Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Basic library procedures: Processing library materials

“The librarian’s mission should be, not like up to now, a mere handling of the book as an object, but rather a know how (mis au point) of the book as a vital function.”

Mission del Bibliotecario Jose Ortega Y Gasset (1883-1955

Purpose of processing materials 

Before items can be shelved and then circulated from the library, they need to be physically prepared. Library materials go through processing so that they can be located, used, and returned to the library from which they originated. Each item in the library must go through physical processing including the applicant of:
  • accession numbers (manual systems)
  • circulation cards (manual systems)
  • pockets (manual systems)
  • plastic covers, laminates, or cases to protect materials
  • barcodes (automated systems)
  • detection strips or slips
  • property stamps
Processing can either be done in-house (i.e. in the library) or purchased through a vendor. 

Purchased versus in-house processing 
Processing can be a tedious, time consuming, and labour intensive procedure. In an effort to save time and money, many large libraries have centralized technical services or entered into cooperative agreements with other libraries. In large libraries or systems, the centralized processing unit will handle acquisitions, cataloguing, and preparation of materials for different libraries. All sizes and types of libraries have turned to outside vendors and have contracted processing services. Most book jobbers (i.e. companies that sell large volumes of books to libraries such as Baker and Taylor, Midwest, or Coutts) offer processing services. As well, there are now a number of companies that offer complete cataloguing and processing services (e.g. ISM). 

As part of the contract with a jobber or commercial cataloguing service, the library would complete a profile sheet that identifies exactly what they would like to have done to items before they are delivered to the library (see Appendix 1 for an example of a profile form used by United Library Services Inc.). Each processing product would be priced out (see Appendix 1 for a sample list of charges for processing). The library may choose to have materials partially or fully processed. 

If a vendor cannot meet particular processing specifications or, if a library cannot afford to contract processing services they will opt to process materials in-house. Even if funds are available, there are usually materials that end up being processed in-house. For example, if materials are donated to the library, it may not be worth the cost to send them for outside processing. As well, if a library is moving from a manual to an automated circulation system and/or purchasing a theft detection system, extra funds may not be available to add barcodes and/or detection strips. 

Steps involved with processing materials. 
There is some variation in the steps involved with processing materials depending on whether a library is using a manual or automated circulation system. Basic physical preparation includes: 
1. Inspection 
The material should be examined for any physical defects such as (e.g. damaged covers or folded pages). If a book or other item purchased by the library is defective, it can usually be returned. However, it will not usually be accepted for return by the vendor if it has gone through processing. A new book should be carefully and properly opened in order to prevent spine damage: 
1. Press five to ten pages against the back cover of the book; 2. Press five to ten pages against the front cover of the book. Repeat until all pages have been pressed open. 
Occasionally, pages have not been completely cut during the publication process and they need to be cut. Use a long, narrow, thin knife, with a rounded edge. Insert the knife between the pages, holding the blade as nearly parallel to the fold as possible. Cut by pushing the knife outward rather than sawing open the fold.

2. Identification 
Most libraries label their materials with some form of permanent identification that gives the name of the library and its address. Identification is done to discourage theft and to ensure that lost library materials are returned to the library from which they originated. As well, identification is relatively inexpensive means of publicizing the library.

Ownership stamps are usually applied in all of the following places in books:
a) Along the top, front or bottom edge of the book: 
Stamps in these locations are easily seen and cannot be erased or torn out easily. Very thin books cannot be stamped along the edge, In order to stamp the book on the edge, it must beheld tightly closed. Because the stamp must be narrow enough to fit between the covers, it usually only states the name of the library. Any type of rubber stamp can be used and these can be custom ordered from any office supply store.

b) Title page, inside front cover, or inside back cover:
Again, these can be done with a rubber stamp. Because this is a large area, the stamp used on these locations includes the name and address of the library. Instead of a stamp, some libraries will l purchase special book plates that are pasted on the inside front cover. A book plate can be designed so that additional information might be typed onto it (e.g. “This book was donated by the Smith family in memory of their son, John.” Book plates can also be generated in-house on a laser printer.

c) Pockets: 
In libraries with manual circulation systems, the pocket is usually stamped with the name and address of the library. Pockets can also be ordered with preprinted name and address information. 

