s of victims’ testimonies from the Dirty Wars in Peru given at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Public Hearings. Other projects have included database maintenance, shifting collections, and processing human rights materials.

Joe Reimers, the Information Technology Specialist, provides and supports all the electronic needs in the department and in other areas as well, such as setting up new computers. He says, “I am more or less the gatekeeper to our electronic resources. When Acquisitions acquires an electronic resource and it is put into the catalog, it is my job to make sure that it gets through to the proxy servers so that the patron can have access to it.” Joe notes that electronic resource maintenance is oftentimes very problematic because the updates for what is available are constantly changing.

An Aristotle quote reads, ”Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” It is not by magic that a book or information is available and accessible to the patron, but rather through the consistently applied excellence in expertise, dedication to detail, and a desire to serve as exhibited by all who work in the Technical Services department here at the Kresge Law Library.

-Susan Hamilton