Follow us on Twitter? #nowcataloguing

Do you follow us on Twitter?  If you don’t already, you can follow us via the link to the side of this page.  As well as keeping you up to date with new posts on the blog, we use it to retweet news about events taking place in our libraries and elsewhere in the City of London.  We also sometimes tweet images from some of the more interesting collections that pass through our hands in ISS.  Recently, we’ve been cataloguing a new collection of books relating to food and drink for Guildhall Library.  Some of these images are historically interesting, such these two approaches to cooking in times of austerity:  Charles Francatelli’s “Plain cookery book for the working classes” (1852)

Plain cookery book

and “Tempting dishes for small incomes” by Mrs. de Salis (1892)

Tempting Dishes

Some are more visually attractive, such as this design by Barney Bubbles for a limited edition recipe book published in 1974 for Justin de Blank Provisions (“Feasts”)

Barney Bubbles

and these illustrations, by the ballet designer William Chappell, for June and Doris Langley Moore’s “The pleasure of your company” from 1936:

The Pleasure of your Company


Pleasure of Your Company

or even these two designs (perhaps not to everyone’s taste) that make use of the “nature morte” tradition: Comtesse Guy de Toulouse-Lautrec’s “Les recettes de Mapie” (1956)

Recettes de Mapie

and Pierre Koffmann’s “Memories of Gascony” (1990):

Memories of Gascony

Not everything we catalogue is quite as visually attractive as these, of course, but if you follow us on Twitter (look out for the hashtag #nowcataloguing) you might come across something that is of interest to you!




Introducing our new partner : St Bride Library

Everyone who visits the St Bride Library falls in love with it. It is an amazing collection of books and journals, type specimens and printing presses, anything and everything to do with printing, typography and graphic design, housed in a higgledy-piggledy beautiful building of 1891.

St Bride 1

Between 1992 and 2004, St Bride Library was part of City of London Libraries. We made a big effort to retrospectively convert the existing catalogues and 34,264 monograph records, 11,000 in-analytic records and 3,300 serials were put online.

Then, in April 2004, St Bride Foundation took over the running of the library and the ownership of its collections. Although their holdings were still contained and still displayed in our catalogue and although a limited number of records continued to be added, it was not nearly enough to keep pace with the Library’s acquisitions and a considerable backlog built up.

But now we are beginning a new project to catalogue as much as possible of that backlog and make those new acquisitions available to the enthusiasts, experts and students who use the library. Thanks to the generosity of the Foyle Foundation, a lucky cataloguer has been appointed to work part-time for a year on the project. These are some of the things we have catalogued already, in our first two weeks – books and pamphlets, old and new, in a variety of languages St Bride 2– and soon they will be available to St Bride Library staff and users.

I hope to update from time to time with reports on our progress and news of especially interesting treasures we discover, but in the meantime click here to see the latest additions to the catalogue.

Contributed by: Heather

Montalbano and the Borrowers

Montalbano and the Borrowers

You may have noticed that a new feature has recently appeared on our sidebar – ‘We’ve been borrowing …’.  What’s it all about?  G.M. explains all …

We’ve been borrowing …’ appears as a series of regular updates on the BSS page of our catalogue and it does pretty much what it says on the tin!  It features anything on our catalogue that members of the BSS staff have been borrowing from our libraries (or at least will admit to borrowing from our libraries!) and would like to draw to the attention of both colleagues and visitors to the page.

It was initially introduced as a way of promoting the diversity of our stock to library users as well as personalising the catalogue a little and reminding everyone that there are actually real live people working here behind the scenes!    Since our work can sometimes be quite solitary, it was also an opportunity for us to share our interests, inspire each other and prompt some lively discussion between us. 

The list is updated at the beginning of each month. There’s no pressure on anyone to make suggestions – everyone is free to contribute on a regular basis or just occasionally, whatever suits them best. There’s no guarantee that all suggestions will make it up onto the live page either. It depends on things like space, formatting, visuals and other technical stuff. But our aim is to include ideas from everyone in BSS at some point so that we accurately reflect the borrowing habits of the section as a whole.

Anything and everything can be included. Any subject in any format … fiction, non-fiction, comedies, dramas, tragedies, reference items, children’s books, graphic novels, language courses, light reads, weighty tomes, hardbacks, paperbacks, DVDs, Blurays,  CDs, spoken word and scores … Anything we’ve been reading, watching or listening to … as long as it’s in the libraries and on the catalogue then it qualifies!

