June 15, 2009

Organizing a local collective's library

I wrote this for the new PLG-UA Chapter newsletter, which will be coming out sometime over the summer. We put a lot of time and effort into this project, so I wanted to share an overview, our bibliography, and the embedded SlideShare presentation. As the project wraps up, I hope to also soon post the selected subject headings and any last minute changes made in the near future. Article and resources follow...

Volunteers from our chapter worked together this semester to partner with Tucson’s Dry River Collective[1] to organize their small lending library. The group maintains their library containing books and zines[2] themselves, which is located within their infoshop[3]. Their library had been organized as an aesthetic rainbow, forcing browsing, which served as an impetus for asking us for help in creating a simple, yet more orderly system for organizing and finding materials.

Because Dry River collective members are not librarians, and are the ones who would be working with the library, our group wanted them to do the decision-making. We served more so as consultants, offering suggestions, and based on consensus of Dry River, creating a plan for organization. What follows is a brief run down of what has been in the works for the past few months; we hope to have an opening day celebration reception as soon as all the cataloging and physical reorganization is complete, and we hope you will join us!

Cataloging

We researched a number of options for what could be used as a catalog: a simple relational database from an open source program, Drupal, Koha, Joomla, a spreadsheet, Goodreads, LibraryThing, and probably a few more. Considering Dry River only has a few computers, volunteers might come and go, and not everyone has extensive technological training, we therefore chose the simplest interface with the easiest access, also making it very easy for library users to wield, as well as share their input: we went with LibraryThing. Although Goodreads and LibraryThing have similar purposes, through our exploration, we realized Goodreads was better suited for an individual booklist, whereas LibraryThing would work well for a group and allows for more sophisticated cataloging.

Classification

As stated, Dry River, previously invoked an aesthetic rainbow for their classification system, which forced browsing. This system was visually based on the color of the book, going in rainbow-order. Although this method was certainly attractive, it made it very difficult to easily find specific items. Likewise, because there was no catalog, the only way to find anything was to look through every single book (or zine), and one would be very fortunate to have previous knowledge of the spine color. To meet this plan in the middle, we found consensus in a visual classification scheme based on main subject heading; in other words, a colored sticker would correspond with a specific subject, and this sticker would be placed on the spine of the book.

Again, because this is Dry River’s library and Dry River collective members and friends would be using and maintaining it, we felt it was very important for them to choose their main subject headings for classification of the books. We decided against pre-existing schemes and subject headings, such as Dewey, LCC/LCSH, or similar since the majority of items in the Dry River library are of a radical nature, and these subject headings are still in the process of becoming more accepting and supportive of alternative lifestyles and beliefs. An example would be that a zine created by rape survivors for rape survivors, if using LCSH, would receive the subject heading “rape victims;” another example is that “infoshop” is not even an existing subject heading in LCSH! As Sandy Berman has been arguing for many years, LCSH can be offensive, exclusive, and just plain ignorant; our chapter participated in the Radical Reference LCSH Blogging Party last year (Spring 2008), based on Sandy Berman and Jenna Freedman’s suggestions for new headings or revisions to existing ones[4]. However, I digress. Dry River chose their own headings based on their collection, their needs, and plans for the future, combined with consideration of our suggestions as PLG-UA. Within LibraryThing, items can receive numerous tags (yet authoritative ones if tagged by Dry River), but on the shelf, as is the only option for tangible items, only one, main subject heading would apply, as correlated with a color-coded sticker. This would be more of a dilemma for the zines, as zines can encompass many subject headings all in one, change subjects capriciously from issue to issue, or be so sporadic and/or ephemeral that it is difficult to have any idea what to do with them. For this, main options can be organizing alphabetically on the shelf and assigning an exorbitant number of tags in the catalog (or filling out the description section – 520 in MARC fields), or to organize by a main subject heading, trying to be as consistent as possible. At this point in time, Dry River has decided to assign main subject headings on the shelf, independent of the books, and will not be cataloging the zines in LibraryThing because their collection rotates so much, and they oft do not expect materials to return.

