Good to Know: Harvard digitizing case law collection

For all the budding lawyers out there, WBUR has a write up on a digitization project going on at Harvard:

Historically, libraries have been collections — books, multimedia materials and artwork. But increasingly they’re about connections, linking digital data in new and different ways. The Caselaw Access Project is a state-of-the-art example of that shift.

“So what’s going to result from this project is a huge database of electronic, digital court decisions,” Ziegler explained. “And the world of law has never seen that before.”

I like the idea that all of the case law will be freely accessible (far more so than the books that are in storage currently.) And per the article, the physical books will still be kept in storage should anything go wrong.

Saturday Librarian: To Boldly Go…

Saturday Librarian: To Boldly Go…

When I first showed up in my librarian capacity, one of our stated goals was to make sure that we got a digital catalog. Its not a new technology — digital catalogs began to show up in the 1980s and they were commonplace by the late 90s. Even now in 2016 the smaller libraries of the word find a way to digitize their catalogs, and the hope was that we would do the same.

At first, I considered an inventory to be our goal. After all, we needed to know what to load into the OPAC, right? Fast forward a year, and the inventory is decidedly off the pace I had expected, primarily because I was trying to make sure that we had the basics of a catalog record, just in case we couldn’t get full MARC records to start. A year is a good amount of time upon which to base a decision. You can base your decisions on the good and the bad and the middle of the road. And so we’re embarking of the catalog now and continuing the inventory in the new system.

Why? Quite simply, we have to be able to track circulation and Interlibrary loan material, and we have to have that system in place before the students return. Then too, the inventory is a lot easier when you’re only confirming the barcode is right and the book is on the shelf — MARC records can be pulled into our new system directly from NHAIS.

So what did we do today? We got the server, got it plugged in and got the operating system and basic installation of our new cataloging software installed. The main stumbling block had more to do with the suddenly disappearing internet, and Saturdays are hard to troubleshoot tech issues because of the number of players that are not working. The course of technology never did run smooth.

Lest anyone take the preceding paragraph the wrong way, this is not meant to imply that the installation is difficult or untenable, or that we run the risk of losing our catalog in a way that doesn’t exist with the card catalog. There are redundancies that will be in place on premises and off, and we will also reach the point where we have our catalog included in the NH State Library’s Union catalog, to help facilitate our ILL relationships. Its very difficult to be a good ILL partner with a card catalog.

In fact, sadly, I’m still on Excel spreadsheets. The installation could not be completed in a day, and so Excel is still our catalog– for the moment. Still, in the space of a day, we’ve come closer to our online catalog then we have before. The students will start to come back in about a month, Freshmen first for orientation followed by the returning Sophomores and Upper Classmen. My hope is that they will have a new catalog there to greet them and the choice of serendipity in the stacks or precision recall of materials, whatever the situation may call for.

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.

Wonderings: Card Catalogs

Throughout the discussion of work on the library, I have found that everyone has a basic opinion on the card catalog. There is no middle ground, no one who could take it or leave it. The first opinion is that they should have been gone yesterday or the day before, and onto a better, brighter, less handwriting intensive future. The second opinion is that computers and OPACs have their place, no question, but that’s no reason to also ditch the card catalog.

From what I can gather, the card catalog love stems from a few things. Some love the look and feel of the old oak, the heft of the drawers as they search among the cards. It adds a tangibility to the research and makes the researcher feel more integral to the process– they are fully in control of their search, and connections are made, or not, as part of their thought process. Others just love the look and nostalgia of the catalog, never mind the maintenance.

Unfortunately, we are a one person library with over 45,000 monographs in the collection. For those who have not run a card catalog, there is not just one card per book– there are cards for title, author, and any subject headings (or keywords) that you want the patron to be able to find tied to the work. Particularly with academic works, those subject headings lead to a vast number of cards. I could spend 80 hours a week for years bringing the card catalog back into form as a working, accurate, well oiled machine, by why do so?

