The Librarian’s Shelf: A work in translation

July around these parts has a tendency to be hot and humid and thoroughly uninviting. Its opposite from the winter but just as inhospitable if you aren’t used to it (spoiler: I am not). Fortunately, this afforded me enough time to get through my next book, a work in translation/over 500 pages. Yes, I know I wrote about a 500 page book earlier, but the truth of the matter is I’ll be getting through one part of Kristin Lavransdatter, not all 3, so there’s a bit of a category swap needed.

So what else is there that’s a work in translation and over 500? I mean aside from Tolstoy, which I did not read. I picked up Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. And yes, I am late to the Eco party but this happens in a world where there are so many books to read and so little time.

Now, if you pick up The Name of the Rose, don’t make the mistake I did and think this is a mystery. Yes, there is a mystery inside but I can’t really call it a full fledged member of the genre. I read mysteries: Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Louise Penny. Father Brown would make the list too, and I just finished every Phryne Fisher mystery I could get at the local public library. And if you’ve read any of those authors you’ll detect a theme: enjoyable mystery, solvable, but the characters make the piece. They stand out, they’re funny or witty or just good people, or more importantly, *interesting* people.

Eco was, first and foremost, a semiotician and a philosopher. And it shows. This book is long; it clocks in at 512 pages and they are dense pages. There are explorations of symbols, meaning, and a rather intricate look at the life of a medieval monastery. The chapters are even arranged around the liturgy of the hours, which was a nice touch. I did enjoy the book, but I enjoyed it a lot more once I decided it wasn’t a mystery. Think of it as historical fiction that will give you a window into a very rich medieval world and, oh yes, there are a few murders and mysteries and a labyrinth.

In terms of other works in translation, your best friend on campus is the Ballroom. This houses the collection of works in original languages, heavy on the Latin and Greek. This is also where you’ll find all literature that’s not American, with a smattering of English works that predate Shakespeare. The good Bard is our dividing line between the Ballroom and the Newman room, and you could safely argue that a number of those old English works are in translation.

MIT & Internet Archive collaborate on digitization of some titles

Quick note to point you to this article, which details the collaboration between MIT and Internet Archive. Both are just down the road in Boston, and MIT is allowing some of its previous titles to be digitized and made available on Internet Archive, as well as letting libraries who own physical copies of the work lend digital copies. Check out the article for more details!

Quick year end wrap up

So what did we accomplish this year? A quick rundown for you:

  • Established Koha as the electronic catalog for the school. Currently available on the library network
  • We cataloged 3000 books over the course of the year
  • This is awesome when you consider we were without a network for close to two months, impeding the students and myself from adding any records during that time
  • We received two very generous donations to the library– between them close to 4000 books! We’re currently going through them to determine what will be a good fit for the collection.
  • We got Interlibrary Loan up and running, connecting to NHAIS. In addition to being able to get updated holdings into their catalog, we were able to borrow books that our students needed, as well as share books from our collection with neighboring libraries.

I incredibly grateful to the 5 students who rotated through library work study this year (at least one from each class, no less!). They all worked hard and helped get us to this point– we can say we’re truly underway with this catalog, which was not the case 10 months ago.

Special shout out to my “IT department”– my husband and my brother, who helped pull wire and fight the technological imps that threatened to drag us down. Those two are truly a blessing (even when the jokes are gently at my expense :D)

Saturday Librarian: The WiFi strikes back

Hopefully everyone had a lovely weekend and start to the week. I’m planning to start the Saturday posts again now that the semester has begun, and I have a few fun items from the library to highlight on Thursday’s as well.

This past week, I was able to introduce the students to the ILL program which was big for me. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but for four years I sat in the upper classroom of the library, soaking in all manner of thoughts, phrases, and ideas. Arguing and pondering and generally enjoying the years. And for a brief 15 minute window, I stood at the front of that classroom and I was the expert on one small area. A bit of the goosebumps with that one, no lie.

Saturday dawned with such promise. I had my first pumpkin coffee of the fall, got to campus nice and early since I had to leave early, and I had grand plans of finalizing the server set up that was interrupted by the lack of internet followed by locked down internet. I had confirmed that the WiFi was back up, unlocked, and strong with internet flowing like a river when I was on campus Monday.

You can guess where this is going…

Yeah, the unlocked WiFi network was flakier than a croissant, with nowhere near the connectivity I needed to make sure that the client box would continue to see the server without failing at some point. So back to the drawing board on that one– I’m not in IT, Jim, I’m a librarian darn it! (Oh come on, Star Trek turned 50 this past week!)

I did manage to get our lovely check out cards cut up and available for the students:

So I had that going for me! We also have all the library books shelved. Yes, ALL of them! I have 3 awesome student workers this semester which is the most I’ve had before and man are they quick with the shelving! With the WiFi declaring that we shall not catalog, the focus at the moment is moving the art and music collections into the Music room. That will fit better from a collection standpoint and clear nearly an aisle’s worth of shelf space in the Stacks, which we can use to hold acquisitions.

Lastly, I updated the official library website. Did you know we had an official library website? The plan was to run some WordPress plug-ins to simulate an online catalog but the move from development to production didn’t work out as planned and so the decision was made to abandon that half step and move to the complete catalog solution.

But! We have the site so we might as well use it. You can find the ILL policy and circulation policy, and I am curating digital resources for student use on the site as well. To see any of these, go to and check it out! Drop me a line if there are any digital resources you think would be helpful, or if you’ve tried to fined resources for a certain type of research and come up empty and we’ll take a look.