Circulation

Which brings up circulation. Dry River had been using an openly visible sign out sheet for borrowers to write their name, contact information, the item(s) they were borrowing, and the date. Because they are a non-hierarchical collective, they wanted all volunteers to have the same access to the same information (not just library volunteers having access to what has been checked out and by whom). Considering their circulation system, individual privacy would conflict with group transparency. Having all information out in the open could not only create a potential chilling effect for library users (especially because materials are of a radical nature), but could also be a personal danger with the recent wave and always-present possibility of FBI raids of infoshops[5]. With user information out in the open, it would be even easier for federal agents to just take it or even come in unannounced and scan the list. These considerations, although Dry River collective members did not seem too worried about the potentiality, prompted us to suggest a discreet circulation system that would be easy to destroy in a moment’s notice. This also would mean not including user information in the catalog. Therefore, when an item is checked out, it will receive a tag in LibraryThing noting it is checked out and the date it was borrowed, but there will be no corresponding user information anywhere on the Dry River computers. Instead, a concealed box with check out slips or a more discreet, easily destroyable checkout list will be employed for only Dry River library volunteers to monitor.

Acquisitions, Collection Development, & Preservation

Dry River receives numerous donations, finds materials for free, and has a synergistic relationship with Read Between the Bars, a local books-to-prisoners group here in Tucson. These reasons mean acquisitions and collection development are not a major hurdle for this library. In fact, Dry River recently needed to weed through their collection to pare it down to only materials that would fit with their mission and goals.

Dry River Library’s mission statement:

Dry River, functioning as a radical resource center, hosts a library in order to provide an array of radical books in an attempt to educate and inspire. We believe in an anti-authoritarian, autonomous, hate-free future and we believe that education is one of the many vessels through which to get there. We are here for you to find useful information, good reads, and inspiring, dangerous ideas.

This is one of the best library mission statements I have ever seen. Since they clearly know what they are setting out to accomplish with the library in general, we suggested they construct a collection development policy to make weeding and collecting easier. They are currently working on this policy.

Although all materials in the library can be borrowed, they have low circulation, so on one hand they might want to consider preservation (especially for the zines), but at the same time, it might not be an issue. Because of this, at this point in time, preservation is not factoring in to the library plan.

Conclusion

Dry River Collective Members are currently cataloging materials and then will be color-coding them and adding items to the shelves. They are also working on a collection development policy. We are answering questions as they come up and have offered to assist with more cataloging if they would like our help.

From conducting a great deal of research on the topic of infoshops, radical libraries, and zines, Kristen Cure (incoming PLG-UA President) and I (outgoing PLG-UA President) put together a presentation on this project for the 4th Annual SIRLS Graduate Student Symposium, and shared our information on Saturday, March 7, 2009. We include more details about the options we had and why we chose what we did; a more extensive background on zines; why infoshops and zines are important; and why librarians and traditional libraries should be interested in them. We re-recorded our presentation and will have it synchronized in SlideShare, available to view in the near future (although, our original presentation was much better!). We also provided a handout of all of our resources and references. Please check [http://sirls.arizona.edu/PLG/media] for some or all of these items when they are posted.

If you would like more information, you can contact me (nicolepagowsky@gmail.com) or Kristen (kkcure@email.arizona.edu), and we can also send you any of those materials mentioned directly.



[1] See our write up on Dry River in the inaugural issue of the PLG-UA newsletter, volume 1, issue 1, published for fall semester 2008. Dry River site: http://www.dryriver.org

[2] Do-It-Yourself, self-published periodicals, typically of low print runs, and not created for money. See: http://www.barnard.edu/library/zines/whatarezines.htm

[3] A community space often serving more marginalized populations, used for meetings, entertainment, education, and often containing a small library. See: http://wiki.infoshop.org/Infoshop

[4] See Inaugural Issue of the PLG-UA newsletter for write up about this. You can also visit our blog: http://plg-sirls.blogspot.com

[5] See Long Haul Infoshop, California, where the FBI stormed in, broke locks, took computers with library information, and presented the warrant well after doing so: http://thelonghaul.org/?cat=5


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Our full bibliography is here
, which we originally passed out, along with free zines, at the Symposium presentation. If you're at all interested in zine libraries or infoshops, we have some excellent resources listed.

Our re-recorded presentation synchronized with SlideShare follows (of course though, it was much better three months ago in March when we originally presented!).