So far the contributions have focussed mainly on books, along with the occasional DVD or CD. But the subject matter and the genres have been quite eclectic and have included music theory, economics, comedy, animated films, Ethiopian jazz,  recipe books, travel guides, historical and classic novels.

Now and then a theme emerges … this month’s suggestions were made in the run up to a hot and sunny weekend and the list features gardens, barbeques and cricket. We in BSS obviously know how to relax, switch off and recover from our exhausting working weeks!  Sometimes suggestions can be seasonal … I think several of us were in spring cleaning mode when we became intrigued by the suggestion ‘Vinegar: 100s of household uses’ (Seriously! You’d be amazed!)

One of the first recommendations ‘Alone in Berlin’ by Hans Fallada has now been borrowed by several members of staff and has been much discussed and unanimously admired.  Sometimes there are strange coincidences … one staff member had just recommended ‘The Tin Drum’ by Gunter Grass and by the end of the morning the Bluray / DVD version had landed on her desk for cataloguing.

Some of us were slightly nervous about including the suggestion ‘Robin Ince’s Bad Book Club: one man’s quest to uncover the books that taste forgot’ … wondering how many of these so-called awful books we might have read and ahem … maybe even enjoyed! Or which ones may be lurking in our (otherwise quite tasteful) libraries! 

A recent TV series inspired a mammoth Montalbano readathon between two of our resident book-junkies. They tore through all of the Commissario’s titles that we held in stock and then had Barbican staff rooting through the stacks to find ‘The Day of the Owl and Equal Danger’ by Leonardo Sciascia, the ground-breaking ‘Godfather’ of Italian crime fiction. 

Interestingly, these particular titles provoked a discussion about what we should actually call this staff picks feature. (Not that cataloguers are pedantic or anything … just scrupulously accurate!)  Originally it had the heading ‘We really liked …’ but we later changed it to ‘We’ve been borrowing …’ – a subtle but significant alteration which (as well as conjuring up images of my colleagues as Poms and Ariettys scampering about the libraries scaling bookcases and winching books down to the ground with washing lines) meant that we were now free to include ANYTHING we’d been borrowing even if we hadn’t necessarily ‘Really liked’ it (sorry Montalbano).

Perhaps we’d just found something mildly entertaining, distracting, slightly useful or unsettling, disappointing, derivative or surprising in some way.  Maybe we’d been experimenting and trying something new and very different that didn’t quite meet expectations.  They all became valid reasons for inclusion in the list. The new heading also reinforced the fact that all the items featured can be found on the catalogue and borrowed from our libraries.

So! That’s a very loonnnnnnnnnnng explanation for how a very short feature ended up making an appearance on our blog! Check out this month’s list and feel free to comment on our choices … or explore our extensive, user-friendly catalogue and be inspired by the range of reading, listening, watching material available … but please excuse me now … must fly … I’m off to borrow books!

A star to steer her by : how our books (etc.) get to the library shelves

A star to steer her by: how our books (etc.) get to the library shelves

This is a piece that was originally written by the then Bibliographical Services Librarian, Chris, for the page on our catalogue that we use to make our readers more aware of our activities (and was written with the readers in mind).  It explains a little about the Service Level Agreement that we have with our libraries and how it affects the way we work.

Every year we place about 13,500 orders and catalogue about 22,000 items for the City Libraries.  These range from literary prizewinners to downloadable audiobooks, from OECD statistics to eighteenth-century broadside ballads recounting the last moments of criminals at Tyburn, from the latest blockbuster DVDs to programmes for pre-First World War airshows.  It’s quite a mix, but all in a day’s work when our job is to see that everyone who uses our lending libraries, the City Business Library and the historical reference libraries at Guildhall and the London Metropolitan Archives has access to what they need.

There’s a bit more to it than popping to the local supermarket for a trolleyful of bestsellers or even logging into an online bookseller to fill a virtual basket (though we do that sometimes).  Orders are placed with several suppliers and we also receive many donations.  Just as obtaining the stock is sometimes straightforward and sometimes complicated, so with cataloguing.  We are able to download many catalogue records with minimal intervention, but other items have to be catalogued locally and sometimes the research can take a while (when, exactly, was that malefactor hanged?).  The key thing is that you should be able to find what you want, whatever it is, when you look at our online catalogue, whether you are sitting in one of our libraries or at home anywhere in the world.

