Price Science Commons Conduct Mass Collection Review

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, PSC staff and faculty correct lingering catalog conflicts

stacks of books on a table in the science library

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has brought stress, turmoil and frustrations for many, some have found ways to turn this obstacle into an opportunity.

Manager of Math and Science Libraries Lara Nesselroad, along with all Price Science Commons (PSC) staff and librarians, found an opportunity within the pandemic and nationwide shutdown to finish up a tedious and complicated, yet necessary, review of the PSC’s print monographic and serials collection.

Back when the PSC had expanded and remodeled in 2013-2016, staff conducted a review of all recorded materials in order to “make sure the collection PSC had was the most useful, removing duplicates where they weren’t being used, and removing old content that is maybe no longer relevant,” said Nesselroad.

However, there was a key missing aspect to this project: comparing records with actual content on the shelves. This part of the review process took extensive time and dedication, which the nationwide shutdown, as a result of the global pandemic, allowed for.

“That’s what we wanted to do now: a full collection inventory in which we would discover if there were things that were lost, things we never cataloged, things that were present but not where they belonged, and so on,” said Nesselroad.

With 88,118 items recorded on the PSC shelves, it took the work of all PSC staff and librarians, on-site student workers, with help on some aspects from Collection Services Staff, Access Services Staff, and mail room staff to record each item on the shelf, cross-reference it with the catalog, and decide what to do with problem items.  

After student workers had carefully combed through each and every item, just under 6,000 discrepancies between the catalog and the physical shelves were reported.

Nesselroad expected the discrepancies within the catalog to reflect items that had failed to be withdrawn during the first round of review in 2013-2016 or items that were simply missing, for the most part. However, the review process presented an entirely new problem.

“I expected, having worked in this branch for twenty years and being fairly familiar with its content, that we might run into several hundred or maybe a thousand problems,” said Nesselroad. “Instead, it turned out that there were…nearly 6,000 problems, and also that most of them were in a whole other category, which was: this book is here on the shelf, and yet we do not have a record of it on this list.”

With nearly 65-70% of the discrepancies stemming from this unexpected category, PSC staff then sought out subject librarians to assess the unaccounted-for items. Nonetheless, this review process brought surprise to many working on the project.

“[If] I were a betting person, I would have expected an ‘issues’ rate of maybe 1%, which would have been about 880 books,” said Nesselroad. “6,000 [issues] was not at all what I was expecting.”

Nearly 6,000 resolved (or at least identified) issues and countless hours later, the end result of this review process should yield benefit for not just PSC staff and librarians, but also UO students looking to check out materials from PSC shelves.

“Our hope is that when someone wants one of our items, the process of fetching it from the shelf is perfectly predictable: it is exactly where it should be, its call number legible and correctly filed, [and] on a shelf that it’s easy to pull items from because they are not overstuffed,” said Nesselroad. “For that to be true, both the physical arrangement and the catalog records need to be right, and so this project should mean that they will be.”

Going forward, PSC staff and faculty hope that this project will restore reliability, predictability, precise organization, and accessibility, all of which are key aspects of a good collection or library in general.

- by Kenzie Hudler, Social Media Writing Assistant, UO Libraries