Florence is not like most modern cities. Walking through the city center, it’s easy to imagine life as it was 200 years ago. Street performers still play accordions and violins, street vendors roast chestnuts. Older buildings tower over narrow cobblestone streets. The city embraces its heritage — there are no skyscrapers or digital billboards here.But close to 6,000 American students travel to Florence every year, and despite the city’s rustic trappings, their studies need to stay current with the times. When I got to FSU’s Florence library in August 2011, I found:
- 12 new computers
- 1 ancient printer
- 6,000 books
- 1 card catalog
- No digital records to speak of
- No websites
If, like me, you thought that in 2011 every noteworthy organization had a website and every noteworthy library had an online catalog, think again. The Florence Program is a great organization (with excellent, professional staff members), and the Florence library is a very good collection of academic texts, popular books, maps, and travel guides. So why is there no digital presence?
One reason is that the library has for time immemorial been led by one graduate student chosen from FSU’s MLIS program. So, once a year, the library loses its supervisor and gains a new one. And each new graduate student supervisor grapples with living in a foreign country, managing a library, and taking classes. There seems to be little time left for large-scale digitization projects.
Despite all of this, I’ve decided to do what I can to move this library into the internet age. My mission will start with a website built in EZ Publish (FSU’s preferred Content Management System) and will continue as far as I can get with putting our holdings online in a searchable format. My main criteria for finding a system of cataloging online, were, roughly:
- Quick and easy to build.
- Inexpensive or free.
- Easy to searching.
- Easy to maintain.
After exploring a few open source softwares (Koha, Evergreen, BiblioQ), I quickly discovered that I was out of my element. (Apache Tomcat servers? Yankee hotel foxtrot?) Besides, we didn’t have a website, much less a dedicated server for the installation of our catalog. So I started to check out LibraryThing. It’s a service aimed at book lovers who want to keep their personal libraries in order, by for my purposes it seems to fit the bill. You can see my early LibraryThing efforts here.
I can load all 6,000+ books from the library onto this website for $25. It provides the books’ metadata, which I can download into a CSV or Excel file so there’s room to migrate our digital library if that’s needed in the future.
But to what extent should I put all of my hopes and dreams of a quick, online catalog into LibraryThing? Although we’re a low-traffic library, I won’t be able to use LibraryThing to properly track circulation stats, so should I rethink my objectives and try to build something more comprehensive somewhere else? Something that we could “own” more fully?
For now, I’m sticking with the card catalog. But hopefully I’ll be able to take some steps towards creating a digital presence by the end of next summer.