Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Visit: Bromley House Library, cataloguing projects, volunteers and fundraising

Last week I went on an Historic Libraries Forum workshop covering retrospective cataloguing projects, working with volunteers and fundraising. I found it really useful, with lots of great networking opportunities, as well as a chance to see a lovely library and get some new ideas to try. The photos on this post were taken by me, with permission from Bromley House, but I didn't use flash so they aren't the best photos I've ever taken!

The visit was hosted by Bromley House Library, a subscription library in the centre of Nottingham, which has existed for nearly 200 years and been in its current building since 1821. The library is home to about 40,000 books, (about 200 of which could be described as "rare" and about 100 manuscripts), and the staff have spent the last couple of years getting them catalogued using the Heritage LMS from ISOxford; the OPAC will be available shortly online. The visit was centred around this process, but commenced with a tour of the building and its garden, which really helped to set the context for the project.

Children's book section - there are some lovely classics I remember from my childhood here!

The building is tall, with rooms leading off each other, and the in-house classification system had become split between rooms making it hard for people to find items using the card catalogue. The collections have been gathered together over the years, and although sections such as modern fiction are weeded, anything published pre-1970 isn't. Whilst environmental control is difficult in a building like this, an enthusiastic conservation group meets each week, trained by a conservator to take basic book conservation measures, such as cleaning, making boxes and tying tape. Other issues are the beautiful gallery room, with books shelved to quite a high level (although it now takes 2-3 people together to get books from the highest shelves) and a vertiginous spiral staircase on which only one person at a time is allowed!

 Background and staff
 A series of talks gave the background to the cataloguing project, which was funded by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Before the application, research had been done into how other libraries had coped with using volunteers to catalogue books, and it was clear that a system of training and supervision would need to be set up. This entailed recruiting a part-time project leader, plus several part-time professional cataloguers, who would then each oversee a team of volunteers, covering the whole week between them. Volunteers were mostly drawn from the library's own members, and to ensure consistency, each were asked to commit to at least one half day session each week. Adverts were placed for the professional staff, and copies of the job descriptions for these and the project leader were available for us to see.

Cataloguing process
The new professional staff put together a cataloguing procedure for their newly acquired LMS, together with the compact agreed with volunteers and handlining guidelines for the books. The cataloguing procedure was revised and updated as they went along and learnt from their experiences, particularly as the volunteers had varying levels of IT ability. Help sheets were developed for difficult groups of items. Although Heritage doesn't use MARC, records could be downloaded from the British Library and the cataloguing procedure used AACR2 and DCRM(B) (where appropriate). They aimed for a greater level of detail than in most of the downloaded records. Quality control was achieved by sampling and checking work, creating lists of commons errors to watch out for and conducting a stock check near the end using the accessions register to make sure nothing had been missed.

Rare books
Work on this area was done by two people who already had experience in cataloguing rare books. These books again were catalogued to a much higher level of detail, using DCRM(B) and with help from the CILIP RBSCG guidelines. Particular attention was paid to recording details of bindings, provenance and marginalia, in a standard form in the Notes field in Heritage. A useful feature of Heritage was the ability to add local notes (not visible in the OPAC) to record condition, meaning that reports can now be run to pick out items for conservation work. Where appropriate, items were submitted to ESTC, contributing to the international world of scholarship.

Money for the project had come from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and a variety of small grants from charitable trusts. Tips shared about fundraising were:
  • Consider carefully the goals of each trust you are applying to and make sure your aims are tailored very specifically to their terms.
  • Generally you won't get funding for things that should be a normal part of the library operation, e.g. the expense of acquiring a new LMS.
  • Local trusts are particularly worth looking out for, although individual grants may be small.
  • Be aware of what the rest of your institution is doing, you don't want to be obstructing their fundraising efforts, or vice versa!
  • Be aware of reporting and evaluation requirements throughout the project, and try to involve the funders in your work, e.g. by inviting them to volunteers' parties.
  • Be aware of outreach potential, often a key part of making a fundraising application. Trusts will often want to see outreach beyond your usual customer base, and maybe a culture change in the organisation so that this is sustained in the long term.
Photocopies are paid for by putting money in the frog
 Lessons learned
I found it really useful to hear what might have been done differently with the benefit of hindsight, as well as what had gone well.

  • One good point was that the volunteers were in for 10 sessions a week, which left no time for system maintenance or downtime
  • There were also useful tips on communication between part-time staff, especially where they don't overlap, and in motivation (apparently sweets are the key, as well as parties!).
  • It was clear that both the staff and volunteers had really taken ownership of the project and had gained a lot from it, both in terms of skills acquired (such as IT) and by building networks and adding value to the institution.
  • I also found it very useful to see the documentation, ranging from job descriptions to cataloguing manuals.

And finally, a picture of the garden behind the library, a little oasis in the centre of Nottingham, maintained by volunteers and much enjoyed by members.

Thank you to Bromley House for a really interesting day.

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