Cataloguing Flash Mob: Update

It’s been one month since I hosted the Cataloguing “flash mob” party at my library, and I wanted to write a post about how it all went down. If you didn’t hear about this event, you can check out my initial post, and read about it on the TBG’s website.

The idea came about one Saturday at work (April 20), when a volunteer and I remarked at the massive amounts of cataloguing that had to be done. The idea of hosting a cataloguing event was proposed that day, and I’d imagined that we might be able to attract 15-30 people to help out over the two days we had in mind, which were Saturday May 4th and Sunday the 5th. It was the beginning of spring and the weather was exceptional, so we maintained a realistic sense of optimism that perhaps at least 15 people would be interested in participating over the course of that weekend. Because really, who would want to stay inside all weekend and catalogue books… right?

The following Monday (April 22), I sent an email to my boss to ask if she thought it would be a good idea, and her response was that I should go for it. The event was to take place less than two weeks from the date the idea was imagined, so there was a lot of work to do.

On April 23 I sent messages to the SLA-TOR listserv (Special Libraries Association, Toronto), the TSLIS Network listserv (Toronto Special Libraries and Information Services Network), and the Seneca College LIT program coordinator inviting Toronto-area information professionals to help out. I also put out the word on Twitter and Facebook.

Almost immediately, I received emails from individuals who were interested in participating. I was (and continue to feel) incredibly blown away by the overwhelming response this event received. In just a matter of days, there were nearly 50 enthusiastic people signed up for the cataloguing event. By the 4th, I’d heard from about 65 professionals in the Toronto-area who RSVP’d that they were coming. Some came from as far as Kingston!

Now, while I did receive a tremendous amount of positive feedback for the event’s innovativeness, ingenuity, and uniqueness… It was not without its detractors. Much of the criticism that I received for the event surrounded the idea that cataloguing is a skill and practice that shouldn’t be devalued through volunteer work. Also, that by calling for volunteer help, it was taking away from possible paid opportunities or a student internship. I did (and do) appreciate this feedback and criticism, because it gave me an opportunity to reflect on what I was really doing, and how it was being received by the library and information community. However, after careful reflection, I didn’t (and don’t) feel that the event in any way was taking away opportunities, devaluing cataloguing, or taking advantage of anyone. The spirit of the event was to contribute one’s cataloguing skills and bibliographic interests through volunteerism to improve access to information and the betterment of a small library at a non-profit and charitable organization. Also, it was meant to be a fun networking opportunity, and a chance to participate in a unique project.

My favourite of all criticisms was a post written about my cataloguing event on the ALA’s “Annoyed Librarian” blog, titled “A Cataloging Sweatshop?”. Please have a look, and be sure to read the comments section.

So, less than 14 days from its inception, the Cataloguing Flash Mob Event began on the 4th. Eager cataloguers trickled into the library at 9:30 in the morning, and the room was soon full of laptops, extension cords, library books, and cups of coffee. By 7:30 p.m., the last cataloguer packed it in, and we left for the day. On the 5th, it was the same sort of scene. However, my greatest fear was realized when we crashed the internet, and were without access to z39.50 clients for about an hour and a half. We regained access to the web, and continued cataloguing, again until about 7:30 p.m. when we were kicked out of the building by the TBG’s caretakers.

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In summary, the “mob” catalogued over 900 titles in two short days. It was a really fun event, and I am more than happy about how it all went down. People seemed to really enjoy themselves, and had positive feedback about our library’s new ILS (Koha). I’m also looking forward to presenting a session on this event at the 2014 OLA Super Conference which will explore the project in more detail.

Photos of the event can be found on the TBG’s Facebook page. Click here to see the photos!

Thanks for all of your support and feedback!

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Cataloguing party at my library, May 4th & 5th!

In the past decade, a popular and growing phenomenon has been the proliferation of flash mobs across the world. A “flash mob” has been defined as “a group of people mobilized by social media to meet in a public place for the purpose of doing an unusual or entertaining activity of short duration” (source). These mobs have taken shape as choreographed dance routines, protest movements, pillow fights, and even for the purpose of cataloguing a library’s book collection. In this last example, it is essentially when a group of people come together to catalogue an entire library collection for the greater good of access to information. While not necessarily the same as a “flash mob”, a similar cataloguing challenge was achieved at The Center for Cartoon StudiesSchulz Library in 2011, when volunteers came together to add new barcodes to the entire collection. Ever since I learned about the project at Schulz, I’ve been inspired by the idea of bringing people together to build a catalogue. In a sense, it really is a cataloguing party!

