Book Review: Rethinking Library Technical Services: Redefining our Profession for the Future

Rethinking Library Technical Services: Redefining our Profession for the Future. Ed. by Mary Beth Weber. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015. 206 p. $55.00 softcover (ISBN: 978-1-4422-3863-3).

The last ten to twenty years has evidenced transformational changes for technical services in libraries across the spectrum (academic, public and special). Keeping up with these various changes provides a challenge for librarians, directors and administrators. Determining where technical services is going, and what technologies, work flows, and job descriptions for library personnel should be adopted, is a challenge in a time of constant change.

Recent works on technical services, such as Bradford Lee Eden’s Innovative Redesigns and Reorganizations of Library Technical Services (2004) and More Innovative Redesigns and Reorganizations of Library Technical Services (2008), have produced extensive quantitative research and described the many changes now occurring (with some rather negative forecasts as to the demise of technical services). Editor Mary Beth Weber of Rethinking Library Technical Services has collected the personal experiences and analyses of technical services librarians in nine chapters from ten academic, public, special technical services librarians, directors and supervisors.

Changes to technical services have been many and varied, depending on its configuration in a library. Cataloging, acquisitions, ordering and processing services, serials and databases, and electronic resources generally, make up today’s sections in technical services. Weber defines technical services as a previously stable set of services that obtain, organize and make accessible information resources in support of library public services. New job descriptions point to new skills where technical services is changing “as we face an uncertain future and constant change” (xxvii). She notes that technical services have evolved rapidly with the arrival of the internet; jobs are reconfigured and made more electronic-based; shrinking library budgets have adversely affected technical service budgets; cataloging departments seemingly lost their value as an essential function that is the foundation of libraries; new roles and creative challenges demand new skills. An example of a new role would be Crosetto’s description of the management of electronic resources through electronic resource managers (ERM) which provide a means to reign in the unwieldy scope of electronic journals, databases and related resources, and provoked changes in work flow. She noted: “Once in place, the ERM and the substantial increase in the number of resources contained therein drove the need to revise responsibilities in library positions . . . established new positions dedicated to electronic resources” (٧٥).

Alternatively, Moore and Weinheimer argue that even with growing number of digital resources, technical services retains ongoing and necessary functions to bring digital, analog, monograph and print resources together for patron access. These older resource types will not disappear, and what will be a mix of resource formats will demand creative solutions from technical services. They observe that “resources will continue to need to be selected, collected, acquired, and cataloged, and there will be a continued need for authority control, even more in the future than right now” (15).

Cataloging has undergone many changes during this period. Hall-Ellis describes how bibliographic description (cataloging and classification) has been transformed with the implementation of web-based electronic resources and the concurrent transformations in standards and proposed linkage schemes to the semantic web. Catalogers must now include in various metadata schemas in their skill sets. She traces these changes and details the new demands on catalogers to adapt to the new non-MARC based formats, summarizing major developments in cataloging descriptive standards that have moved from AACR2 to RDA (preparing for an interlinked digital future) and changes from MARC to a still experimental BIBFRAME. Weiss offers an essay addressing a variety of previously mentioned issues such as e-books, patron drive acquisitions, metadata, BIBFRAME, and the recent debates in cataloging and the future of bibliographic control in a web-based and interlinked universe of information. She identifies avenues of professional development including knowing cataloging standards, developing programming and data competencies, and enhancing communication skills.

Weber points to the importance of vendor relationships and the how librarians can participate in the creation of standards, guidelines, codes of practices through creative conversations by librarians, thereby bringing the best library services to users. Luesebrink addresses acquisitions departments, where academic libraries are moving from a bureaucratic to a market- and user-driven model, changing from print-centric to an electronic-centric, user-centric resource model.

Changes demand new skills. Boyd and Gould provide a useful guide to the new skills and competencies needed in the technical services of the future. Creativity, initiative, communication and advocacy are positive attributes for those currently in or considering technical services librarianship. Weber focuses on negotiation for services and pricing are skills that need to be developed by librarians. Luesebrink outlines the skills needed in 21st century acquisitions librarianship: moving from simple clerical skills to fund-accounting competencies; developing relations with vendors; IT skills include database management and competencies in ILS modules; and better communication skills. Vellucci focuses upon the new field of research data as a potential area for technical service librarian contributions. She notes that these librarians are best situated to become research data librarians who can support the research projects of faculty. Her suggestions focus on models of new skills development, examples of research data/librarian projects, such as starting with student and faculty working in small research projects.

Advocacy is essential to the future of technical services. Weber points out the need for strong advocacy by technical services librarians beginning with one’s own colleagues, administrators, and users. As technical services librarian needs to demonstrate the value of their work, Weber promotes advocacy of technical services by the librarians themselves in working with the Association for Library Collections & Technical Services (ALCTS). She advises that “a first step is to promote their work so that others fully understand what they contribute to the library overall and the implication of what would happen should their work cease to be provided” (25).

The book ends with Weber’s survey of thirteen questions and answers from six technical services librarians of varying backgrounds. The answers are variable and some are provocative, giving an insightful mosaic of views and choices providing further helpful data from the profession.

Rethinking Library Technical Services offers positive outlooks originating from the technical services profession itself. It provides an extensive and detailed picture of the current states of affairs and complex functions found in the many aspects of current technical services departments, but best of all it provides positive suggestions, and hopeful advocacy for the profession rather than dismal forecasts of doom, or continuing the folly of policies that blindly propose cutbacks and downsizing. The book could see a few improvements: a more detailed index; linked data and BIBFRAME could use more coverage; serials, databases and discovery services need more attention. The focus has been in large academic university libraries, rather than small academic and public libraries. However, this book is useful for librarians in all types of libraries, and especially for students in library and information science considering a career in technical services.—William Shakalis (, Worcester State University, Worcester, Massachusetts


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