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THE SMART BARCODING STAFF
Front row: Minna Scholten, Pamela Madsen,
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
"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
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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