A star to steer her by : how our books (etc.) get to the library shelves

A star to steer her by: how our books (etc.) get to the library shelves

This is a piece that was originally written by the then Bibliographical Services Librarian, Chris, for the page on our catalogue that we use to make our readers more aware of our activities (and was written with the readers in mind).  It explains a little about the Service Level Agreement that we have with our libraries and how it affects the way we work.

Every year we place about 13,500 orders and catalogue about 22,000 items for the City Libraries.  These range from literary prizewinners to downloadable audiobooks, from OECD statistics to eighteenth-century broadside ballads recounting the last moments of criminals at Tyburn, from the latest blockbuster DVDs to programmes for pre-First World War airshows.  It’s quite a mix, but all in a day’s work when our job is to see that everyone who uses our lending libraries, the City Business Library and the historical reference libraries at Guildhall and the London Metropolitan Archives has access to what they need.

There’s a bit more to it than popping to the local supermarket for a trolleyful of bestsellers or even logging into an online bookseller to fill a virtual basket (though we do that sometimes).  Orders are placed with several suppliers and we also receive many donations.  Just as obtaining the stock is sometimes straightforward and sometimes complicated, so with cataloguing.  We are able to download many catalogue records with minimal intervention, but other items have to be catalogued locally and sometimes the research can take a while (when, exactly, was that malefactor hanged?).  The key thing is that you should be able to find what you want, whatever it is, when you look at our online catalogue, whether you are sitting in one of our libraries or at home anywhere in the world.

So, how do we manage?  One of our most important tools is our Service Level Agreement (SLA) with our “internal customers”, the libraries.  This sets out the standards to which we work and covers a wide range of activities.  Much of the focus, however, inevitably falls on the parts of the SLA relating to the speed with which we process orders and, subsequently, the incoming stock.  There are separate standards for urgent orders (mostly requests from our readers) and routine ones.  Urgent orders are placed within 24 hours of receipt in BSS.  When the stock arrives it is catalogued and sent out to the library in no more than three working days.  For ordinary stock the standards are respectively 5 working days for placing orders and 15 working days to have the stock ready and sent out to the libraries.  Of course we are always trying to do better than this, but as well as giving us targets to aim for, the SLA does also allow us to manage workflows to take account of all the complications mentioned earlier, while still meeting acceptable standards agreed with our libraries.

And why do we do it?  Well, of course we do it for our library users.  Although the SLA is an agreement between BSS and the libraries, the point of it is to make sure that our customers can find what they need in as timely a manner as possible.