Saturday, July 13, 2013

A simple library system for the Salia Community Library

Rani has mentioned that we have been helping out with the library at Salia. Initially we found a simple commercial library management package that would allow them to catalogue and lend out books. However, because there is no budget for the library, I decided it would be better if I came up with something free. It was so rough in the anchorage, that I was awake at 5 am, so I did a search on free database software (thanks to a suggestion from our friend, Jeanne, who is a librarian). I found a product called FileAmigo that supports creation of very simple databases and reports.

In less than an hour I had a Books database and Overdue report created. The system we came up with for managing the books is of necessity very simple. There is only one volunteer part time librarian (one of the teachers). In case anyone is interested in making something like this, the Books database table contains the following fields: Number, Title, Author (surname, firstname), Subject1, Subject2, Subject3, Borrower, and Due Date. The Number is an automatically incremented number and the Due Date is a date field. All other fields are text. Only the Number, Title, and Author are mandatory fields. The Subject fields are optional and can be used to put in tags for searching by topic.

Rather than add all the books in advance to the catalogue (they have thousands of volumes), we suggested that they add a book when it is checked out. At this time the librarian will write the automatically generated number on an inside page of the book and enter the borrower name and due date in the system. The librarian would then write the borrowed book numbers and due date on a slip of paper that would be given to the borrower for reference. The system has a simple report that will list all overdue books for a given date. When a borrower returns a book, the librarian can find it by its Number and simply remove the borrower name and due date from the system.

Of course such a simple system has disadvantages. It does not keep a history of lent books, for example. However it is a step beyond using a spreadsheet, since it is less exposed to accidental deletion of data. The database files can be backed up to an external hard drive and we recommended they do this each week to avoid losing too much work in the event of a crash.

The biggest problem the library has is to physically organize their books. None of the teachers has training as a librarian and Lepa (the volunteer librarian) told me she was at a loss as to how to proceed. Rani and I did some research and came up with a simple organization scheme that divides the library into Young Child (<5), Child and Youth Fiction, Adult Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Reference. We also proposed a list of high level categories for the non-fiction and reference books (e.g., Geography, Art and Crafts, and History). Most of the donated books fall into the first two categories and finding shelf space for these is also a problem. I spent an hour or two with Lepa going through the shelves and books, sorting adult fiction from youth and child fiction, and putting up temporary labels. Rani and I wrote out instructions on how to accomplish this organization. Lepa will ask some of the older students to help nd the head teacher plans to have some more shelving built, so hopefully by the time we return we will see some progress!

It felt good to give something something to this lovely community where we have been made to feel so welcome.

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