The idea of hosting a “cataloguing party” (for the lack of a better name) has been weighing heavily on my mind lately, and what follows explains why…

A major project that I am spearheading at my library is the migration of our integrated library system (ILS) and catalogue from InMagic DB/Textworks to an open source online platform called Koha. It has proven to be a herculean task for me as a solo-librarian, and I have sought the help from two skilled and talented volunteers to help move the project along. The catalogue migration project has been especially tricky and time-consuming because the format of InMagic records are not MARC-based. InMagic records are comprised (for the most part) of free-text bibliographic fields (e.g. Call number, Title, Author, Publisher, Year, Subject(s) etc.), rather than the specificity involved with MARC fields (e.g. 082, 100, 245 $a/$b, 260 $a/$b/$c, 650 $a/$x$v$z, etc.). So the greatest challenge of migrating the library’s catalogue has been creating MARC records from the records exported from InMagic. For more on how we achieved this, see our OLA Poster Session presentation “ILS on a shoe-string budget: open source software in a non-profit organization“. To make a long story short, the library consists of approximately 9,500 titles, and we have successfully migrated 5,000 of those into the new Koha ILS, leaving roughly 4,500 records to go. Just over half of the collection is searchable and catalogued, and we need to get the other half up and online.
Here’s where the “cataloguing party” comes in…

THE CHALLENGE:

Help the Toronto Botanical Garden‘s Weston Family Library complete the migration of their collection by contributing your copy-cataloguing skills! There are 4,500 records left to go, and our goal is to get them all catalogued in 2 full days. Is it crazy? Maybe. Ambitious? Yes! Possible?? With your help, DEFINITELY!

WHERE:

Weston Family Library at the Toronto Botanical Garden
777 Lawrence Avenue East, Toronto



WHEN:

Saturday May 4 and Sunday May 5, 10:00 or 11:00 a.m. (or whenever you can join) until we’re finished! The time commitment is whatever you can contribute.

WHY:

  • There will be coffee, pizza, and prizes!
  • It will be fun, a good cause, and a unique way to network, meet other professionals, and refresh or develop your cataloguing skills!
  • Because many hands make light work.
  • But in all seriousness, because the Toronto Botanical Garden is a non-profit educational organization with limited financial resources that functions through the generosity and assistance of volunteers. The TBG Library is an invaluable resource, and plays a significant role to support Toronto’s horticultural and community needs, and the TBG’s mission as an educational organization. Having a public, online, and searchable catalogue will help the Weston Family Library enter the 21st century.

SIGN UP:

If you have any questions, want to join, or have any other inquiries, please contact me at librarian@torontobotanicalgarden.ca or call 416-397-1375.

THANK YOU for your consideration!

I hope to see you on May 4th and/or 5th. Be there or be square!

Adventures in Library Promotion: Buttons

It’s been an embarrassingly long time since my last post, but for a good reason. In January I took a new position as the Head Librarian at the Toronto Botanical Garden‘s Weston Family Library, and since starting in this new role I have been busy, busy, busy. The TBG is home to the largest private horticultural library in Canada, and includes materials in the broad area of domestic horticulture. “What’s that, though?”, you ask? For the most part it’s floral arrangement and design, gardening, herbs, plant biology, ornithology, garden and plant history, literature, biography, landscape design and architecture, green roof information, sustainability initiatives, urban agriculture, balcony gardening, food security, wildlife, plant identification, etc. It’s an amazing specialized collection, and I’m thrilled to be working there.

