Skip to content

Taking Stock of Things: Shelf Reading in Storage

March 8, 2022

Here in Library Storage Land, we’re welcoming well over 100,000 new items into our stacks as part of a renovation at the main library. This move should be finished within the year, but that doesn’t mean the work is (all hail the long tail). After such a big move, I’d like to take stock of what we have in our facility by undertaking a large shelf reading or inventory auditing project.

Like any other active collection, library storage requires collection maintenance; it just looks different from reading call numbers and putting them in order. In our case, we call shelf reading “auditing,” which refers to the process of scanning each item barcode in a tray into our software, checking our actual inventory against what our software says we have. It doesn’t matter what order the books in, it only matters that the book is sitting in the tray its barcode has been assigned to. It’s a way to identify whether there are any gaps in our trays–either due to a missing book, a circulating book, or simply a tray we didn’t fill up all the way when shelving it. It’s also way to see whether a book has been reshelved in the wrong tray or whether a book somehow ended up in a tray without being entered into our software. With a collection of over 3 million items–most of which circulate–in an environment where items are sorted by size instead of call number, one incorrectly shelved book can mean that book being virtually lost until we stumble across it again. Performing regular audits is one such way to prevent such an end result.

Photo by Tiger Lily from Pexels

Another key aspect of shelf reading in storage that makes it different from on-site shelf reading is the physicality of the facility. Not only do we have more of an inventory to look through than a typical on-site library, but most of our books are too high for a person to reach. Anyone who wants to participate in an auditing process needs to be certified in operating an order picker, which can potentially rule out the use of temporary employees and student workers. Instead of pulling out books lined up side by side, we have to pull each tray (which are shelved two or three deep) from the shelf and scan each book. This means more time and physical exertion is required. So, keeping all that in mind, such a project can take a very long time to complete, which is why it’s prudent to be intentional about it.

I am currently working on prioritizing individual shelves using the following criteria: how long ago were these items accessioned, which shelves had problem items when we made the switch from a homebrew inventory management software to CaiaSoft, and which shelves are we most often pulling from to fulfill requests. Talking to our operations manager, who has a great deal of institutional knowledge, I can also identify shelves that are already known to be error-prone areas. I will have to work with our technical services department and the rest of my team to develop a process for fixing any errors that the auditing may reveal. After these shelves are audited and fixed, our facility may be able to transition out of project mode to the practice of auditing randomly generated shelves as routine maintenance.

When our inventory is accurate and responsive, we can provide quicker and better service to our patrons. Auditing in storage, however, requires much more involvement than typical shelf reading, and therefore requires special considerations. I hope to be able to write another post a year or two from now letting you all know how it went!

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: