Sierra Technical Services

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Technical Services are the behind-the-scenes activities that a library undertakes to process library materials loaned for the public.  These activities include ordering, classifying and cataloging, preparing materials for the library shelves, inventory, and weeding.  Other technical services include the activities related to acquiring donated materials, and repairing and preservation of library materials.To access training guides, links and news please use the staff login and navigate to Technical Services.


Library collections house a wide variety of materials on many different topics and in many different formats. The challenge in making these things available for use by library patrons is letting those patrons know what is in the library collection. This is the reason for having a library catalog.

Cataloging is the process followed by librarians to create the bibliographic record. To perform catalog work means to record details about a published item, such as, title, author, publisher, date, physical description, subject headings,edition, and call number. A set of standardized rules for cataloging and transcribing information about library materials governs the cataloging process. An Assessment evaluation process has been designed by NWLS to fine-tune the comprehension of cataloging procedures. Catalog librarians assign subject headings to assist the public in finding materials on a particular subject when an author or title is not known. Libraries strive for consistency in subject heading use so that all items with the same subject will be listed together in the library catalog. To assist library customers in locating materials within the library, catalogers assign call numbers which are printed on labels that are attached to individual materials.

Physical card catalogs of old have been replaced by newer electronic versions. A variety of computer software packages are available to produce catalog records. These computer programs help libraries develop online catalogs for local use, and in addition make their catalogs available to remote users via the World Wide Web. In order for the computer to interpret the information found in a cataloging record, libraries follow a standard professional practice called MARC record cataloging. MARC is an acronym for Machine-Readable Cataloging Record. The official rules and documentation for cataloging in MARC format is compiled by the Library of Congress.

When library materials are cataloged in a careful and complete manner, access is provided for the library patrons and staff to all sources of information on a particular topic, by a particular author, or in a particular format, that the library possesses. The better the access, the more use the collection receives, and the more satisfied the patron is in his or her search for information in the library.

To learn more about the national resources used pertaining to library cataloging, visit the cataloging links section. To find out what educational opportunities exist related to library cataloging, contact Mike Sheehan at NWLS.

Centralized Cataloging

Centralized cataloging is defined as a cooperative arrangement for the preparation of bibliographic records by one agency to which all cooperating agencies may have access. Advantages include high quality professional work,increased processing, decrease in unit costs, and improved dissemination.

Cooperative Cataloging

Cooperative cataloging means that the separate libraries are responsible for adding and maintaining their own MARC cataloging records in a shared database. NWLS and the system’s member libraries follow a cooperative method for cataloging.

Library catalogers tend to consult three sources of information when they catalog library materials:
1.    a rule book defining national code standards,
2.    a subject heading guidebook, and
3.    a materials classification system.

The rule book of national code standards is used so that library records across Wisconsin and around the world are consistent. This makes it possible to share library records and combine online catalogs in a state, in the country, or worldwide.  Records can be shared electronically because libraries use a consistent machine-readable electronic format.  A subject heading guidebook provides a unique, authorized list of headings that catalogers will add to catalog records so patrons can get results more quickly and precisely when they perform searches on the library catalog.  Classification schemes allow libraries to physically arrange books and other library materials together by topic which in turn helps patrons find the physical materials.

Union Catalogs

Regional Library Catalog

Merlin is the regional union library catalog used for the collections of the majority of NWLS member libraries. The specific process of cooperative cataloging is quite efficient in itself. Libraries are first required to check the Merlin database for a match. The Merlin catalog contains over 390,000 titles so that we believe 90% of our records needing cataloging can be found right in our database.

If a record is found in Merlin, the cataloger simply needs to choose a pre-defined holdings template, add their barcode and call number information, and save the record. This is what we refer to as a “match and attach” principle (nationally this is known as “copy cataloging”) where the whole idea is to lessen the amount of time and effort it takes to perform cataloging.

If a record is not found in Merlin, the cataloger is to then search for the title from one or more reliable databases available in a record utility list (available within the software), and again use a template to add their holdings information if found. We believe this covers about another 9% of records needing cataloging. We have estimated that 99% of this cataloging activity is copy cataloging and 1% is original cataloging (usually done by NWLS staff).

The integrity of the Merlin catalog is maintained through several measures:
1.    all participating libraries agree to follow a cooperative method of cataloging;
2.    the Consortium will establish certain minimum level requirements for new records as well as establish bibliographic standards specialized for our system that do not deviate from national standards; and
3.    NWLS staff will perform routine clean-up and de-duping of retrospective materials as deemed necessary.
To view the Merlin Cataloging Manual please use the staff login to access Technical Services training resources.

State Library Catalog

WISCAT is the Wisconsin statewide union library catalog. At $200 a year, WISCAT offers online holdings maintenance and interlibrary loan functionality. WISCAT is another tool used in cooperative cataloging. Cooperative cataloging with WISCAT involves library staff locating individual records in WISCAT, entering a call number or modifying a current holding, or deleting a holding, and saving the add or change directly in the WISCAT catalog. Any records not found on WISCAT can be imported from outside sources.

WISCAT staff members provide training/technical support to local libraries. To go to the WISCAT cataloging manual, visit the WISCAT cataloging guide.
Technical Services Software
Member libraries networked through the Merlin ILS have access to the following software programs designed specifically to maintain an efficient Technical Services workflow:
1.    Acquisitions program
2.    Cataloging program



Sierra Cataloging is used to create, edit, and delete bibliographic (descriptive), item (holdings), and authority (authorized search headings) records.  Library staff can perform simple and complex data maintenance, load records from outside sources, manage materials of all kinds, and create lists and statistical reports on collections.

Acquisitions Software

Sierra Acquisitions offers library staff a graphical user interface to enter and send orders, claim or cancel orders, receive ordered items, process and post invoices, review and order recommended titles, generate and print accounting reports, adjust funds, maintain fund and vendor information, and create statistical reports on vendors. With Acquisitions staff can easily select, order, invoice, and receive materials in the library, track purchases, vendor accounts, and fund accounts.  At the end of the accounting year, Fiscal Close offers a guided process that divides statistical reports, posting, and the fund activity report into simple, reliable steps.