TWIN FALLS — In a downstairs room at the back of the Twin Falls Public Library, Kathleen Lambert sits behind a cart of precariously stacked books. Some of the books, freshly bought, need to be processed and added to the library’s collection. Others, sorted into piles of broken spines and torn pages, await repairs.
As the Technical Services Department head, Lambert is accustomed to this scene.
From start to finish, Lambert oversees a book throughout its life at the library. Every new material goes through her department for processing before being put on the shelves. Damaged books are flagged by librarians and returned to technical services for repair. If it can’t be mended, Lambert makes the call to withdraw the item from the library’s collection.
“Technical services is where it all starts,” library Director Tara Bartley said. “Our main service here is books and materials that people can come in and take out, and it all starts with them.”
As simple as it sounds, processing a book can be a time-consuming ordeal with numerous steps involved.
“It would surprise people how much work it actually requires to get one item out into the hands of the public,” Lambert said.
First, a book needs to be obtained, either through a donation or by purchasing the material through a book vendor. Most of the donated items are older, so almost all of the newer material is purchased by Lambert’s department.
Once the book arrives, it is cataloged into their system, double and triple checked to make sure it is the correct item and then processed. Processing a book can take anywhere from a day to a week depending on the current workload status of the department.
“Every material or every item that’s in this library has to come through this department to get processed,” Lambert said.
With more than 250,000 items in the library collection, processing them is no small feat. The department processes between 500 and 1,000 books every month.
“Patrons see the barest minimum,” Lambert said. “It’s like the tip of an iceberg. There’s so much below the surface that you don’t see having to be done to each item.”
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Each book requires a specific barcode and label, as well as call numbers so patrons can find them on the shelves. Security tags need to be added to ensure the books are not stolen from the library. Once all of that is complete, the books are fitted by hand with vinyl covers to protect them from the wear and tear from the public.
Still, Lambert’s best efforts can’t prevent the inevitable damage that will occur to many of the items in their collection.
“They’re high-circulation materials and most materials are not made for high use,” she said.
Many of the books with torn pages or broken spines can be fixed on-site.
More than 700 items in technical services await repairs. The length of each repair depends on the extent of the damage.
Lambert says one of the most common misconceptions about her job is the notion that library employees get to spend their days reading.
As enjoyable as that would be, it’s far from the truth. Lambert sees all the new items as they enter the library and she can make a mental note to check them out later like any other patron, but she doesn’t get to read them before they hit the shelves.
“We don’t get to sit around and read,” she said. “We are busy getting materials ready for other people.”
The ability to check out popular books at almost no cost to the consumer is a big appeal to many patrons. It’s what draws an average of 800 people to the library each day, Bartley said.
Being able to get your hands on new materials, Lambert says, wouldn’t be as simple as it is right now if technical services didn’t exist.
“Without our department, we would just have an old, outdated collection with very few, if any, new materials coming in to refresh it,” she said.
People would have to wait longer to check out copies of their favorite books if the library had them at all. Other departments wouldn’t be able to pick up the slack, causing many tasks such as the proper cataloging of materials and the purchasing of new books to go unfulfilled.