George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Type of Library: Special Library

Project Coordinator: Joan Stahl

Address: George Washington’s Estate, Museum & Gardens

Telephone Number: 703-799-8637

E-Mail: [email protected]

Problems To Be Solved:

  1. To integrate two separate and different card catalogs—one for modern books and one for manuscripts—and consider integrating a third, incomplete one for archives
  2. To create a union catalog with other small, special libraries that had collections that complemented those at Mount Vernon
  3. To find an open source, hosted ILS that would address concerns about limited staff and limited budget

MARCIVE Solutions:

  1. Retrospective conversion from shelflist cards
  2. Authorities processing

The Story:

The Library was created by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, the group that administers Mount Vernon. In 1874, “The Minutes of Council of Mt. Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union” includes the following (p. 9):

Vice Regent of Virginia offered the following resolutions, with the view to the collection at Mt. Vernon of a library, consisting exclusively of books to which the name, character, principles and fame of Washington have given rise, without regard to the nationality or language of their authors.

The Vice Regents to write and earnestly request all authors, publishers or owners of such books to present a copy of them to Mount Vernon, that they may thus be collected at his home and place of burial the genius and talent of the worlds to his intellectual monument. Accepted…

The “Report of the Library Committee, in the 1936 Minutes of the Council”, pp. 45-46 reads:

For several years it has been the custom to speak of our book collection under the separate terms of Mansion Library and Reference Library. Your Committee is happy to announce that they are now in fact separated and are recorded in two different card indices. The change has been gradual, but shifting and also duplicating the cards represents arduous labor on the part of Mr. Wall during the past winter.

In the Mansion Library are deposited the original George Washington books; duplicate copies of such books as are listed in the Atheneum catalogue, the Inventory or other authentic source as having once belonged to Washington; such old books and pamphlets of Washington’s day as have been given us; and some books of historic or intrinsic value.

In the Reference Library we are gathering together a useful lot of old and new books for the benefit of our Staff and the Vice-Regents. This aims to be a collection of rather wide scope for ready reference on the grounds. It has already proved itself of real service. We hope that each of our Standing Committees will find therein something helpful to its especial work. Most of the books were donated in years past, but recently it has been found advisable to make purchases in order to fill some need or gap…

I assumed responsibility for the Library in 2008, as Head Librarian. The collections had grown largely through donations—in the absence of any collection development policy—and many of the donations had not been adequately processed or described. Interestingly, each book/each donation was accessioned in the way that museum objects are. Electronic resources were non-existent as were other standard library services, including an OPAC and interlibrary loan.

With our ILS and other initiatives (electronic reference service; digitization of some of our collections; a thoughtful collection development policy, etc.), I am working to modernize the library and make our holdings known to potential researchers. Although the library has primarily served the needs of staff, we do have our share of independent researchers who find us. I expect that to change significantly with the planned opening, in 2013, of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington.

Before this project, we had three separate card catalogs, each very different from the next and each incomplete. The “book catalog” included incomplete sets of catalog cards, often with incorrect information recorded on them. Some examples include: a) a book with an author card, but no title card, and a truncated number of subject cards b) a catalog card that did not bibliographically match the book that was on the shelf and c) a catalog card for one edition/printing of a title that conflated several different editions or printings. The “book catalog” did not include serials, microforms, most a-v titles; these items were not included in any of our catalogs.

The “manuscript catalog” presented its own set of unique problems. The records were non-standard and served as an inventory list, more than a bibliographic entry; in addition, the “manuscript catalog” was unusual in three other respects: a) none of the manuscripts was assigned classification numbers or archival numbers b) the records included both original manuscripts in our collections, as well as reproductions (typescripts, photocopies, photostats, photographs) of manuscripts held in other collections and c) the data on the catalog cards included many unclear abbreviations of proper names and geographic locales.

The third catalog, the “archives catalog,” consists of item-level descriptive entries of the early records (1858-1900) of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.  The data conversion of this catalog was slated for after the staff inventories and assesses all of our archives and special collections and completed in 2011.

I solicited recommendations from professional colleagues. I then got cost estimates and terms from three vendors and sent out sample cards, before making my decision. MARCIVE was cost effective and they had a proven track record. They were flexible about working with non-traditional records.

The project consists of the conversion of manuscripts (6,135 titles), print material (6,230 records, including 850 “rare books”), and archival material (not started as of 6/30/2011, but estimated at 7,000 titles).

As part of the processing, local notes, local subject headings, the classification system, location information, and other additional information were transferred from the card to the MARC record. Authorities processing was performed on all the names and subjects, preserving the local subjects at the same time.

The records are being loaded into Koha, the first open-source integrated library system.

The MARCIVE processing has helped in so many ways. For example, now that we have our skeletal manuscript records loaded into the ILS, we can run a report and inventory our collections of more than 6,000 manuscripts, something we have never been able to easily do. Similarly, we can more easily select a subset of manuscript records to enhance now that we have the records converted. The MARCIVE staff has caught bibliographic errors that we have missed and have raised issues that we had not considered—so they have improved the access to our collections.

At this time, the OPAC has only been shared with select staff and researchers, but their feedback has all been very positive. The librarians are currently the principal users of the OPAC and it has made our work so much easier.

As I invited vendors on site, in order to select an ILS, I always envisioned a union catalog. In fact, I invited staff from nearby libraries to attend the demonstrations in the hopes that they might have an interest in participating. Gunston Hall attended the demonstration and decided to partner with Mount Vernon once we had selected an ILS. I shared the link to our OPAC (once both Mount Vernon and Gunston Hall had populated it with a significant number of records) with the staff at Stratford Hall and followed with an onsite demo and discussion. Subsequently, Stratford Hall is in the process of having their records converted by MARCIVE and has committed to becoming part of our union catalog or Founding Fathers Library Consortium.

At the time that Mount Vernon and Gunston Hall came to an agreement on the union catalog, both libraries were at a different point in the data conversion process. MARCIVE had converted most of Gunston Hall’s records, which were going into a collections management database. But we worked together to design the OPAC, so each institution’s holdings could be searched independent of each other, if desired, and to ensure that any differences in the ways in which we processed, housed, located, and named our holdings were respected. To the extent possible, we tried to standardize our approaches.

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