One of my responsibilities as Head Librarian is to actively promote the library’s collections, services, and programs. I tackle this through a number of traditional means, such as brochures, bookmarks, on the web and using social media, but most recently I had a new and exciting idea: buttons! Now I know what you may be thinking… it’s not new (and some may not think it’s very exciting), but I’m ready to change your mind. Buttons are cute, inexpensive to create, trendy, and if done properly with creativity, they are a lot of fun. I should also state that I’m referring to 1″ buttons, not their 2.25″  “uncool” distant relative that we’ve seen throughout our lives. Also, some people call them “pins”, but I don’t.

A preface and some context to my newfound interest in buttons: Every year, the Word on the Street Festival takes place in participating cities across Canada. If you haven’t been before, it’s a celebration of books and magazines, authors, publishing, literacy and everything in-between. This year in Toronto it will take place on September 23rd at Queen’s Park Circle, from College Street all the way to Bloor. It’s a terrific and free event that draws hundreds of thousands of people annually. This year I was very keen to have a booth for the Toronto Botanical Garden at the festival to highlight the library, host author signing, promote the TBG’s adult and children’s education, and overall to get the word out about the organization. It has been a blast to plan and co-ordinate the activities for our booth, and I’m getting pumped for the 23rd to be here. In preparation for the event, I wanted to have something to give away at the booth that would grab the interest and attention of passersby, and work as a tool to promote our presence at the festival and as a destination in the Toronto area. Clearly, I chose buttons. Luckily for me, another department at the TBG conveniently had a button-maker on the premises.

I got the idea from the University of Waterloo Libraries, who have been doing this for the past year or so. Check them out here. In the beginning I was just making buttons with the TBG logo, ones that say “Weston Family Library”, etc. Standard branding. However, things got really fun when I had another idea, to create unique, one-of-a-kind buttons from our discarded books. My library receives a lot (thousands) of donated books on a yearly basis, and depending on the relevance, need, and shape they’re in, we either include the donation into the collection, or we sell them for a few bucks. Unfortunately for the used books that are not sold (usually ones from the ’70s or ’80s about gardening), we recycle them or re-donate them to a Value Village. Since we have boxes and boxes of books in the last category, I thought, “Why not make buttons from the images and text in these old books? They’re being discarded anyway!” There is some really colourful, comical, and interesting (albeit, often not useful and sometimes harmfully outdated) literature that we discard, so I’m glad we can reuse these materials somehow.

It’s become a real hobby, and I’m even considering buying my own personal button making machine just for fun. Check out some of the buttons I made below:

The availability of think tank literature in Canadian academic libraries

Below is the text from a poster presentation that I delivered at the Canadian Library Association 2012 National Conference and Trade Show, May 30-June 2, 2012 in Ottawa. An image of the poster itself is above.

Introduction:

Think tanks are in the business of creating innovative ideas to address policy issues, which are disseminated through timely, well-researched publications made available for free or at a nominal cost. In 2007, L. DeLong published “Do think tanks matter to libraries?” which revealed “if not surprising, rather unsettling” results of the absence of this literature in Canadian library collections. The study drew on public and academic libraries across Canada and identified that only 31% of the publications sampled were available. As think tanks produce highly relevant literature to many academic disciplines, the disparities in visibility and inclusion in Canadian research libraries are worth re-visiting.

Objectives and Purpose:

  • To determine if think tank research, rich in policy-relevant academic study, is being included in academic library collections.
  • Update and contribute to DeLongʼs 2007 study: is the relative absence of think tank literature still a problem? What has changed?
  • To identify if library research guides include information on think tanks.

Methodology:

  • Six Canadian think tanks were chosen, ranging in area of focus (environment, economics, social issues, and international politics), and political lean (conservative-right, non-partisan, liberal-left). The organizations chosen were:
  1. C.D. Howe Institute
  2. Caledon Institute of Social Policy
  3. Conference Board of Canada
  4. Fraser Institute
  5. Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP)
  6. Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development
  • Four publications were selected from each organization to be used as a sample for the study. Each at least 5 months old, substantial in length, and free. These publications were searched in the OPAC of eight large Canadian academic libraries, from Nova Scotia to British Columbia:
  1. Dalhousie University
  2. University of New Brunswick
  3. McGill University
  4. University of Ottawa
  5. University of Manitoba
  6. University of Saskatchewan
  7. University of Alberta
  8. Simon Fraser University
  • Subject guides were also consulted for the mention of think tanks and their activities.