3. Assignment of accession numbers 
Each item in the library should be uniquely distinguished from every other item. This helps in the process of identifying whether a given copy of an item has been returned and in inventorying the collection. Although the first copy of an item has a unique author and title, additional copies are not unique in this regard. One way of handling this problem is to assign a copy number to the record for the item (e.g. c.2). This eliminates the need for an accession number. Materials can also be distinguished from one another by assigning a unique number to each item. This process varies depending on whether the library uses a manual or automated circulation system. 

a) Accession numbers in manual circulation systems 
In libraries with manual systems, the accession number is usually stamped (or written) on the
  • Circulation card and/or pocket – if it is done on both, ensure that the correct card is placed in the correct item
  • Shelf list card – this is done for inventorying purposes
  • Title page – helps to identify the book if the pocket and circulation card go missing
Accession numbers need to be unique sequences of numbers. To ensure that the numbers are not duplicated, most libraries use an accession numbering machine. The machines are available through library supply vendors. The numbering machine is a stamp that can be set to provide unique incremental sequences of numbers. By pressing a lever, you can adjust the machine to indicate the number of times that the same accession number will be repeated. The machine is then stamped on each place where the number will appear. For the next item, the machine will automatically advance to the next sequential number. 

Many libraries use the first 2 digits to indicate the year that an item was added to the collection and the remainder of the digits as inventory control counts for the year (e.g. 98-305, 98-306, 98-307). Other libraries simply take note of the accession number at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year. This gives them the total number of processed items. Libraries that do not use accession numbers based on the date will also often stamp the date on the new item. This helps indicate when the item was acquired and may be useful in weeding and inventory processes. 

b) Accession numbers in automated circulation systems
In libraries with automated circulation systems, barcodes provide a unique accession number for an item. Remember that there are two types of barcode – Codabar and Code 39. In both barcodes there are unique information in the bar code for a particular item. In the Codabar, the eight digits following the first five, represented the item. In the Code 39 barcode, the last seven digits are unique to a particular item. 

Barcode labels are either “smart” or “dumb”. Smart barcodes are specific to an item. Each item in the collection is assigned a unique barcode number by the automated system, usually during the cataloguing or acquisitions process. During barcode label production, the computer program associates the appropriate call number and copy number with each barcode. When the barcode labels are printed, the call number and title of each item is include on the barcode label. The barcodes are usually printed in call number order for ease of application during processing.

Dumb barcode labels can be used on any item. The barcode number is not associated with a particular item prior to affixing it to the item. During processing, staff must electronically link the barcode number to the item record (catalogue record) . The barcode label is then affixed to the item. Usually a dumb barcode label will have an eye-readable number printed below the barcode. The library may also choose to have the library name printed above the barcode as a means of identification.

Smart or dumb barcode labels are put on materials in the following locations:
  • Inside the front or back cover – this protects the barcode label from being damaged but adds a step at the circulation desk because the book has to be opened.
  • On the front or back cover – this makes it easier to circulate the item because the book does not have to be opened but the label may be subject to damage from patron use.
  • On both – this gives you more options but increases your processing costs.
Whatever location is chosen, it should be consistently used so that circulation staff do not have to look for the barcode when they are checking items out. Barcode labels are applied at different times during processing including:
  • When they are received
  • During cataloguing
  • When the call number is being added
Libraries can either purchase barcode labels or create labels in-house using a laser printer. Purchased labels are usually photocomposed, a computer controlled graphic process which forms original images within photosensitive paper. Photocomposed labels are very durable and will handle the abrasion of repeated scannings very well. Laser printer produced labels are less durable because the barcode is printed only on the surface. Repeated scannings, dirt, abrasion and grease will damage the label and so it should be protected with a clear plastic label protector.