Planning for pruning

When at last we have a handle on what we have, what we don’t have, and what has already been acquired, there will come a (likely long needed) pruning of the collection. Pruning sounds so much better than weeding doesn’t it? Call it pruning, weeding, deselection, discarding, collection maintenance, or “throwing out books, you uncivilized lout!” it is a necessary part of collection development and management.

The time is not remotely close, but when it does arrive, the question will be what to do with the books that can no longer call the Warren home sweet home? A number of these books began their lives calling other libraries home. Can a book find a 3rd library home after 2 deselections? I have my doubts but I’m willing to try. On the other hand, we could run a deselection outlet online, selling those books which are too damaged to continue or which no longer fit within the library– if you know anyone who wants an old science textbook we can probably part with a few. But not the actual ancient ones, like Aristotle. Those still have a home.

There is an argument that is made that everything should be held because it has some historical value, however slight. Certainly there are books that, if held onto long enough, begin to have value on the other side. The question then is whether you can afford the maintenance and physical plant costs? Given the number of books awaiting processing, the answer is likely no. There will be a number of deselections in the future, and that is for the health of the collection. Never fear, I will not be taking this on alone. There is certainly be faculty input. In the meantime, I wonder how large an audience I’d have for those books we do eventually part ways with. Is there an audience? It would be a good bump to the library budget, for sure, and that is a practical consideration to be sure.

Technology in the Library

Technology in the Library

Technology is a funny thing. The word itself is evocative of computers, digitization, even sci fi and space travel and infinite possibility. But that is hardly the end all be all of technology; it isn’t even the entirety of technology that we are dealing with today.

Technology in the library can be scary for some; there is an immediate fear that all those wonderful books, full of knowledge and touched by generations before us will disappear like so much smoke, leaving the walls bare and the ridding the air of that sweet vanilla smell of old books. Don’t forget, however, that the book itself is a form of technology.

Brief pause for the video that I’m convinced is shown at the beginning of everyone’s sojourn through library school:

The word technology, when broken down simply, comes out to mean the science or study of craft or art. Easy enough for everyone to agree that a book is a physical object and the result of a craft; it was certainly a technological advance over the scroll or sheaves of loose paper. There is no question of the art of the book: one need only look at an illuminated manuscript to see art; one can even look at the books of the 1890s and 1900s to see the art put into the end paper and title pages.

These days, technology in the library is generally taken to mean removing the books and going digital, to compliment the digital catalog that can be accessed both in the building and from the wider web. Being on paper at the college, it was with great interest that I read Karen Coyle’s article “The Evolution of the Catalog.” After all, we have the ability to bypass the growing pains that were felt in the 1980s and 1990s when the majority of Libraryland was going digital, simply by virtue of the fact that we don’t have to install the very first OPAC and work our way up. We can apply what was learned throughout the implementation process and in the past 35 years of digitization.

What I found most interesting, though not necessarily surprising, is that developments in cataloging and inextricably caught up in the technology in use. The system of cataloging a string was tied to the technology of paper and the card catalog; the MARC format was born out of a need to easily provide card catalog cards and was pressed into service as the foundation for OPAC records.

Now that we are firmly in the world of the digital database, the format can chance again. During library school, the focus was on Functional Requirements for  Bibliographic Records (FRBR), which is relational as opposed to listing information in a string. I’ll admit, I did not keep up with the development of FRBR once I was out of the library school, simply because of the limited number of hours in the day. Now I’m catching up. Those interested in the development of FRBR can check out OCLC’s write up as well as the documents on FRBR from IFLA.

The Last of the Really Great Card Catalogs

Some of you may have seen the article floating around the web detailing OCLC’s last card catalog print run. The article is peppered with quotes about the ‘end of an era’ and comments on how the card catalog has been obsolete for at least 20 years. All of this is true for the wider world, but it struck me as poignant given that Saturday was the first skirmish in the battle for digitization in our library.

The cards in our catalog, like so many others out there, came from OCLC– the bottom right hand corner on each card proudly proclaims its origin. We have a primary catalog– author, title, and subject– as well as a supplementary catalog, which appears was added rather than integrating new records into the primary catalog. To be fair, our catalog has not had rigorous updating in close to a decade, and certainly nothing in the last 2-3 years (a project that yet awaits me, likely after this academic year). These cabinets stood watch as my assistant and I wrestled with the best way to manipulate an Excel spreadsheet which contained some of the same knowledge that lay tucked away neatly in each of the many drawers.

There is little that is elegant about the solution. I imagine this was true for those first movements from paper to digital as well. Currently, we’re creating new workbooks for each set of rooms in the library and manually moving each record to the new workbook once the status of the book in question has been verified. Tedious? Mildly. Efficient? Not terribly, but certainly more efficient than noting paper copies and then transcribing the information, which was the other option in our limited tech resource world.

Now, every Saturday (and odd weekdays), I sit in the foyer of the Library; my laptop perched on a book cart, I manually log the check ins and set them on the cart to shelve. I think if those cabinets could talk, they would laugh. So much effort to replace a system that, for all its manual intervention, would still work with a little TLC. The President of OCLC joked that they were going to have calligraphy done on the final card, ala an illuminated manuscript. While I likely won’t commission the art guild to lend an elegance to the decommissioned cards, it does make me wonder how we can repurpose the cards & cabinets to serve the library. After, we still enjoy illuminated manuscripts; surely we can find a new life for the catalog.