From the catalogs of babes











{September 28, 2010}   oh, I have a blog?

Oh hai! I can haz a blog! It’s not like I forgot, it’s just that, well, doing things like fixing up a house and putting it on the market and moving across the country to a brand-new city and starting an entirely new school program kinda distracted me a little.

I really intended to post over the summer. I had some great ideas for posts! (Well, in my opinion, anyway.) But things happened and time got away from me so much that not only have I not posted anything since July, I haven’t even read any blogs since then. I feel very out of touch with not only the library world in general, but most especially professional practice.

This worries me, not just on a personal ignorance level, but especially in the context of this blog. See, the whole point of this here little exercise was to report experiences from the trenches–unique and bizarre trenches, sure, but real, day-to-day  experiences and effects nonetheless. And I’m no longer in a position to do that. While I don’t ever want to sacrifice my professional vocational experience in my studies, the fact is that I am starting to view things through the scholastic filter of academia. My goal is to always be able to keep a balance between the two sides of that coin, but I honestly have no idea how realistic that is or how successful I’ll be at it.

So what does that mean for this blog? (In English, since you can see I seem to already be getting caught up in the esoteric speak of academics…) I feel untrue and hypocritical trying to continue writing here under the guise of professional experience. Sure, I have backstories I could tell, or parables inspired by recent news events and happenings. But part of why I started writing in the first place was because I was tired of irrelevant edicts from academic theorists who knew the “right” way things “should” work without any real-world experience or context. I don’t want to become one of the voices I was retaliating against in the first place.

I still have plenty of opinions and things I want to say, but I’m not sure this is the right place for them. I’m not sure yet where such a place might be. And I’m not sure I won’t be in a position again in a year or 5 to once again offer and comment on concrete experiences and ideas stemming from there. I’m not sure that I won’t start some other blog or writing project in the meantime–people who know me seem to think I’ll explode without some outlet for my thoughts an opinions (though I suspect they may just be tired of shouldering the brunt of listening to all of my rants…) But I’ve always hated bloggers who’ve  left their projects to trickle off, so I wanted to offer some sort of conclusion, even if it ends up being transitional or temporary.

I really want to thank everyone who read this blog, ever commented (positively or negatively!), everyone who linked here or emailed links to others. Thanks for all your feedback and encouragement and support–deep down, I still believe librarianship is a profession about people, and the people I’ve met and connected with through this blog are amazing! Putting thoughts out there can be immensely intimidating, and every time I opened my email or read the comments I thought, “this is it, this time I’m on the chopping block.” But you people were crazy enough to respond encouragingly and supportively (and sometimes even in agreement!). I can’t tell you how much strength and confidence that builds, and I know it played a role in my professional development and this new academic path I’m following. Thank you.

If I decide to start writing again, or some other project, I’ll post here to let you know. This might be the last you’ll hear from me for now, but (barring any unforeseen accidents involving bread trucks) you’ll hear from me again. I’m far too opinionated with too big a mouth to stay silent for long. Comments & email should still work, if you need to reach me.

I don’t know what else to say besides: it’s been fun. Thanks.

.



{July 29, 2010}   SkyRiver vs. OCLC?

The library cataloging world is all a-buzz today since the press release(PDF) announcing that SkyRiver plans to sue OCLC for anti-trust violations.

I think anyone who’s been following any sort of cataloging news saw this coming miles away. I confess: I always suspected that the creation of SkyRiver wasn’t simply only to provide an alternative to OCLC, but rather an ulterior-motive vehicle for exactly this type of legal action. I know plenty of catalogers who have long felt similarly about OCLC’s apparent monopolistic behavior, but if I recall correctly from my 7th grade government class (and I likely don’t, but still), no legal action can be taken until there’s some sort of victim, some other company or organization that is directly hurt by the alleged violations. When OCLC had no direct competitors, there were no victims to file suit. Now SkyRiver provides exactly that. Now some kind of action can be taken.

