BookNet Canada was recently in conversation with the Toronto Public Library about its use of CataList and online catalogues. One interesting point that came up was how the TPL needs online catalogue content earlier (especially from Canadian publishers) in order to facilitate their ordering process. With this in mind, Valerie Casselman, Senior Collections Specialist, Adult Content, kindly put together the following blog post.
Throughout its history, the Toronto Public Library has been committed to supporting the work of Canadian writers and the small Canadian presses who publish them. To that end, TPL purchases copies of all Canadian fiction and poetry for both its reference library and for the circulating collections at many of its 98 other branches. We also purchase most non-fiction titles for the Toronto Reference Library—the exception being books with strictly regional interest—and selectively for the circulating branch collections. We aim to have these titles on order early (pre-publication) and available for borrowing in our libraries as close to the publication date as possible.
TPL began to transition from using print catalogues to order materials to using online selection in 2008, initially with Baker and Taylor’s Title Source 3 and then in 2010 with an online bibliographic database and selection software developed, in collaboration with TPL, by the Canadian library wholesaler Whitehots.
Working from a list of publishers and a timeline developed by TPL collections specialists, Whitehots creates and sends carts of titles published by a wide range of trade, academic, specialized, and small-press publishers. The contents of a cart represent the entire output of a publisher for a given publishing season. Using Bowker as their data source—which in turn relies on ONIX feeds transmitted from individual publishers—Whitehots converts the raw data files they receive into a dynamic database of titles that librarians use to select and allocate for branches and then download to TPL’s ILS for acquisitions, cataloguing, and ultimately for customers to locate, borrow, and place holds.
The advent of this new selection environment has meant developing new workflows, new procedures, new approaches to the work of selection, and a new dependence on correct, complete, and timely electronic data. Such rich information as publicity and marketing plans, print runs, endorsements from other writers, and even author biographies—vital for making decisions about local authors—are often missing in the online environment. This is especially a problem with the smaller Canadian presses, where not only is much of this information missing, but also basic data such as price, annotations, author’s name, or the audience level is often incomplete or absent altogether. Sometimes, a publisher’s titles are missing entirely from the selection database, resulting in difficulties and delays in acquiring these books and making them available to our customers.
In April of this year, Whitehots began importing BookNet Canada data into their website and we now have access to more complete annotations, author information, some reviews and endorsements, as well as a link to CataList. This has helped enormously. However, there are still too many instances where the information required to make decisions is not available when we need it.
So, what can small Canadian publishers do for the Toronto Public Library? Provide high quality data that is complete and correct and ready early – in the same timeframe as print catalogues have traditionally been released – so that we can have their books on order well before the beginning of the publishing season and available in branches for readers when they are launched and reviewed.