wishmynamewerechaunceybillupsortikibarber (nrefadaj) wrote in catalogers,

A rather daunting task - catalogers, can you help?


I've recently begun volunteering at the library of a retirement community. I'll be starting an MLIS program in the fall. The retirement community's library committee is really excited to have someone "with some knowledge of libraries" helping out. Of course, at this point I really don't have much knowledge of libraries beyond being a patron and a page, which I did point out to them, but they are desperate. So anyway, I'd like to get as much done for them as I can before my time gets swallowed up by school. Since I'm new to this and really don't know the best route to take, I could really use some advice and/or insight from anyone with experience cataloging small libraries, creating efficient systems requiring minimal work to use and maintain, and any other experience working or volunteering in very small libraries.

I will cut here since this is going to get wordy.

Here is the situation:

There are actually 4 very small libraries in the community. In my rough estimation there are probably 4,000 to 5,000 volumes between them (and I think that may be high). All of the libraries are more or less the same size. There are no paid employees that work in the libraries and I am currently the only outside volunteer for the libraries. The Library Committee does most of the work and is made up of just a few residents and this being a retirement community and all, that committee kind of has a revolving door.

When books come in, they all get stamped with a general stamp ("ABC Retirement Community Library"). Hardcover books are given a card with the author name, book title and copyright date.

There is no catalog. There is not even a list of any of the books they have in any of the libraries.

Paperback books are taken on the honor system - no checkout required. Hardcover books taken from the main library are supposed to be checked out. Residents write their name and room number on the card, and then have to figure out the date 3 weeks ahead and record that on the card (which rarely happens). Then they place the card in a basket. They have to commit the due date to memory and sometimes the books are taken without being checked out at all, so often books go missing due to forgetfulness or even death of the resident, as I've been told. The other 3 libraries do not have a checkout system.

The books kind of have their homes in particular libraries but often residents will return the books to the "wrong" library and there they remain. Although, there really is no way to tell from which library the book originally came. And when I asked straight out if this is a concern that they wanted resolved, the committee chair said it wasn't really an issue. This is kind of how she is about the whole situation, but still wants things to change.

She says that they basically want to make things more efficient but beyond that she really doesn't know what she wants or needs. So yes, I'm kind of overwhelmed, being that this small library, yet very large task, has been basically turned over to me to do with it what I can.

So what are your thoughts about this? Is creating and maintaining a catalog (or even spreadsheet lists of the books owned by the library) a good idea or an unnecessary endeavor? (I do have an old laptop that I might be willing to donate to the cause.) Are there better ways to create an efficient, maintainable system? Has anyone dealt with something similar? How did you handle it?

I really want to create a smooth system for them that will be super easy for volunteers and committee members to maintain and for residents to use. I just don't want to go this alone because I imagine that partway through I'll realize that I should have done it 10 other ways. So any advice or insight is welcome with open and grateful arms.

crossposted to libraries, catalogers and library grrls
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I have been down this road many, MANY times. I have a terrible/beautiful habit of mentioning that I am a librarian, and then a cataloger, while in the presence of those from small non-profits with libraries. And they always want help, but they don't usually know what kind of help. So, I roll in, and I start weeding and rearranging and typing, and then they come to me so unhappy because I changed things. I've learned my lesson here.

And no, the lesson is not to NOT help. The lesson is to plan it out. This kind of a project wants for a web design approach, not a library approach. It needs a needs assessment. It needs a real understanding via them telling you what they need. To me, this sounds like it needs a really low tech solution.

I'd take all the information you've gathered and break it down into single statements, then run it by the gal and have her put the issues in order of importance. Then, take the top three and start there. I think if you introduce a computer system with no reliable support for it, it's just never going to get used.

Phew, long reply. In short, and off of what you've said so far, I'd bet you getting a set of new stamps real cheap that ID each library, a color coding dot sticker system for grouping loosely by subject applied to ALL the books, and some more organization in the check out system...like maybe not using cards, but a clip board instead, doing away with due dates, or something like that, would be just the ticket.

My point here is that just because we are organizey techie people doesn't mean that is the touch all things need. Consider the audience, get the needs assessment, work out a timeline you can all agree on, and above all, make sure they're happy with the changes. What seems like a little to you may be a whole lot to them.

Academic Cataloger & Systems Librarian
Central Vermont
Wow, thanks Helen! The colored dot system crossed my mind as well. And I agree that low tech is probably the best way to go at this point, for at least all of the reasons you've mentioned.

One thing I also mentioned to the comm. chair was maybe placing a large sticker on the front of the books and have patrons stamp it with a due date stamp provided at the checkout desk that someone changes daily. Even if that stamp doesn't get changed every day, it will be close enough. She seemed to like that idea, so I think you are right when you said "What seems like a little to you may be a whole lot to them."

I'll certainly take all of your suggestions into consideration. I very much appreciate it.
Useful blog.