I have no idea what will happen, but I’d sure love ringside seats.



{July 14, 2010}   post-ALA travel

After ALA was over, my sweetie and I decided to visit New York for a few days, since we were over on the east coast and all, and since I had never been. Of course we made the obligatory stop at the New York Public Library.

me making a thumbs-up in front of the NYPL lions

Here I am, showing what I think about libraries.

Of course the library is overwhelmingly beautiful, with all that old-fashioned library reverence and ambiance of Serious Library Building. But when I found this room (after getting lost several times looking for the bathroom), I was blown away:

Catalog Room

from askpang, on Flickr

It’s the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room at NYPL. Imagine: a whole room, devoted to the catalog! There are so many things about this that just make my heart sing:

1. A whole room dedicated to the library catalog(s). Not just OPACs, but all the general and specialty print catalogs constructed over the years. All in one place. The fact that the catalog(s) are given their own room accords them importance in my eyes, and makes me think that the library sees them similarly.

2. This is where you start your search. This is where the reference desk is. It’s obvious that if you’re looking for something, this is the place to go, the place to be. I like the fact that reference service is but one of the many tools offered in the catalog room; that the room offers many different ways to help people with their quest.

3. The fact that it’s not just called the “catalog room,” but the “public catalog room.” I love that such a title expresses and encourages availability and access to all.

I know most libraries don’t have the dedicated space it would take for a catalog room; such a cordoning off at most places might likely actually have the opposite effect and deter public use, especially if the size were very small, or if it were off in some obscure location. And I still advocate for catalog access everywhere–in the stacks, at desks, on mobile phones and other interfaces–rather than containing and limiting it to one central space. But I still can’t help but appreciate the value accorded to the catalog through NYPL’s strategy. Thumbs up to that.



{July 13, 2010}   delayed ALA recap

Yeah, yeah, I know. ALA was over weeks ago and probably most people have forgotten about it and moved on by now. I wasn’t even going to mention it, since I don’t really have all that much to say–I spent most of my time being a DC tourist and seeing the city and the museums and the monuments. Now that I’ve got that out of my system, I’m prepared to come back to DC again for the next conference (since it does seem to be a hot location for such things).

I had a really hard time just getting into the ALA conference mindset this year. I would see sessions listed in the program schedule and think “oh, I should totally go to that, it would be really applicable to my job…oh wait.” Because I don’t have that job anymore. So I ended up skipping a lot of sessions I’d normally attend. I tried to go to things that might be relevant to my upcoming studies, but most of those ended up bust–the session I went to about publishing for the profession was really too basic for me (great as an intro, though) and one pane lthat I tried to attend, a panel of graduate student research presenations, not a single presenter showed up. Not the best ALA for me. Oh well.

I did manage to squeeze my way into the back of the room for the Year of Cataloging Research presentation, and I also got to speak to a whopping 8 or so people about using local note fields to recommend library resources. I also got to meet a couple of you blog readers and commenters in the flesh, which is always a treat, so there’s that!

All in all, I always like the in-person aspects of the conference, but this year’s ALA conference left me a little disappointed. Whether it was my perspective or the conference itself, or some combination of both, I don’t know. Not sure about next year, although I have never been to New Orleans…



{June 22, 2010}   the swing of things

Hi all. I’ve been away.

Despite not starting the Ph.D. program until September, I decided to leave my position at my former library at the end of May, and spend my summer vacation break sabbatical finishing some lingering projects as well as doing some traveling. I feel like it’s not often in our lives when we might get such an opportunity to take a few months off with the security that there’s something waiting for us at the end of it.

Despite my intentions otherwise, I’ve so far kind of turned my brain off to cataloging and libraries…I haven’t been reading many articles or following the blogs I usually do or any of that. While it’s nice to have a vacation of sorts, I know I need to get back in the swing of things shortly, or it’ll just be detrimental in the long run.

