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:

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Virtual browsing at the Judd Library

Yesterday I had lunch with my friend Marian and we got to chatting about cool, innovative, library stuff. She sent me an email when she got back to work and included links to some of the things we’d talked about. One of them was the Judd Foundation Library. I have never heard of the Judd Foundation, or Donald Judd, but I read this New York Times article and he seemed quite neat. Anyway, his personal print collection of 13,000 items has been preserved and a unique catalogue of its holdings has been made available online. I have never seen anything like it. Here are some details:

The Collection: The books that Judd collected are an intriguing mix of arts, culture, language, food, etc., from many Nationalities and geographic regions from around the world and throughout history. The organization of the collection was created by and for Judd himself. The items are shelved by geographic location, then by temporal characteristic, and then again by the subject of the item (e.g. France – Middle Ages – Pottery). A photo was taken of each shelf in the library, the photos were scanned, and every item from the individual shelves in each photo was tagged then catalogued with MARC records in AACR2.

The Online Catalogue: As a virtual library user, you can choose which shelf you’d like to see. You can browse the shelves in any direction, or move across the room to see what’s over there. Once you’re looking at a shelf, you can drag your mouse over the spine of the books to read a brief description (basic bibliographic information) of what’s there. To view the catalogue record, click on the description for more detail. There’s even a link to the WorldCat record for the item, so you’re able to find a lending copy nearby!

My initial thoughts when I started browsing were, “This is awesome, I want to do this at my library! But it’s such a bad idea…So time consuming… I wonder how often they have to update photos of the shelves, re-tag the books…” I suddenly had an “AHA!” and “Duh!” moment at the same time. The personal library of Donald Judd will never change, because he’s dead, so there’s no upkeep required to maintain the online catalogue.

A virtual shelf-browsing tool is an advanced but perhaps far-fetched reality for small libraries and special collections. Either way, it’s fun, original, and more than anything, it’s an inspiring tool and access point for hidden collections. Play around with the Browser here.

Neat, eh?

Suuuper Sessions at the 2010 Super Conference

At the end of February, Ontario Librarians will come together at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to celebrate the Ontario Library Association Super Conference. For three marvellous session-packed days, Librarians from all sectors (Public, Academic, Government, School) convene to share knowledge and learn from each other. It’s a pretty great thing! In 2009, I volunteered as a graduating student and attended a session about digital libraries in public schools of remote communities in northern Ontario. This year, I look forward to volunteering again, this time with Knowledge Ontario’s AskON booth. On Thursday, February 25th I’ll be demonstrating the reference chat service, and will answer questions from visitors.

Additionally, I hope to attend one or two sessions on the Thursday. Unfortunately, there are several sessions of interest to me that conflict with each other. Here are my top few to choose between:

9:05 AM

While studying at FIS, I worked as a Graduate Student Library Assistant at the Data, Map & Government Information Centre (a mouthful, I know, but is acronymed as “DMGIS”). This job was amazing: rewarding, challenging, and I learned A LOT every single shift. However, it was often frustrating when/if a historical item from the collection was missing, or was never acquired (due to being rare or brittle). What is great about digitization initiatives (as well as Open Access developments), is the ability for other institutions to share their historic and rare collections through digitization! This session outlines these initiatives, and I would REALLY like to attend.

9:05 AM

This session strongly appeals to me for a few reasons. The first is that I am a huge fan of Academic Librarians who research, publish, and are ambitious about contributing to library and professional literature. Next, it is one of my major professional goals to one day work as an academic librarian (collections, research & reference, electronic resources or serials), and I hope to succeed in generating papers about my library and work. Thirdly, (and similarly), I think it is vvvvvvery important for librarians in academic settings to legitimize their status and role as tenure-track librarians by maintaining a culture of research.

