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!