Ethan J. Allen is Director of Monastero San Benedetto (Norcia, Italy) and Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Libraries, John D. MacArthur Campus (Jupiter, Florida, USA). His published research includes The Library and the Web: Graduate Students’ Selection of Open Access Journals for Empirical Literature Searches, co-authored with Roberta K. Weber for the Journal of Web Librarianship. We asked him to give us some insights into his experiences of developing new library services, as a part of the Library Voices series on establishing new library services.
My career in libraries began as a result of volunteering in the media center of a local high school while working full time for a private document imaging company. The school later employed me, as did the university which shared facilities with the high school.
Over time, I earned a graduate degree in library science, but previously earned a graduate degree in theology. When finishing the library degree, an old college buddy invited me to Italy to organize a small collection of books for his newly founded community of Benedictine monks.
I have been returning once or twice a year to Italy for the last 14 years for short periods, sometimes bringing other librarians to advance the work being done on site. They have no professionally trained librarians at this time. Having some background in theology has helped to understand the importance of the collection as a whole, and some of the finer distinctions with the subject matter of their holdings, and what meaning that has to the monks.
In addition to the ongoing work in Italy, I also have responsibility for the archives of a regional seminary, and cataloged the holdings of a local diocesan media center over a span of years. I have served in various roles of the local library association, including terms of board director and president, and am especially proud of the development of the organization in recent years, particularly as we’re able to award funding to local librarians for statewide conference participation.
My work as director of a library is more administrative in nature these days, but has also allowed opportunities to collaborate with teaching faculty on research and writing projects. Most of these have investigated which resources graduate students have used as they complete final research projects. The findings of these investigations have been presented at conferences in the UK, Ireland, and the US. It’s hard to predict what the future of my library will be, but we’re moving toward greater integration into the life of our campus and the success of our students.
Transatlantic Reclassification Project
The library at the Monastery of St. Benedict located in Norcia, Italy, has both general and theological print collections, each numbering about 3,000 volumes. Initially all books were classified according to DDC 21, but the logic of the classification did not satisfactorily align with the monks’ notions of how religious topics should be ordered. Further, the long numbering after decimal points made spine labels difficult to read, adding yet another layer of inconvenience.
As a solution to the problem, three sub-collections were created for the most-used sections: Liturgy, Monasticism, and Patristics. Currently, efforts are underway to adapt DDC for the Liturgical section so that the books within the major topic areas are grouped together and differentiated by truncated call numbers and more intuitive “Cutters”.
A Day in the Life
To keep the project going in the absence of a formally trained librarian, I communicate with Br. Philip through email and Google Hangouts to provide instructions or negotiate classification solutions. Br. Philip’s primary responsibility is to communal prayer and his work assignment at the brewery, but he gives careful attention to the library as time permits.
In Florida, I have been searching the catalog holdings for any item with a 264 (Christian Worship) call number stem. Each entry of the set becomes a candidate for reclassification and a new number is assigned to each book, according to a previously agreed upon scheme. The newly proposed call number lists are sent to Br. Philip and revised as appropriate.
Where revisions are recommended, I modify the bib records, save them within the catalog program, and upload to the online catalog. Labels are more successfully printed in the US, and when batches are ready, I mail them to people in the US whom I discover are soon to visit the monks. This helps to ensure a timely delivery. Once received, they are attached to the books by Br. Philip or monastery guests.
The anticipated outcome of this reclassification experiment is that the monks will be able to visit the section on liturgy and be able to select books more easily than when the books were more strictly classified.
Do you have a story to share about your role or your library? We’d love to hear from you. Get in touch using our contact form.