Working with Koha at Cleveland Library

I’ve finished my fourth week at Cleveland Library where I’m currently focused on cataloging the collection using the Koha Open Source ILS. It’s my first experience of cataloging “in the wild” and it’s also my first experience with Koha. The system was set up for the library prior to my arrival but not a lot has been done since that point. We also have a number of questions about using Koha and about cataloging procedures that I’m doing my best to sort out.

The Cleveland Library setting is unique in that it’s run by an all-volunteer staff and it’s based, literally, in a thrift shop. The folks that founded the library, led by Ron Still, have a very down-to-earth, make things happen approach that often results in unexpected outcomes.

For example, they asked for book donations from the community to get the library started, rapidly amassed 50,000+ volumes and decided to go ahead and make them available as soon as they could get them on the shelves. So it’s a wide open setting in which I take my laptop out on the floor and catalog whatever’s currently checked in while the library and thrift store are open to the public!

I think this situation would be difficult for me if I hadn’t had quite a bit of bookstore experience, including jobs at two awesome San Francisco shops featuring used books, Green Apple Books and Aardvark Books, where space was at a premium and ad hoc solutions ruled the day.

Working with Koha has raised some challenges since we don’t have a service agreement and are all newbies, though that support issue would remain with proprietary software as well, due to our exceptionally restricted budget. We are also in need of someone reliable to update the software. It’s the kind of thing I’d like to learn but just haven’t had an opportunity to figure out and I don’t want to be learning on my own using such a crucial system.

So I’m encountering some challenges and am doing my best to come up with some viable solutions. One of the great things about working at Cleveland Library is that I can take on as much as I can handle and it’s giving me an opportunity to not only develop new skills but to think through the systemic challenges in birthing a new library on limited funding.

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