Oh, hello again. This weeks installment of Comic Book and Zine Librarianship by Caitlin McGurk will be all about working for The Center for Cartoon Studies, where I am the first degreed librarian in command. As I explained in my previous post, CCS is a small graduate art school in White River Junction Vermont, for the study of Sequential Art. They grant both certificates as well as masters degrees in cartooning, and are currently in their 5th year of existence. When I first came to the school to in the summer of 2009 as an intern, the library was being run by the teacher and zine-genius Robyn Chapman, as well as Jen Vaughn and a few other student workers. Just over a year later in 2010, they hired me as their first MLIS-holding librarian.
The main project I was brought aboard for was to overhaul the library’s cataloging system. Up until now, they had been using LibraryThing as their online catalog, and added tags to each item to indicate whether an item was checked out or not. While LibraryThing is an excellent tool, as far as professionality, flexibility, and efficiency goes- it’s not the greatest choice for an ever-growing academic library. If you’d like to check out the old library catalog and see some of our holdings, you can find it here.
Since the start of my time here (early November), I’ve been working to build a new, more robust and 21st-Century online catalog. We knew that we wanted something Opensource, easy to build and use, with a strong and supportive online community around it for fixing bugs and general help. After tossing around a few options, we decided that the best route for us would be to go with a Koha catalog. Koha offers an easy to download, free, and reliable integrated library system, with worldwide support via their Wiki page, active listserv, and FAQ section. Repairs, updates, and new add-ons are done daily, making Koha one of the most progressive and committed Opensource catalogs out there. For our purposes, Koha was especially attractive because it can be formatted to look as advanced as New Zealand’s OPAC, or as simple and straight forward as the Big Country Library’s catalog. With CCS’s constantly expanding student body and library collection, it’s imperative that we’re able to make easy adjustments to the system as we grow.
Among Koha’s most impressive features, are it’s patron capabilities. All of our students, alumni, and faculty not only love to make graphic novels and minicomics- but they love talking about them. Koha allows each patron to have their own OPAC sign in, where they can add an avatar, favorites list, rate/review books, make recommendations, send emails, add tags, put holds on materials, NEED I SAY MORE!? Actually, I could. There really are that many cool features. And best of all, the OPAC can be accessed from anywhere in the world, so long as our patrons have internet access and their ID/password.
One of my other favorite assets of the Koha database is it’s robust cataloging features. The database has built in Z39.50 search capabilities, which can be customized to search specific libraries of your choice, or left to the 5 pre-designated targets for copy cataloging. It is also designed to import photos and reviews of each item from Amazon, a feature which can be turned on and off to your liking. The templates for original MARC cataloging are simple and customizable as well.
And, last but not least, the community around Koha is a really incredible one. From my first says of simply researching the ILS, to my weeks of programming it, and now through my cataloging process, the Koha listserv has proven to be incredibly willing and eager to help. I’ve corresponded with some of the most helpful and intelligent people through the listserv, and every question I’ve posted has always received an out-pour of information and answers to see me through. It’s really incredible and inspiring, and if there’s one thing that can sell you on an ILS it’s how dedicated and passionate its users, administrators, and programmers are about it.
So- with a little help from a local programmer (Koha has a slight learning curve for non-techies, though the instructions and tutorials for building it are thorough), we had our database up and running just over a month after I began working for the school. While the students have been on winter break this week, with little to do in the snowy small town tundra of White River Junction, I conducted a mass volunteer-based cataloging exodus over at the library. With a team ranging from 3-12 people depending on the day, I set up the room with a MacBook Pro for everyone, with instructions on how to use Koha and a login to the back end of the database. Although I’m sure the free coffee and hot-cocoa helped, many of our volunteers stayed for 8 hour days, one after another! We busted through nearly half of the collection in two weeks, and they had fun doing it. All volunteers were students, staff, alumni, and interns- so re-familiarizing themselves with the collection provided a chance to discover treasures that they hadn’t previously known we carried. There was excitement in the air about the new database, and it was a beautiful thing to see everyone so invested in bringing our cartoon community library up to the next level. If any of you are reading this, thanks again for your help!
Our new database will debut this spring, so check back to The Schulz Library Blog for an announcement and link! And if any librarians reading this have questions about using a Koha database, please don’t hesitate to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Until next time, I leave you with some kick-ass illustrations by first year student Dakota McFadzean. These were the result of an exercise where each student was given an animal, an emotion, and an occupation to illustrate. I think you can figure ’em out…