Virtual cataloging for community school libraries

Gina Pambianchi’s work for the Penn Libraries typically entails a considerable amount of social proximity. As Penn’s Community Outreach Librarian, a normal work-week finds her in schools across the city, collaborating closely with teachers, student workers, and volunteers. 

Open laptop with screen displaying library books on a library bookshelf.

Under Pambianchi’s guidance, Penn Libraries Outreach plays a central part in an established, multistep process to reinvigorate or revive libraries throughout the School District of Philadelphia. “We’re in partnership with the community,” says Pambianchi. “Our shared goal is for every public school to have a library that reflects its students’ needs and interests.”

Pambianchi is also a registered nurse, which might partially account for the foresight she demonstrated in early March. “A lockdown seemed increasingly likely,” Pambianchi recalls. “So I drove to our newest site, Overbrook Elementary, to take pictures of the shelves. The governor closed the schools that afternoon.”

The 25 shelves that Pambianchi photographed were in Overbrook’s new school library. Pambianchi and a team of work-study students are now using the images to remotely inventory the books therein by creating an entry for each title in Follett Destiny Library Manager, the cataloging system that Penn Libraries Outreach provides to all of the schools it serves.

Because of the quantity of in-person labor required to catalog a given collection, Pambianchi had been considering remote cataloging even before the outbreak of COVID-19. “Remote cataloging affords time for other, site-dependent activities,” she says. “So we can be more versatile in person.”

Pambianchi notes that reports to strategically build collections can also be run remotely, and WePAC is likewise shifting to collection analytics for the time being. “While schools are closed, I’m running reports on what books have actually been circulating and how big collections are,” says WePAC Fellow Evan Waddill. “This situation is forcing us to think about how we can quantify the work we’re doing.”

Read more at Penn Libraries News.