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…


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!


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


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.


  • 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.


If you have any questions, want to join, or have any other inquiries, please contact me at 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!


Access 2010 (i.e. #accesswpg)

Access, e.g. “the premier library technology conference in Canada”, was a hit this year in Winnipeg. From October 13-16, librarians, programmers, developers, technicians, and some eager job-seekers gathered in the sublime and historic Fort Garry Hotel to share ideas and experiences on functionality, open source alternatives, innovative service technologies, and most of all, access!

This was my first Access conference, and I have to admit, at first I was a bit anxious about attending because I am not a systems librarian. I was interested in attending Access 2010 because of my emerging interests in library technologies, open source, and the uses of mobile technologies in library settings. I was worried that the level of technical literacy and depth of systems-discussion would be over my head. I was relieved to learn that I was not alone in my amateur contribution to systems librarianship, but also, I found that I could relate and keep up with the content far better than I’d feared.

I would say that 65-70% of the sessions were of relevance to my current job and were of personal interest. The other 30-35% were either a bit too specific, or catered to niche library environments (e.g. GIS, bilingual considerations, linked data), and while these didn’t related to my current job, were still captivating presentation topics.

The biggest lesson that I took away from the conference is that people like me (i.e. non-systems librarians) should become as well-versed with information systems as they independently can. I don’t mean that every librarian should be writing code and developing applications for their library (although, that would be rad), I just mean that having an informed and basic understanding of the capabilities and possibilities of current technologies enhances library services.

The Access conference really encouraged me to explore areas of librarianship that many librarians are reluctant to embrace because we tell ourselves that “it’s too techy”, or that “it’s IT’s job, not mine.” This isn’t exactly a groundbreaking statement but something I’ve come to realize: collaborative creation and innovation in library services are achieved through the integration of emerging technologies with updated library service/access models. Not only is it a necessity for library services to stay current, but consider that working with open source (i.e. a customizable framework), Smart Phone capabilities (e.g. QR codes, handheld access, etc.), and metadata are all really fun!

Below were some of my favourite sessions from Access2010. You can also view the entire schedule (and some presentations) here.

Usability testing and the Google generation” – Lisa Fast (NeoInsight)

“Mobile technologies: iRoam; Goin’ Mobile” – James MacDonald, Carolee Clyne (UNBC), Rob Zylstra (Grant McEwen University)

A human library” – Randy Oldham, Janet Kaufman (University of Guelph)

After launching search and discovery, who is mission control?” – William Denton, Adam Taves (York University)

eXtensible Catalog: Take control of library metadata and websites” – David Lindahl (University of Rochester)

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?

New York Public Library

Zack at the NYPL

Recently I took a trip to New York City. I’d never been, and was really excited to experience “the Big Apple.” I didn’t have a lot on my schedule in terms of things to see, or places to go… I much prefer to wander neighbourhoods and people watch.  A few highlights of my trip were seeing some Broadway shows (West Side Story & Hair… both are AMAZING), hanging out in Central Park, visiting Brooklyn, the Meatpacking District and the High Line, and of course, the New York Public Library!

I had never been to the NYPL, and through the combination of my personal interest in libraries, and the “screen presence” of the New York Public Library in movies (e.g. Ghostbusters, The Day After Tomorrow, Sex and the City, etc.), I simply had to take a tour!

I was amazed to learn that the main branch of the NYPL is largely a reference (i.e. non-circulating) and research-focused library! (This contradicts the scene in SATC the movie when Carrie Bradshaw leaves the library with a book she’d borrowed [!!!])… But back to the point of this blog entry… I was mostly interested in learning about the collection, library services, some history, and to marvel at the beauty and majestic presence of the building. I love libraries.

The most interesting thing that I learned on our tour was that the majority of the stacks of the main branch are closed to the public. Public users are required to locate items using OPAC machines or the online catalogue, then write down each title on a small piece of paper to be submitted to the staff at the retrievals desk access point. (Here comes the craziest part..) THEN, staff members roll up the piece of paper containing the bibliographic information and call number and place the request in a tube, where the request is sent using pneumatic tube technology to the stacks area. Once the request has been received (on the stacks floors below the reference area), a staff member finds the requested materials to be delivered back to the reference area. Our tour guide told us that this process takes roughly 20 minutes (which, is pretty darn good, I’d say!). This system is something I’d only seen in science fiction, and I was surprised to learn of its success in a library environment. You can read more about this technology in this New York Times article.

Unfortunately we lost our tour group during a tour of the reference room, because we were snapping photographs and admiring the collection on our own. We eventually caught up with the group (which had dwindled in numbers, significantly), just in time to visit the gift shop on the main floor. Our guide was so kind, she gave us coupons for %15 percent off our purchase! I bought a mug : )

Reference questions at NYPL