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veritas Harvard University Library Notes, For Harvard Library Staff, Number 1325 May 2005



Front row: Minna Scholten, Pamela Madsen, Joanna Marsden.

Middle row: Lisa Mullen, Anne Britton, Caitlin Connely, Sarah Flanigan.

Back row: Andrew Novis, Achilles Vatrikas, Cary Donahue, Dale Hunter, Daniel Groves.

Not pictured: Roshni Gohil, Alexandra Greenberg, Shenika McAlister, and Christina Schiffler.


Harvard University Library Notes / March 2006 / No. 1330

HCL's Smart Barcoding Project Under Way in Widener

Since mid-fall, a new group of HCL staff has more or less taken up residence in the Widener stacks. Often seen in pairs, clipboards in hand, they're part of the HCL Smart Barcoding Project, now nearly in full swing. The basic idea of the Smart Barcoding Project, expected to take about one year, is to put barcode labels on all books that still need them in the Widener, Cabot, and Fine Arts libraries, as well as in the Harvard Theatre Collection. This will give the units a better idea of their inventory and help track the circulation of materials. The project will span the entire one-year timeline in Widener, with other units also to be completed in that time. While it might sound straightforward, it's a huge task, requiring painstaking attention to detail.

Widener, for example, owns six million books, half shelved in Widener and Pusey, the other half in the Harvard Depository. The majority actually have barcode labels already because Widener began using them when it adopted the Library of Congress (LC) classification system in the late 1970s—which means many books have been labeled one by one over the years as they were borrowed or sent to HD. Nonetheless, recent best estimates indicate that a third of Widener's shelved books, about one million, still lack barcodes. The time had come for a systematic approach that would complete the organization.

The Smart Barcoding Project library assistants are trained to read both the Library of Congress and Widener classification systems and to put barcode labels on 12,000 to 20,000 books a week. As of mid-December, they had barcoded approximately 93,650 items but had actually reviewed more than 147,500. That's partly because of the "smart" descriptor in smart barcode. The smart barcode labels carry more record and tracking information than the older "dumb" ones—yes, they're really called that—already in play, so staff members have to be absolutely sure they're labeling the correct book.

"The biggest challenge is accuracy," says Project Manager Anne Britton. "The barcoding staff are trained to match bibliographic data on the barcode label to the unique book in the stacks. Sometimes the bibliographic data doesn't quite match the book in hand. In those cases, barcoders have been trained to proceed cautiously—only barcode labels that precisely match the bibliographic data are put on books. Thus, many books are reviewed, but exact matches get smart barcodes."

"We find a lot of interesting material that hasn't been looked at in 50 years," says staffer Joanna Marsden. She notes that the smart-barcoding staff are also coming across uncataloged books and pamphlets on the shelves, items once cataloged that presumably slipped through the cracks when the digital system came into being.

Although Widener Access Services has decided to deal with most of these found books later, they're examining the thinner, vulnerable pamphlets now. It's no small matter, though. The materials that aren't listed in HOLLIS must be reviewed by Collection Development and only then sent to catalogers if they're to be kept—not to mention the preservation issues that also crop up.

It's just one more way, on top of the million-plus new smart barcode labels, in which the Widener, Cabot, Fine Arts, and Theatre Collection stacks will be better organized come next fall.


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