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Find more Notes from the Field
Earlier this year, the New York Public Library (NYPL) and Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) merged their technical-services departments, creating BookOps, which coordinates the selection-to-shelf activities of over 1.5 million new items and electronic resources annually for 150 library locations across Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island. Christopher Platt of NYPL and Charlene Rue of BPL took the time to talk to me about themselves and the transition to BookOps.
Would you each share a little about yourself and your positions?
Christopher: I am privileged to have worked in and around libraries my entire adult life. I started my public-library career at NYPL, switched to Baker & Taylor’s Collection Management unit, and later came back to NYC to oversee selection for Queens Library System. I returned to NYPL just in time to help combine its branch and research technical-services departments into Collections and Circulation Operations and move to its new Library Service Center. After rising to director of that unit I am now, with my colleagues Charlene Rue and Sal Magaddino, so excited to launch BookOps, the technical-services collaboration project of Brooklyn Public Library and NYPL.
I started my library career at Columbia University’s Butler Library as a page. I eventually found my way to the ILL department, where the librarian recommended me for library school. Upon graduation, I accepted a job at the Brooklyn Public Library. BPL gave me boundless opportunities for experimentation and growth. I worked across a variety of departments: Young Adult, ILL, Access Services, and eventually Collection Development. In the Collection Development department, I managed the selection staff and eventually became the director of Collection Development. I had the good fortune to work with Christopher Platt as a colleague and friend through the years, which makes the BookOps collaboration between BPL and NYPL most meaningful.
How do you think the areas of collection development and technical services have changed recently?
Christopher: Everything has become faster and more transparent. Titles are promoted by publishers sooner so we order them earlier; books that used to take 2 weeks to process now take 24 hours, interbranch shipments that took 12 hours to sort now take 4. Selectors can now market new titles in real-time via Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook. All of these are wonderful developments but require a great deal of coordinated effort underneath.
Charlene: I agree with Christopher about the speed at which things can now be accomplished. The technology has moved from paper orders to electronic ordering and invoicing. Still, we can just barely keep pace with patron demand. The explosion of the digital book and downloadable media and devices have enabled librarians and users to do so much more and have increased expectations for all of us. Social media has increased our ability to communicate and share with our users in a more meaningful way.
Can you give us can overview of BookOps?
Christopher: BookOps is the shared technical services collaboration of our two library systems. It encompasses centralized selection, acquisitions, cataloging, processing, and distribution for Brooklyn and NYPL, including the regularly published materials entering the research collections at NYPL. We have 183 staff, most of whom are based at the Library Services Center in Long Island City. In addition to the new material, we also sort and distribute all the materials moving between branches of either system with an automated sorter and a fleet of trucks that are out in the four boroughs both day and night.
Merging departments across two large institutions sounds like a lot of effort! Can you give us a glimpse into the process?
Christopher: We began the assessment in late 2011 as part of a larger request by the city government to look at ways to work together and improve patron services. What followed was a deep assessment of every step that each system took in the selection-to-shelf process—and we determined the two library systems would save up to a combined $3.5 million if we shared that process! What was unique for us was that we learned more about our own system as well as our partner’s. It was a very collaborative endeavor, and while we had always had a good, cooperative relationship, this process made that relationship rock solid. The amount of trust and collaboration forged between the two libraries during the creation of BookOps is unprecedented.
Charlene: I like to think that it takes “4 c’s”: communication, collaboration, coordination, and consistency. These things were really essential to building a sustainable customer experience and partnership that benefits the entire city.
What advice would you give to libraries thinking of merging departments or services across libraries?
Christopher: As you assess, keep three questions in mind: Does it serve the patron better? Does it save money? Does it make practical sense? BPL and NYPL can say yes to all three, in part because we are geographically adjacent, we serve similar constituencies, and, joined, we reach capacity to operate at the scale needed to realize savings. In other scenarios, these questions may be best answered by applying best practices or cooperating in parts of the process without actually merging operations.
Sounds like a great transition. Switching gears to collections, are there any trends you can report on as far as your collections go?
Charlene: Best-sellers always; paranormal romance is always hot. We continue to see high circulation in children’s and young adult fiction. Manga is strong for the teens; Wimpy Kid is still circulating heavily at both NYPL and BPL. I’m seeing less circulation in large-print and audiobooks on CD because there are more digital options available for use now.
What kinds of things do you find your collections are in need of most right now?
Charlene: More downloadable content in a variety of world languages would be great.
While BookOps is certainly the talk of the town, is there anything else new to report out of New York City?
Christopher: Collaboration is more than a buzzword in our libraries these days. Beyond BookOps, all of New York City’s public libraries are collaborating on projects as small as the Uni Project pop-up library on Governor’s Island and as large as the newly expanded MyLibraryNYC, which puts public-library materials into classrooms across the city, in collaboration (there’s that word again!) with the Department of Education.
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