Still, there is something very fitting about having the card catalog standing sentinel in the foyer of the library. One thought I had was to maintain a simply catalog for the special collections– title and author, no subject headings, and the collection is a non circulating collection, so nothing would be leaving the designated area anyway. It would allow us to keep the smaller catalog in use that would rarely have new additions and require minimal maintenance. It might be a good middle road between nothing digital and only digital. Is such an effort worthwhile? For those who love the old card catalogs, what about them do you love and miss? For those who prefer digital, would having the small card catalog for a small, non circulating collection be bothersome? The records could certainly be maintained in the OPAC as well. All thoughts are welcome!

A word about Card catalogs– digital and physical– and Pinterest?

I imagine that many of you have seen the news that came out today, where the appellate court upheld the ruling that Google’s Library Project is legal. What is the Google Library Project? In a nutshell, Google has partnered with a number of large libraries to scan their physical books and index them, allowing them to be searchable through Google. The favorite phrase to use about it is to say its like “a digital card catalog.” Well and good, you say, but we do have a physical card catalog. What is the purpose of something like this?

For a place like Thomas More, its a fabulous resource. We have a (relatively) small collection, and it is entirely possible that our students will need something we don’t possesses. There aren’t many libraries out there with a budget that allows them to simply purchase a book that may fulfill a researcher’s need. As I was reviewing my notes from pervious work with the library, there was repeated mention of the College’s digital resources, which seemed odd to me, as there are not currently any digital subscriptions. And then I realized that, at some point in the distant past, there was a word document that was put together and loaded on various desktops the school owned; the word document contained links to freely available resources on the internet that had been vetted in some capacity. Not a bad idea, but hard to maintain and hard to distribute when everyone owns a laptop.

The news today got me thinking about that old, out of date word document. There are resources such as the Google Library Project, Project Gutenberg, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the Purdue OWL, and so many more that are good and useful, but not immediately accessible to a student if they have not previously heard of them. That is part of our job as librarians, to provide digital resources to our population, wherever they may be. Larger institutions have things like LibGuides and robust websites on which to showcase their findings. But what of small institutions with no OPAC, no public website? A word doc on a desktop is no longer sufficient. My initial inclination is start several Pinterest boards and have the links disseminated. Its free, its publically accessible, and it might even be a good resource for those outside our little community. You can create as many boards as you like, even to the point of creating boards for each spring’s junior projects and senior theses. Or is such an idea too far?

Should we go the Pinterest route or is there a better online collection option? Any and all suggestions are welcome!

Tales of a Saturday Librarian

Tales of a Saturday Librarian

A quick glance at Twitter for #saturdaylibrarian will generally reveal a number of librarians, in various degrees of caffeination, musing on the various reference questions they receive throughout the day, the amusing books they weed from the collection, or a general meditation on why there is never enough coffee. In many respects I am a lucky Saturday Librarian. Work study tends to happen on Saturdays, as well as music practice, so there is no shortage of bustle but few questions to be answered. The only downside was that by the time I got down to the caf for coffee, there were no mugs or cups to be had. It made me regret not installing an espresso machine in my office.

Things continue apace at the library. We are slowly combing through the extant catalog and comparing it to the books on the shelves. The issue is the amount of time it takes to manually compare title, author, call number, and barcode as well as note poor condition. Combine that with the fact that books are not always shelved in order, and you have the makings for a long library journey. My assistant slugs through, pausing every so often to wonder aloud why books are not in order, or why a single volume appears in the catalog as 4 distinct records. All valid questions, though there’s not an answer to any of them.

As you can see from the picture, there are no shortage of books moving in and out of the library, we simply lack the technology to track the movement. The first step will be implementing a rudimentary check out system. That way, we can at least consult the check out records to confirm if a book is circulating as opposed to missing when we reach that part of the shelf read. The last of the blank catalog cards will be pressed into service to function as check out records (see? Already recycling materials. Long live the card catalog!).

I’m of two minds on the manual circulation process. It is comforting to know that in some places, the access to materials is primary, to the point that tech systems limitations don’t stand in the way. We simply find a way to track what we can and make the system work. On the other hand, its a lot of manual labor. In two hours, I worked my way through 45 records, including shelving the books. Its an abysmal check in rate when you consider how quickly such things can be done when using even the most basic electronic system. While there is romance in the old library with its card catalog and lovely bookshelf check in, while it makes some secure in the borders of their green world, there is an advantage to be had in using some technology. Surely our time can be better spent then laboriously checking items in. Anyone else out there struggle through analog processes in a digital world? I’m open to any tips to move the process along.