4. Preparation of circulation cards, pockets, and due date slips 
a) Circulation cards 
Circulation cards are a key component of manual circulation systems where they are used to identify who has borrowed material and when the material should be returned to the library. Circulation cards should have the following information on them: call number, author, title, accession number, and copy number. Some libraries may also add the price as reference information in case the item is lost or damaged by the patron. The lower section of the circulation card is used when the item is checked out in order to record borrower information and due date. Circulation cards come in a wide variety of colours, paper weights, and sizes (3” x 5” is very common).

b) Pockets 
The pocket holds the circulation card and sometimes information about when the item should be returned. Pockets range from narrow strips to heavy paper. As noted earlier, pockets can be printed with the library’s name and address. The pocket can also have a date due information area on it. This eliminates the need for a date due slip. Pockets can be attached by:
  • Using glue or a glue gun
  • Dampening a pregummed backing
  • Peeling off the backing if the pocket is pre-glued and pressure sensitive
The best place to place the pocket is on the front flyleaf because:
  • During circulation the book will not have to be turned over
  • The book will lay flat and stay open for due date stamping
  • A firm backing is available to support the pressure of a due date stamp
They should always be placed in the same location so that circulation staff do not have to waste time looking for them. Exceptions to the location can be made for items that may have critical information located on the flyleaf. 

The pocket should be attached neatly and parallel to the paper edges. It is a good idea to leave about 1” between the spine and the pocket in the event that mending must be done to the book in the future. 

c) Date due slips 
Date due slips are placed in library materials as a courtesy aid to the patron. They can be used by the patron to determine when the material should be returned to the library. Pockets may be pre-printed with a grid for date due information. Other options are “slips” that are attached above or below the pocket. These can be purchased from library supply companies and come ungummed, pregummed, or pressure-sensitive. Even libraries with automated circulation systems may opt to insert a date due slip in order to ensure the patrons are aware of the length of time they can keep the material. Many automated circulation systems would automatically print list of items that the patron borrowed along with the due dates. This would be handed to the patron at the end of the check-out procedure. However, if the patron loses this information and there is no date due slip in the item, they will likely have to call the library to find out when material is due. A bookmark prestamped with due d ate inserted into each book eliminates the need for a pocket and still provides a date reference to the patron. 

5. Preparation of call numbers 
Call number labels identify the location of library materials. Cal l number labels would include the call number of the item and other special indicators about where the book would be located in the library (e .g. audiovisual area, reference, reserve, etc.) In the past, an electric stylus was used to hand letter the call numbers in a contrasting color directly onto the spine of a cloth-bound book. This system required excellent lettering skills and could be frustrating because the stylus needed time to heat up and could cause finger burns. Shellac was used for coating the lettering so that it would be durable. This was dabbed or sprayed on and required a work area with good ventilation. 

A more practical solution is a label that can be adhered to library materials. Information for an adhesive label can be typed on a typewriter, printed as part of a cataloguing software program, or purchased as part of a cataloguing service. Labels come in a wide variety of sizes and materials. Some have a special coating to prevent smudging. Some labels require the use of a special iron that permanently adheres and bond them to materials. Labels can be purchased in sheets that fit printers (or typewriters) or as part of a set that includes labels for the circulation card, pocket, and call number label. 

Three types of pressure sensitive labels are widely used: cloth, foil back, and paper.
a) Cloth labels 
Cloth labels last longer than paper and foil back labels because of their high tear resistance. They are more resistant to water and conform to curved book spines better than paper labels. 

b) Foil back labels 
Foil back labels are more pliable for better adhesion to an irregular or curved surface. They are highly recommended for use on fabric, cloth, and shiny surfaced books. The foil back prevents the adhesive from penetrating through the label. Adhesives can discolor the label, attack the print, and cause it to fade. Foil labels are opaque and therefore you cannot see the underlying information. They are excellent for placement over existing spine labels or barcode labels. However, they are more expensive than cloth or paper labels. 

c) Paper labels 
Paper labels are less expensive than cloth or foil back labels and are a good all-purpose label. They are smudge resistant and conform well to book covers and other paper surfaces. 

