One of the goals of the Library Technologies and Metadata department is to describe our work in more detail. This week, I’ll look at technology in use with our conversion project, including perl scripting, APIs, and Microsoft’s tools: Access and Excel.
Taking a cue from our Metadata Librarian, Kim Sanderson’s recent thought, “I’ll have to try that when I come across something particularly onerous…”, one of the joys of working in library systems is automating parts of a project that are manually arduous – and error prone.
As an example, consider the conversion project from Dewey Decimal classification to Library of Congress, described in a recent blog post by Alice Sloop.
The first step in this project was to identify parts of the collection for conversion.
Reporting data from our catalog system, Sirsi Dynix at the time, required learning perl scripting in conjunction with the system’s Application Program Interface (APIs). With these tools, I queried the system for items published after 1990 and also for items that had circulated to provide a starting point for reclassification. I worked with Kim Sanderson to identify essential bits of metadata to capture.
Scripting is one of the most useful technology skills because it automates tasks that would, otherwise, be executed one-by-one by a human operator. With the help of a very talented student, Bill Jin (Class of 2012), we scripted a program to print spine labels for items being converted, one sheet of 56 labels at a time. Kim created the lists for conversion with 56 items/sheet – a manageable number of books to work with at a time.
Meanwhile, during conversion, one of the “onerous” tasks is having to track down items that are not on the shelf. This involves manual searching to determine if the item is miss-shelved, checked out, missing, withdrawn, or already converted. As time has passed, the original documents Kim created for the project have grown outdated. Fortunately, Microsoft Access enables me to match current metadata with the original conversion files to identify those items withdrawn, checked out, or already converted. What remains is the list of items still needing to be converted. Scripting this list into files of 56 items is another enhancement, automating yet another step of the process.
One final arduous task for conversion was shifting the collection; some items on the ground floor needed to move to the 2nd floor to make room for the growing LC Collection. When the Government Documents were moved upstairs, it was time to move the initial LC Collection from the first floor into its new quarters on the ground floor.
Technology helped in this project by making a plan on paper based on a projection of what the collection would be in 5 years, after the “conversion” was completed and new materials were added. Using Microsoft Excel to calculate, I predicted how many books could be placed on the available shelves, dividing the items into the ranges and shelves where the books would likely end up after 5 years. Excel features allowed me to create meaningful stacks labels to guide the shift into the new space; labels that continue to facilitate locating items as the collection grows.