In the mean time, I return to my records for cross check. Happy Sunday!

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.

Back to the Future: OPAC Questing

If it has not already become apparent, Thomas More is a pretty unique place: its is a relatively low tech environment, it is a micro college on a campus that is full of both beauty and history, it is centered on academics in a vibrantly Catholic community. When I was explaining the school and my small role in its community in the library to several other librarians at SLA 2015 in Boston, their eyes lit up and they exclaimed “IT’S LIKE HOGWORTS! But real! And all New England-y!”

That was not to say that my catalog troubles went unnoticed. It comes as a surprise to a lot of people that we are currently on a card catalog with no online public access catalog (OPAC). For the average user, the main question would be “When can I search this online? Do I have to still use the card catalog?” During that same conversation at SLA, the average librarian’s main question was “Can I get the card catalogs when you’re done? I love those things!”

Beyond the basic issue of cleaning up the excel spreadsheet that houses our catalog in its current, nascent form, there is the question of where do we go from here? A small school has a small budget, by its nature. Many OPACs are expensive, due to their all encompassing nature– circulation, cataloging, collection development, the works. Any vendor I spoke to was amazed by the size of our collection relative to the size of our student body; there was an immediate recognition of the challenges that come with such a scenario. So while I haven’t ruled out an OPAC through one of the vendors I have looked into, I am also consider other options.

Under consideration?

  • Koha– an open source OPAC that we can simply run on our own servers, provided we have someone skilled in SQL, Perl, and Linux. Not the general skill set in the liberal arts, you know?
  • LibraryThing– I love LibraryThing. When I was working at the Bead Museum in Arizona (sadly closed in 2011), we kept our library catalog on LibraryThing. It was great! Quick, easy, pulled the records right away for you, integrates a social aspect easy as pie if that’s your jam. The drawback? I don’t as of now see a way to do circulation stats unless you’re on TinyCat, and while we are small, we are too big for TinyCat
  • OPAC vendor– I spoke with several at SLA, and there is a reason they are successful– do you really want to work overtime on making the catalog and circulation simply work? Circulation is so important in our library– we don’t have any historic stats to fall back on for collection development, and we don’t have a good way of tracking which books are where when the juniors and seniors embark on their projects each spring. The concern, as always is price. While the other options are higher in time commitment and lower in dollar commitment, this is the reverse.

In what combination do we utilize our time, talent, and treasure? Planning is ongoing, but feel free to weigh in with any experiences in picking an OPAC, transitioning, any pros or cons, or anything you wish you knew before deciding on an OPAC. For those who are not in the library world, your thoughts are always welcome as well!

The Troubles with Catalogs

The Troubles with Catalogs

I imagine I am currently going through a process that most of library land embarked on a decade or two ago. I am currently staring down a spreadsheet that contains the rudimentary begins of our digital catalog. The work was begun years ago; it predates my own student tenure at the college. For all that, it has gained a layer of the digital equivalent of dust, having been untouched for some time. One of our first challenges is to dust of this spreadsheet and use it for a full catalog read.

I confess, I am gaining a new respect for those institutions that are able to enforce a regimen of rotating shelf reads through their collection. I know that the data I have does not encompass a number of new donations and acquisitions, so the challenge is real. How did library land manage the original transition to digital? I have been looking as I have time, but so many institutions have been digital since the 90s that there is not a lot of information to be had. What little I have found is all in terms of obsolete technology.

Thus far, I am scrubbing the data in preparation for the shelf read: noting apparent duplicates, adding publishers, dates, and full titles to those records which contain ISBN numbers, and trying to note how many records have been barcoded. There was a project several years ago to start the OPAC process; it got as far as adding some books to this spreadsheet with barcodes, to eventually be loaded into an OPAC. I do hope that methodology will still work; my attempt at building and converting to an Access database did not go as well as I had hoped (though to be fair, it has been about 5 years since I built anything in Access).

Food for thought: are there better ways to do this project? Is this simply an example of the manual labor of love involved in building this library back up? Have others had success with Access as a “bridge OPAC” to coin a phrase? As for me, you’ll be able to find me buried in my excel spreadsheet, dreaming of the day we finish our digital conversion 🙂