Decisions about the type of label to use should be based on budget, usage, and other processing steps that are employed. For example, if each book is covered by a plastic jacket cover, foil back labels will be an unnecessary expense. Children’s books may justify the expense of foil back labels because they are heavily circulated.Once call numbers have been printed or typed onto a label, they should be placed on the item. Ideally, labels should all be placed at the same height. This aids the user in visually browsing the collection and gives materials an orderly, attractive appearance. For narrow-spine books (or other irregularly shaped library materials such as compact discs), the label can be placed on the front. It is a good idea to protect the label with tape, or better still, a clear label protector. 

Besides the basic call number label, some libraries also use location and genre labels. Books are labeled with a mystery, romance, westerns, science fiction, or other genre indicator. These can be useful in a library where the patrons prefer to browse for materials and are looking for particular types of fiction books. Some libraries do not use call numbers at all for paperback fiction, only a genre label. This works well if all of the different genres are shelved together in separate sections (e.g. mysteries). Other libraries use a call number label and identify the more popular genres (eg. Mysteries, westerns, romance). This permits paperbacks to be combined with hardbacks or to be shelved on special racks. 

Regardless of the system used, each label adds another step to processing and additional costs for labour and materials. 

6. Attachment of a protective covering
Protective coverings are used to protect book jackets, prolong the life of materials, increase the attractiveness of materials, and protect call number labels. Clear mylar covers can be purchased as part of the processing contracted from a jobber or commercial cataloguing service. Libraries can also apply covers in-house and have a variety of choices including:
  • single sheets precut to fit various sizes of books
  • rolls of various sizes that are cut in-house
  • adjustable book jacket covers that are perforated and can be adjusted to fit a variety of sizes
  • rolls of heat-fusible laminate
  • clear vinyl laminates
  • clear vinyl book tape
The cost of these materials vary. The thicker the material, the more it costs. A minimum weight of 1.5 mm is recommended because it offers durability and strength. Precut materials will be more expensive than perforated materials. Covers will also cost more if they come with pressure-sensitive adhesive tabs to fasten them to materials. 

Variations in processing 
The steps involved in processing varies in each library. The processing steps will certainly vary by type of library and within a library different types of material may be processed in different ways. For example, a public library would probably reinforce fiction paperbacks with vinyl book tape and protect book jackets with a vinyl laminate. Academic libraries do not usually retain jackets because they do not need eye-catching covers to attract readers. The purpose of the collection is research not entertainment. 

Some libraries have found that automating their circulation system results in revised and streamlined processing procedures. As well, time saving materials such as pressure sensitive labels and book jackets can simplify processing. In order to make processing as efficient in terms of time and money, libraries need to regularly evaluate their processing methods. 

When all processing steps are completed, materials are interfiled on a book cart, separated by department or area, and set out for shelving. 

Additional references 
Fox, Beth Wheeler. Behind the scenes at the dynamic library : simplifying essential operations. Chicago : American Library Association, 1990.
Kascus, Marie A., Hale , Dawn. Outsourcing cataloguing, authority work, and physical processing : a checklist of considerations. Chicago : American Library Association, 1995.
Appendix 1: Sample profile form and sample price list from United Library Services Inc. available online at
Appendix 2: Protecting library materials during processing available online at


Unknown said...

Excellent and very helpful description for a library professional.Thanks.

Unknown said...

whoa! thank u for such a nice articles, this is make my library works more easier and more professional

Unknown said...

Very useful information. Thank you

Unknown said...

Very useful information. Thank you

A Mystery Wrapped in Love said...

Your instructions are clear and concise. Thank you. Rosanna

Unknown said...

It is very useful information for the library professionals.

AC said...

Hi. Just wanted to tell you that your blog is helping me a lot to work. I work in a library but I never studied Library Sciences, so I am learning everything by myself in the internet. So far, everything under control.

Unknown said...

Very informative. Pls describe to us how to classify and catalogue special library

ekeeda001 said...

Thank You for the sharing the information with us , it helped me to understand strength of materials basics