Findings and outcomes:

  • The availability of the 24 publications differed greatly by library, however, this study found that since 2007 there has been an overall increase in the availability of think tank literature in Canadian academic library collections.
  • From the sample of 24 publications searched in the 8 library OPACs, only 99 were available out of a possible 192. Therefore 52% of the publications sampled in this study were available in library catalogues across Canada.
  • 5 of the 8 libraries maintained research guides that list Canadian think tanks, their activities, and resources.

Lessons Learned:
What has changed since 2007? The increase in availability from 31% to 52% is
worth noting, as well as the inclusion of think tanks within research guides. Consortium agreements among libraries, the expansion of electronic documents, and the advent of WorldCat OPAC systems at many academic libraries have also assisted with the visibility and access of think tank publications and other grey literature in Canadian academic libraries.
Works cited:

  • DeLong, L. “Do think tanks matter to libraries? Assessing the availability of Canadian think tanks publications in Canadian libraries and databases.” The Serials Librarian, Vol. 5 (3/4), 2007: 157-164.
  • Moon, J. “Microlog and the ʻCanadian Public Policy Collectionʼ – A comparison.” Partnership: the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, Vol. 6, No. 2, 2011: 1-13.
  • Tompkins, E. “Think tanks and public policy research institutes: An annotated bibliography.” Behavioral & Social Sciences Librarian, Vol. 26, No. 2, 2007: 11-27.
  • Umbach, K. “Think tanks on the web as a curriculum resource.” Knowledge Quest, Vol. 32, No. 5, May/June, 2004: 44-45.

Librarians & online content

I read something online recently that made my heart beat faster, and I felt that I had to get this out of my system. There’s a popular idea that because things can (and increasingly do) exist electronically, that the need for classification (and in a way, librarians) are not required or are becoming unnecessary. Please, let me convince you that this is absolutely not the case…

  • Digitization and digital books: People assume that with the advent of e-Publishing and scanning technology that libraries are going to digitize all of the print materials in the library. This is not the case, and would be illegal under copyright laws. Libraries do not own the rights to digitize and make published materials available online without consent of the publisher and sometimes the author(s), or other owners of the materials. There ARE many books that have been digitized because of their age, public domain, etc., but libraries are not, and I doubt will ever be, fully digitizing their collections.
  • Misconception that electronic materials don’t need to be organized: Call numbers, classification systems (e.g. Dewy Decimal, Library of Congress, etc.), shelves, and signage are long-held systems to help people find print items in a library. The equivalent tools exist for electronic materials: hyperlinks and URLs, controlled subject vocabularies, tags and keywords, images, book covers, etc. These fields are in place to help people find materials in the easiest way possible. Just like their print counterparts, electronic stuff has its own access points, unique to its medium. Digital books have a classification and cataloguing system of their own, and they’re usually established by librarians.
  • Librarians, search tools and the Internet: I heard there was a scene on Parks and Recreation where Amy Poehler’s character said to the librarian something about being unnecessary or replaced because of the Internet. I can’t stand this argument… It’s obviously a cinch to find basic information on Google, but not everything is indexed on search engines like Google. Information isn’t always free, and Libraries have the resources to pay to have them available for you through subscriptions. If you’re only looking for basic details about something, clearly a librarian isn’t required. If you’re looking for something substantial or specific… you might have to scroll through a shitload of Google results if you don’t know what you’re doing. The Internet holds an incomprehensible amount of information. While having made it quicker to find lots of cool stuff, it has also been made more challenging to find authoritative or quality information. Librarians and other information professionals are essential in organizing, processing and helping to make sense of it.
  • Librarians as “gatekeepers”, not custodians of information:Librarians aren’t threatened by the Internet, or think that our jobs are in danger because of it. We use the Internet to make finding stuff easier, and we help people to use the Internet to make their lives and work easier. Heck, it makes our jobs easier too.

