Building a library from scratch (almost)
December 29, 2015 6:12 AM   Subscribe

It looks like the responsibilities of my job are about to expand to take on managing a (currently extremely small) library. I'm thrilled by the opportunity, but a bit daunted. I'm looking for advice on: a) Building a functioning catalogue/borrowing system (e.g. I've looked at Evergreen and Koha, are they good? Pros/cons?). b) How-to-be-an-awesome-librarian-despite-lack-of-formal-training-as-such (I've seen Jessamyn's work on here and its an inspiration that I'm looking to, but top tips'd also be great).

Specifics of my job at the moment: I'm an academic skills tutor at a music college. I teach writing, organisation, research & study skills, bits of music theory, music history, etc. I have experience in research, teaching, admin, and bookselling, and I'm hoping to pull all these skills together into something approximating those of a moderately rad librarian, whilst still maintaining the tutoring/teaching thing.

Specifics of how small our library is: Teeny weeny! It consists of a couple-few hundred books, filling a couple of domestic sized bookcases. Until now no one has really had responsibility for it, and there's been no formal catalogue or check-in/check-out system. We've relied on a mixture of most people treating it like a reference library, with the odd "honour system" borrow, to ensure books are where they should be when they're needed. There are plans for the person who takes it on to immediately start buying a bunch of books, hence pressure to get the thing organised before it gets out of hand.

In conclusion: Yay, books and learning! Help, ignorance of proper library systems!
posted by threecheesetrees to Education (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If it's teeny-weeny, pay for a membership. It's $25 and a very powerful tool, very customizable, up to 5,000 items. You get an online catalog with built-in social media and lending capability as well as their helpful forums. You didn't say if you have a computer at the library, but I was in a similar situation before I was a librarian, and this is what worked for me.

Other than that, use common sense and don't do anything because you think you're supposed to in order to be a real library. Do what works for you and your community, and don't be afraid to change. Good luck!
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:41 AM on December 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Ooh! Interesting question. (Also a librarian here, and familiar with small project libraries as well as, y'know, the ones I've worked in.)

How big do you expect the library to get? How much use do you expect it to get (i.e. number of people likely to be getting materials in a given year?) I gather from your question there will be someone checking in with it regularly, and who can do upkeep type things?

The thing about both Koha and Evergreen is that they take a bit of setting up (likely a solveable problem) but are also possibly more complex in upkeep than you might want, and may make it harder to do the things you'd find more useful.

I'd suggest instead you look at LibraryThing. There's an article describing setting it up for a small library, they're in the process of launching an online catalog module.

As a bonus, you could be flexible with cataloging, using terms that make sense to you - for example, if there are titles that are often referenced for a particular course, you could tag for those, or use specialised terminology that wouldn't appear in common subject headings.

LibraryThing also has a checkout module: probably the easiest thing there is to have a signout sheet or simple card system that whoever is maintaining the collection can go through and update periodically on the computer. (That might be every day, briefly, it might be a couple of times a week, or even once a week. Depends on how much stuff is getting used.

The other thing to factor in is that people will often not put items back on the shelves in the place they ought to be. You can do things to make it easier for you to browse for this (like colored dots on the spine for different sub-areas) or very simple call numbers, but it's a part of library upkeep a lot of people don't factor in.

I currently work at a library that has a sizeable (40K+ item) but very specialised collection. The librarian before me transitioned to a keyword system (with what librarians call 'controlled vocabulary', and is a list of consistent terms we use to refer to subjects) rather than trying to use subject headings that are inadequately specific for our actual collection.

For checkout, each book has a card in a card pocket in the back of the book. We do very little actual circulation (outside one or two weeks a year when everyone wants textbooks for a particular course on campus, we might check out 5 books in a busy week?) but when someone wants to check something out, they fill out the card in the back, leave it for the library staff in a designated place, and we update the computer and file the card until it comes back.

(You do need a process in place if you want things returned promptly, to go through and remind people: you can do this very easily by filing them in a card holder with tabs for when they come due or something like that: I can explain further.)
posted by modernhypatia at 6:48 AM on December 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

You may find this listing of free online courses in library skills to be useful.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:52 AM on December 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Two things to think about before you start buying books: what are the needs of your community and what are the long-term goals for this collection?

Since you are a music school, you should start out by thinking about the areas your school specializes in and the needs of the students. If your school focuses on Western Art/Music, then lots of books about European music history are going to be more helpful than lots of books about Chinese music history. If you have a lot of advanced composition students, then you should look for books about composition that go beyond the basics. You might also consider if it would be helpful to your community to build up a collection of sheet music, and if so, what kind of sheet music (beginner piano pieces? symphonic scores? etc).