So, how do we manage?  One of our most important tools is our Service Level Agreement (SLA) with our “internal customers”, the libraries.  This sets out the standards to which we work and covers a wide range of activities.  Much of the focus, however, inevitably falls on the parts of the SLA relating to the speed with which we process orders and, subsequently, the incoming stock.  There are separate standards for urgent orders (mostly requests from our readers) and routine ones.  Urgent orders are placed within 24 hours of receipt in BSS.  When the stock arrives it is catalogued and sent out to the library in no more than three working days.  For ordinary stock the standards are respectively 5 working days for placing orders and 15 working days to have the stock ready and sent out to the libraries.  Of course we are always trying to do better than this, but as well as giving us targets to aim for, the SLA does also allow us to manage workflows to take account of all the complications mentioned earlier, while still meeting acceptable standards agreed with our libraries.

And why do we do it?  Well, of course we do it for our library users.  Although the SLA is an agreement between BSS and the libraries, the point of it is to make sure that our customers can find what they need in as timely a manner as possible.

Cataloguing spotlight : food and wine at Guildhall Library

Cataloguing Spotlight : Food and Wine at Guildhall Library

The first of a series in which we highlight some items of interest that we have recently catalogued for our various libraries.  (Clicking on the links should take you directly to the catalogue records.)

Contributed by: Ann.  

Guildhall Library has a number of internationally renowned collections on food and wine and related subjects such as the history of cookery, brewing, agriculture, household management, food and drinking customs. In the past months we have added over approx. 300 previously un-catalogued items for various Guildhall collections. A number of 17th and 18th century works such Charles Estienne’s 1606 edition of ‘Maison rustique, or, The countrey farme‘, Sir Edward Barry’s 1775 work ‘Observations, Historical, Critical and Medical on the Wines of the Ancients‘ and more recent works such as Frank Shay’s ‘My Pious friends and drunken companions : songs and ballads of conviviality‘ (1927) have been added to the well-known Wine Trade Club (WTC) collection.

As well as adding to firmly established collections, our recent cataloguing work has included to adding items for relatively new collections. For example, we have just finished cataloguing donations from the food writer Rosemary Stark for the emerging Guild of Food Writers (GFW) collection. This collection includes topics as varied as Estonian cuisine to Joan Storey’s revised edition of “Manners and rules of good society by a member of the aristocracy“. Other new collections we have recently catalogued include two new wine collections: the Hallgarten collection, a collection of principally German language material on German wines and viticulture and the Findlater collection.

Communicating with library users via the catalogue

Contributed by Ann, the Assistant Librarian who has taken the lead in responding to user comments on the catalogue:

In previous posts, Chris and Heather have written about two of the ways in which we have tried to promote engagement with our users (our behind the scenes tours and our promotional video). Another, more everyday, way of engaging with them is by giving users the opportunity to provide feedback directly via the catalogue itself. 

When we were designing our new catalogue , we chose to make a feedback link one of the main options on the home page. This has yielded a regular stream of comments and suggestions. In line with our Service Level Agreement, each email receives an automatic acknowledgement and a further substantive response, if applicable, within 10 working days.

As one might expect, a substantial number of e-mails have been related to circulation queries  (for instance, ‘Why can’t I renew my items?’). However, a significant number of comments and suggestions we have received have been about the catalogue itself.

One of the common themes to emerge from our feedback is the expectation some of our users have that our catalogue should function in a similar way to many well-known commercial sites. Users expect to be able  to browse the collections rather than retrieve details about known items. Typical emails include ‘What DVDs does my local library have?’ or ‘What are the new items in stock?’. Other examples have been requests for ‘shopping carts’ and the ability to rate or append comments to titles on the catalogue.  Some of these requests have been taken forward by the catalogue development teams and have been incorporated into the development of our catalogue.

It is interesting that the feedback we have received does not always support the common assumption that all of our users will want to search the catalogue using  simple keyword searching. Users have asked questions about more complex topics such as the use of classification and date range searching  – and one comment queried the apparent duplication of English as a filter in a drop down list on our advanced search.

Finally, receiving feedback has made us increasingly aware of the visibility of our catalogue online. We have had enquiries from colleagues in other libraries requesting details about bindings, illustrations and  signatures of rare books that we have in our collections. We have also received queries from individuals using our catalogue in Europe, New Zealand and the Americas, who are using our catalogue in the course of their private research.

Though very welcome, this can sometimes lead to a little cross-cultural confusion.  One reader queried why she was unable to log in to her account.  We eventually worked out that, although she was a member of the library of the Corporation of the City of London, it was the one in Ontario, Canada – and not ours!