Learning from relatives: academic, school, and public libraries

Librarians and information professionals who work in special libraries often stick together. This makes sense, of course, as they tend to serve like-minded users, provide similar information services, and face challenges unique to special libraries. Librarians in corporate, non-profit, law and “non-traditional” information centres must rarely (if ever) consider some of the fundamental and everyday decisions of their distant relatives, the public and academic librarians. While public librarians debate the impediments of children’s literacy, or academic librarians struggle to teach undergrads how to find a peer-reviewed journal article, the special library community faces entirely different user-needs and information management concerns. Despite these inherent professional differences, I believe there is much that can be learned from one another.

The Ontario Library Association’s annual Super Conference takes place each Winter at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. This past January I attended the Super Conference with the hopes of reconnecting and networking with colleagues, liaising with vendors, and most importantly, learning from the experiences of other librarians.

Traditionally and informally, the OLA Super Conference is more or less a platform for library technicians, academic, school, and public librarians. There seem to be few special librarians in attendance at OLA. This year I pondered if librarians from special libraries could benefit from what the Super Conference has to offer. Coincidentally, the theme of this year’s conference was “The Power of C – Collaboration!” OLA President Mary Ann Mavrinac writes, “Collaboration makes us smarter. The power of collaboration is a catalyst for community engagement, communication, cooperation, connectivity, conversations, crowdsourcing, collectivism and collegiality” and further, “helps us make better choices for communal and collateral benefit” (source). I felt energized by this message of teamwork and camaraderie, and think that despite differences in the users we serve, that both groups can take away valuable and transferable lessons from each other’s major conferences.

When the Super Conference session schedule was released, I read some abstracts out of curiosity for what might be available. To my surprise, more than a handful stood out as innovative, interesting, and helpful in the context of my library’s current projects and workflow. Fully aware that I’m not the ideal audience for this conference, I registered reluctantly but excitedly.

Below are some sessions from the 2011 Super Conference that I enjoyed:

“Library Mashups: Exploring new ways to deliver library data” presented by Nicole Engard (Bywater Solutions): Highlighted various examples of how your library can incorporate the API (Application Programming Interface) from your current subscriptions (e.g. The New York Times) and embed that code within your library’s OPAC or website. Hypothetically then, you can present your users with seamless and immediate access to the latest content related to your organization’s focus. Additionally, introduce things like Google maps and other applications to your Library’s web page.

“Using Open Source Software in a shared integrated library system” presented by A. Rivers-Moore (Hanover PL), S. Leighton, (Grand Valley PL), W. Allen (Grey Highlands PL), and R. Dotten (Shelburne PL): Explored the challenges and successes of implementing the open source ILS, Koha. My library uses a number of open source platforms, Koha in particular. As the only librarian (and one with amateur open source abilities) it was a terrific opportunity to speak to others in the same situation about some of the obstacles and rewards involved in introducing free and open source software.

Overall, I was thoroughly impressed by the diversity and depth of most sessions, though disappointed by the elementary coverage of some others. I heartedly recommend browsing the list of sessions for the 2012 Super Conference. You may be surprised at what you find! As the leaders of access and information management within our organizations, we should actively keep abreast developments, technologies and projects throughout the wider profession of librarianship in order to anticipate and meet the needs of our users. There is much to be learned from our librarian relatives in the academic, school and public environments, and there is much that we can teach them as well.

Professional Profiles Series

Recently I was interviewed by the President of the SLA-Toronto Student Group, Zoe Cliff.  Zoe asked if we could meet to chat about my career in special libraries for for their blog’s professional profiles series. I thought it would be neat to share some insight into job hunting, my experiences in libraries, and landing a job.

Below is a transcript of the interview. To read other professional profiles, visit the SLA-Toronto Student Group Blog here: http://slatsg.blogspot.com/

1. Describe your current position
I’m a Research Librarian in a special library at CIGI, a non-profit research organization (“think tank”) that focuses on international governance concerns: energy and environment, economics, development and security. I provide a wide range of library and research services to the organization’s researchers and experts. These users have strong academic credentials, extensive international research experience, and a wide range of policy expertise. As a solo-librarian, I’m responsible for nearly all aspects of maintaining the library: acquisitions, cataloguing, collection development, subscriptions and serials management, research requests and support, special projects, outreach and communicating with the wider organization. It’s a lot of fun!

2. Describe your educational background
I have an honours Bachelor of Arts from Acadia University in history and sociology, and a Master of Information Studies (MISt) from the University of Toronto, with a focus on Library & Information Science.