It might seem counter-intuitive, but I would also go through the existing books and get rid of any books that do not seem useful. Here is how I categorize useful in this case: if you are trying to create a serious academic library (no matter how small it is!) that is focused mainly on music history, music theory, and composition, then it will not be useful to have a cheap books about things like Brittany Spears' last tour in your collection. I think having a smaller, but focused collection, is more useful to a community than having a completely scattered unfocused one.
posted by colfax at 6:58 AM on December 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have done this for ten years at various public schools in Boston. I use a system called Libraryworld- it's about $500 a year and is easier to use than Librarything (though their new system seems very promising.

You should take stock of what you have, and then survey the staff and students of the school to see what they think might be needed. You should find a library vendor who will have the sort of books you are interested in. I use Mackin- but I think Baker and Taylor or Follett might be better for college. A vendor can help create lists of books you want to consider based on your criteria, and the books purchased from them will be "shelf ready" (covered, pocketed or bar coded etc).

I would also suggest you look at what your state's library consortium offers in-terms of database access. So much of what I do is connecting teachers to resources that are free, and Mass has very good resources via our state consortium that anyone in the state can use.

If you can find volunteers or have a work study for people to staff the desk for check ins/outs, that will give you time to focus on collection development and organization. Feel free to memail me with more questions.
posted by momochan at 7:18 AM on December 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

If it's teeny-weeny, pay for a membership.

This is what I would do unless you want your library to grow to a point where it becomes interoperable with other libraries (this is unlikely but maybe worth thinking about if you are part of a larger organization). If you need/want to be interoperable you are better off going with some actual software like momochan suggests. Maybe talk to other libraries at the school you are at. As far as Evergreen and Koha, Evergreen is built for big consortiums and is probably overkill. Koha is great but can take some time/knowhow getting up and running (there are great service companies that can help, notably Bywater, but this costs $$) The big libraryish skills you'll want to think about

- collection development - what do you want to have, what are the goals for the collection, who is making those decisions and how are they made?
- cataloging - how do you keep track of what you have and how do you collocate information that is similar (not just by the same author but about the same general thing)
- organizing - physical and electronic items, how do you arrange for best outcomes for users and staff? Is digitizing any of the materials part of your purview?
- reference - how do you help people use the collection and answer questions that are within the scope of what the collection is supposed to cover? How do you communicate with users (in person, email, chat, phone, fax, letter, what?) and who are your users?
- outreach - how do you ensure that the library is serving as much of its designated service population as possible?
- feedback loop - how do you address all of the above questions/issues and find ways to get feedback on them and roll that feedback in to improving/altering/removing services

Over time if this turns into a Big Deal you can think about taking library school classes online or elsewhere (if there is $$ in this project for that) but it's okay to jump in without training as long as you understand that there are answers and processes for a lot of this stuff within the professional literature and you can make a lot of use of it. Maybe consider seeing if your state library association has a group (formal or informal) of other music librarians since there are specific and special aspects of that sort of librarianship that are different from publics and academics generally which would be the majority of librarians you'd meet in your day to do life (here on MeFi for example)
posted by jessamyn at 7:54 AM on December 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, thanks guys! So many informative answers! Librarything looks great, and a good starting point, and by the looks of it it's possible to export databases from it if the collection outgrows it. Definitely my first port of call.

In answer to a few of your questions:
I don't know how big its going to get, but the immediate plan for collection development (coming from management) is basically plugging holes in the reading lists for currently offered courses.

I don't expect it to get much use to start with, but outreach and changing that would be part of my expanded job description.

The person keeping tabs on it would be me; it seems like the plan is to move my desk into the library space.

We do have computers, 4 of them in the current library space, and they're pretty much the main thing that gets used in there. So they're a resource, and a likely go-to portal to the collection once it's catalogued.

A couple of additional things I maybe should have mentioned:
I'm in Australia, so the situation here might be a bit different with state resources, although ALIA seems to cover some of what you mention.

One thing I'd really like to do is promote use of our JSTOR subscription. I'm no fan of the paywall, but it's there, and it seems the path of least resistance to getting students to cite peer-reviewed research in their papers (which is an uphill battle). Are there tools to integrate it into any of the above?

Thanks everyone for your sage advice, very much appreciated. I feel better equipped for this adventure already.
posted by threecheesetrees at 2:19 PM on December 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

One thing I'd really like to do is promote use of our JSTOR subscription. I'm no fan of the paywall, but it's there, and it seems the path of least resistance to getting students to cite peer-reviewed research in their papers (which is an uphill battle). Are there tools to integrate it into any of the above?

Not a technical way of integrating, but once you get somewhat settled in your position could you offer some sort of library orientation/research skills class or have professors use one of their class times to bring their students into the library for an orientation in which you could discuss JSTOR (and any other electronic resources) and how to access them and the professor could reinforce the message about the necessity for citations from peer-reviewed research. The academic libraries where I've worked as a graduate student assistant regularly offered these types of orientations at the beginning of every semester.

If the small library has a website, you could have a "begin your research here" page with information about JSTOR and other useful tools as well as an FAQ.

Good luck!
posted by kaybdc at 7:27 PM on January 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

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