Monday 13 January 2020

Click on the Cat

Search the catalogue

This post describes the migration of an Access database to LibraryThing to make resources easy to search via the web platform TinyCat. I have written previously “Once upon a shelf” about the usefulness of this system for small libraries or personal collections.

TinyCat by LibraryThing provides an inexpensive web platform for small libraries. My local genealogical society has an Access database of resources. While this is useful, it is not web accessible and library solutions of web hosted databases are beyond the financial reach of our small volunteer organisation. To this end I have been uploading  our resources to LibraryThing to make them easy to search. LibraryThing  has a universal import function that accepts a wide range of file formats.
The process involved several steps but is simple enough for anyone with basic computer skills.
  1. Export local records from Access (any database)  to Excel (any spreadsheet) – skip this step if your records are already in a spreadsheet!
  2. Download the sample csv from LibraryThing
  3. Delete any fields not needed in the sample csv – we did not need Rating, Review or Date read as none of those were part of our database.
  4. Reorder the data columns to match the sample csv columns
  5. Insert the header row from the sample csv – the 7 fields used  - 'TITLE' | 'AUTHOR (last, first)' | 'DATE' | 'ISBN' | 'PUBLICATION INFO' | 'TAGS' | 'CALL NUMBER'
  6. Save the file as a csv with a meaningful title –  I chose to upload limited sections of data  progressively e.g. 200 records at a time.
  7. Upload at Import records.  The upload scans the file for valid ISBNs then identifies those records that have no ISBNs and asks for confirmation on how to proceed. LibraryThing does accept titles without ISBNs.
  8. Choose the most relevant cataloguing sources for your data. I chose to have LibraryThing search for the records firstly at the National Library of Australia, then the State Library of Queensland and the British Library. There are hundreds of reliable sources to find the books and other resources.
By uploading only a small portion of records, the data was usually processed within half an hour. I then checked each upload to see if all records had been processed or if a few needed to be edited or added manually. LibraryThing adds Dewey numbers and Subject Headings so we used the Tags field for our local subjects. The tags data needs editing but that is easy to do in LibraryThing with bulk edit.

While the process of uploading all our data is not yet complete, our online catalogue is now available for anyone to search. Still to be added – local Queensland resources, Journals and maps. Most of our CDs have been migrated to our internal data library.

At TinyCat I then set up preferences for what data appears on the home page and the search pages. LibraryThing’s YouTube channel has plenty of short videos on how to set up TinyCat features for the intended audience.

Future plans – later in the year we may add patrons and use the built in loans function, but first we’ll finish adding and tidying up the data. Here's our work in progress.

Cooroy-Noosa Genealogical & Historical Group TinyCat – Profile on LibraryThing
How to search our catalogue – a short screencast guide

Some small Australian libraries using LibraryThing and TinyCat

The profile links for these libraries show the variety of ways in which data can be structured, by collections, tags and media. The first link in each line is the TinyCat platform.


affordable, web interface
easy to add resources
Professional cataloguing data from hundreds of the world's libraries
built in circulation model
TinyCat features are adaptable to individual libraries - choose the fields you want displayed, edit the home page


A minor one but may be important for your organisation - No data field for purchase price, we'll keep this data elsewhere.

If your volunteer organisation has less than 20 000 records,TinyCat by LibraryThing may provide you with a cheap but professional online catalogue. I have no affiliation with LibraryThing other than being a satisfied personal user since 2006.

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