3. Describe your first job as a librarian or information professional etc. and subsequent career path
This is my very first job as a librarian. After graduating from my MISt, I worked briefly at the Information Centre of De Beers Canada (the mining company), and then landed my current position. I also held a handful of library positions while at the iSchool: I worked part-time at the Robarts Reference & Research Services desk, and did some cataloguing and reference for the Data, Map & Government Information department. In addition to this, I worked at the Royal Ontario Museum Library & Archives.Regarding my current job, I was initially hired on a contract basis as the Collections Librarian, but after some restructuring, I was promoted and hired as a permanent full-time Research Librarian.

4. How did your information training and background prepare you for the job you now have?
I think that a combination of my experiences prepared me for the job I have now. Specifically, I owe a great deal to my work experiences while studying at U of T. I worked hard to get as much library experience as I could, because I felt that I would get more out of hands-on experience in libraries than I would in the classroom. I was very lucky, and landed some really terrific student jobs. In those roles I had the opportunity to assist with in-depth reference for a range of academic disciplines (humanities, social sciences, business, government documents, data and statistics), I performed original and copy-cataloguing, got involved with knowledge management and Web 2.0, and worked with archives. I was exposed to a diversity of information settings, user groups, and subject areas, and I think that a mixture of these experienced helped me to thrive in my current position where I handle most aspects of the Library. When I saw the job posting at CIGI, I thought to myself, “…this job description was written for your background and experience: apply.”

5. What advice would you give someone who is currently doing his or her Master in Information?
As a relatively new grad myself, I don’t think that I have a ton of wisdom to share, but here are some bits of advice that you might find helpful:
  • I know it’s easy to get into doing this, but don’t just take soft skill “bird” courses. Especially if you’re looking for a job in special libraries, it’s crucial to have those practical, “hard skills”. For example: aspects of cataloguing; abilities with open source; knowing something about HTML, MySQL, or web design, data, etc. I think that employers are looking for people who can walk into a job with as little training as possible and who can make a real impact. Impress them with your knowledge, skills and innovative ideas!
  • Speak to a few people in the field who have jobs that you want: inquire about how they got to where they are, ask them to critique your resume and/or CV, and in general, get your name and face out there. A similar suggestion is to request to speak to someone in Human Resources at a large library where you’d like to work. While I was job hunting, I met with the Head of Human Resources at UTL to have a mock interview and resume critique, and it was an invaluable experience. They see a lot of resumes, after all.
  • Create an online presence! You should want to be found in a Google search on sites like LinkedIn, through your personal website, and on Twitter. It will show that you’re web-savvy, relevant, and have something to say. (N.B. At the same time, be vigilant about Facebook privacy settings… you don’t need potential employers to know too much about you.)
  • Get experience. Realistically, everyone at the iSchool will graduate with the same degree. So what really counts (and what will make you stand out), is your experience. I think any experience is good for your resume and getting a job. If you can volunteer, great. If you can get part-time jobs, even better.
  • In the end, I think that getting a job relies on the following: who you know, your experience, luck, and timing.

6. Any general advice for new information professionals?
Network with colleagues, collaborate and be nice. Sometimes I feel like there’s an aura of competition that exists within special libraries (but maybe it’s other places too), and I think it can make people uptight and insular. Participate in socials, activities, listservs, and collaborate. It would make our community even more pleasant than it already is.

7. What helpful lessons did you learn early in your career? Do any of them still apply today?
Don’t be overwhelmed, stay organized, and take it one day at a time. When I was at De Beers, I worked with the Manager of Information Services (it was just the two of us), and I was always impressed with her ability to stay calm under duress. The library was never in shambles, but there were some problem areas that I would have lost sleep over. I asked how she dealt with that kind of stress or pressure, and she said, “No library is perfect. You just have to deal with things in stride, and prioritize your time.” I sometimes feel overwhelmed when I think of all of the things that need to be done at my library, e.g. backlog of cataloguing, responding to requests, maintaining print collections, broken links on the digital library, etc.; but I try to stay organized and prioritize competing long-term tasks, one day at a time.