Those are the two conflicting sessions for 9:05 AM. Below are the 3:45 PM sessions that I have to decide between:

3:45 PM

NOT ONLY is this session being convened by Marian Davies, a past conference collaborator, co-author, and present friend, but I am greatly interested in topics surrounding minimal funding in collections management. Solutions to, and the cause for some of these problems fascinate me, including aggregators, subscription agents, platform providers, the “serials crisis”, Open Access initiatives, etc. This would be a good session to attend!

3:45 PM

I love digitization projects and community/local histories. Period. I’d be interested to learn how Knowledge Ontario approached the project, what strategies were applied, and what obstacles (if any?) that they faced. During the Summer of 2007 I worked at the Oshawa Public Library, and digitized a collection of local history materials with optical character recognition. After this experience, I came to appreciate and realize the ability to access historical materials online. It is absolutely amazing, and increasingly necessary.

3:45 PM

Open Source Software is something that I barely understand, because of my limited knowledge of coding, etc., but I recognize it as a valuable and cost-saving alternative to proprietary system platforms. This sounds like a good learning opportunity, and I wish it was at a different time!

SEE YOU AT THE OLA SUPER CONFERENCE!!!! 😀

The “Human Library” project

Earlier today I was listening to “Q” on CBC radio, hosted by Jian Ghomeshi. At the end of the programme, he announced that the London Public Library is going to embark on a new project called the “Human Library”, where library users will be able to “check-out” a human being… Naturally, I was very intrigued, so I went online to learn more. Here is the scoop: members from participating communities can apply to be a living “book” (as, each of us has a unique story to tell). Each book will fit a particular category of person, such as “Male Nurse”, “Jewish Woman”, or “Handicapped Mother” for example. These “books” can then be checked-out by library users to engage in a conversation about their life/situation/experiences…

I found the homepage for the Human Library, and have been reading about its history, implementation, the process of recruiting “books”, etc. The goal of this project is to encourage a dialogue among strangers, for the purpose of dispelling prejudice or perceived “difference” within communities. It is quite a unique approach to breaking down cultural barriers to better understand the choices and life situations of others.

I think it sounds like a promising and innovative service, and I look forward to learning more about its implementation (and usage statistics!!). However, I can imagine there being problems with the recruitment process (because people are being chosen as books based on their perceived “difference” to others). Recruiters are effectively placing people into boxes characterized by any one of their character traits, whether it be sexuality, physical ability, ethnic background, or profession. While I certainly believe in breaking down prejudice, I wonder if this programme will be able to succeed..

To read more about this project at the London Public Library and to apply to be a “book”, visit their site here.

Library outreach and my modeling career

When a new school year begins at academic institutions, it’s becoming increasingly vital for libraries to advertise and promote their services to the community they serve.  So many undergraduate students don’t know the library, or how the collections and services there can help them in their studies. By now, most libraries participate in virtual reference (e.g. Meebo, AskON online research help, etc.), and email reference services, catering to the needs/wishes of library users who want information quickly. Visiting the library for print materials is becoming soooo passé.  Library users want materials that are available electronically, and from their own laptops, wherever they may be.  Sometimes this neediness (and often laziness) can be frustrating as a reference librarian, since library users often demand that everything be available to them in PDF format, but it remains important to be on the Friendly people to help you :)cutting edge of electronic collections and services in academic libraries. Though also, it’s easy to understand how bourgeoning digital collections and the advent of scanning retrospective journals/Open Access can instill a sense of “why isn’t it available online??” … .  …. Sorry, I’m getting off-topic.

This September at the University of Toronto Libraries, where I currently work part-time hours at the Robarts Reference & Research Department, there are new brochures and bookmarks available to incoming students. These promote the various ways to get in touch with a librarian for help with research inquiries. If you look closely, you’ll see that there are “Friendly People to Help You”… 😉 and there’s a photo of me!

Hehe, the incentive to create this post was inspired almost entirely by me wanting to put this bookmark online to show people.. I’m practically a Library Celebrity!…Right??? If anyone needs a library model for any kind of promotional materials… please get in touch with me. My modeling career for libraries is taking off!