Why So Silent? Been Building a Library.

Over the last few weeks, well, since before New Year’s Eve, I began getting deeply involved with the Open Hearth Foundation.  OHF is a local community center for Pagans here in the DC area (and yes, we have so many that opening a center is a brilliant idea).  OHF has been operating as a fundraising initiative for over 10 years, and in that time they’ve been able to amass enough capital to finally open a physical structure.  So the hopes and dreams of many people have finally come to fruition. And on New Year’s Eve they opened their doors.

Since 2003, the OHF has been also collecting a substantial amount of literature, in the hopes that this new Pagan Community Center would also hold a functional library and research space for alternative religious education.  This little library shuffled back and forth between the homes of different trustees over the last 9 years until finally it got to the space where the fully realized OHF exists.

I had been aware of the OHF library from the earliest phases, and had been involved in a project (which eventually collapsed under volunteer inertia) to try to properly catalog that collection (as well as two others, but that’s a different story).  Somewhere along the way someone had done an inventory of the collection on LibraryThing and that had just been sitting there for all this time.

The Library SWAT Team on unpacking day.

I received a facebook message from a friend, who had gotten me involved ages ago with this project, telling me that this library was happening for real and that they were installing the collection in the space.  They were also looking at getting everything into LibraryThing and making everything circulating.  At that point I spoke up and said “WHOA! Hold up. Wait a minute.  Let’s talk about this.”  LibraryThing is a wonderful product in some respects, and yet for others it’s just inadequate.  One of the areas where it falls down is circulation functionality.  This was going to be a big draw for this collection.  Not to mention that the Board of Governors would need to get regular reporting on things, and a whole suite of other issues.

So, I floated a proposal that we explore installing Koha instead.  Koha is an open source fully functional integrated library system.  I learned about Koha when I was traveling in Thailand and talking with the folks at the library at the KIS International School.  I had a rough idea of what it was capable of doing and I had pretty strong feeling that this would be a much more comprehensive solution.  I had a sit down  meeting with several of the committee members and a Board representative to demo what Koha could do and talked about all the features.  Everyone agreed that this was a great solution, and we decided that we were going to roll with it.  The webmaster looked at the documentation and he agreed that this would be an easy enough installation.  But by this point the volunteers were already assembled, and they needed to do something.  That first day they added every item in the collection into a blank LibraryThing account, and when Koha got installed I ported all 1700 bibliographic records from LibraryThing into the Koha system.

Volunteer training to search for bibs via Z39.50.

For the last few weeks we’ve been exploring the ins-and-outs of Koha, and I’ve been training a horde of volunteers in basic copy cataloging practices, item record creation, searching WorldCat for LC Call Numbers, and getting items barcoded and labeled.  No small feat, and it’s really been taking us a good chunk of time.  But it’s beginning to pay off tremendously.

We’ve gotten well over a hundred items fully processed, and we’re getting the remainder of the collection in a state that’s ready to roll.  Twice a week we’re going in and doing a kickass load of item record creation.  It’s a spectacular achievement and one that I’m incredibly proud to be a part of.  It’s like we’ve transformed something that was a vague idea into something very physical, real and professional.  Talk about manifesting your vision!

So that’s what’s been eating my life and my spare time.  I couldn’t be happier.

The first labeled book was Janet and Stewart Farrar's 'The Witches' Bible"

First fully cataloged, barcoded, and classed shelf in order.

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5 comments on “Why So Silent? Been Building a Library.

  1. Ian Carmichael says:

    Sounds great. Is the catalogue publicly browsable? I’m curious about your contents.

  2. Happy that your using koha !

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