I wasn’t going to go to ALA, but my sweetie is going for work and I weaseled my way into a last-minute speaking gig there on Sunday. I’ll be part of a panel for the RUSA Catalog Use Committee’s “Lightning Rounds” session on Sunday, June 27, from 4-5:30 p.m. (EMB-Capital A). The theme is “Innovations in Catalog Use” and each presenter will have about 5 minutes to share a tip or innovation that worked (or didn’t!) for their library and catalog. Personally, I’m excited about the format–I think the short presentations combined with the practical tips will make this a really accessible and helpful session, and I hope if you’re at ALA you’ll come by to see it.

Also while I’m shamelessly self-promoting, if you’re going to be at ALA, make sure to check out the quilts up for silent auction at the entrance to the exhibits. I helped work on these, and all proceeds go to fund scholarships.

ALA Wonky Log Cabin front

You know you want to bid on some awesome quilts made by librarians.

Washington DC wasn’t exactly the travel I had in mind when I set out to take a summer vacation (I was thinking more like a month or two in Australia…), but I trust that things work themselves out this way for a reason. I confess it feels a little weird to be attending a conference without a specific library or position to tie it back to–I find myself interested in attending very different sessions than when I was working at the fashion library. I also find myself not quite such a slave driver to make every single remotely relevant session from 7 a.m. until 7 at night…I’m much more motivated to be a tourist this time around. I’ve never been to DC and I’m looking forward to seeing the Nation’s Capitol and the Smithsonian and all that good stuff.

So if you’re in DC for ALA, I hope you’ll say “hi!” and help me get back in the swing of things.



If for some reason you might be crazy enough to want to apply for my previous position, despite all you’ve read about it on this blog, here you go.

(Relocation not provided, sorry.)



{May 24, 2010}   where do we go from here?

I asked, “where can the interested, engaged, passionate and professionally-inclined librarians go to learn what it really means to be a professional?”

I have a lot of mixed feelings about the answer I’m about to give, but it’s the best answer, I think, for me, right now:

The Ph.D.

Yes, yes, I know it’s an academic degree, not a professional one. And I’m not actually advocating it as the best answer to my question posed above, nor do I think it ever should be. I don’t think it should ever require more school beyond a professional degree to teach professionalism–in fact, there’s probably something inherently wrong with a system structured that way.

I’m intelligent and have a good academic record, but I’m definitely more of the hands-on, practical type. I never considered myself part of the “white tower” academia elite that would ever even consider a Ph.D. But I’ve gotten to the point where the things I want to learn, the ideas I want to try, the services I want to implement and the education I want to share would be best served by returning to school to persue a doctorate in information science. (Or a position of strong decision-making authority in a small, independent, innovative, arts-focused college—I’m certainly available for that, if anyone out there reading needs such a person…)

I don’t want to be a cataloging data-entry-monkey. I don’t want to sit around writing bibliographic records for the rest of my career. I honestly mean no offense to people who do–I firmly believe it takes all types to make the world go round, and it’s always been my philosophy that even the smallest bibliographic work can make a difference in people’s lives. It’s a crucial aspect of libraries and cataloging and I love it—but I want to do more. I want to research and implement positive changes that better serve users and user groups, and I want to share those changes and ideas and discoveries with the rest of the field. My hope is that someday all of that would be a key element of professional librarianship, but until then, it looks like I’ll have to follow a more established route.

So starting in September, I’ll be working on a Ph.D. at the University of Washington’s iSchool, in Seattle, WA.

(I’m sure those who took offense to my previous posts will either be thankful that I’m going back to school to have some more education to set me straight, or quivering with fear at the prospect that I may be the next generation of cataloging faculty…)

This is obviously something I didn’t decide overnight. The idea has been percolating in my head ever since ALA Midwinter 2009, when I met Allyson Carlyle during a UW information session. There to keep my significant other company since he was interested in the UW MLIS program, I struck up a conversation with Dr. Carlyle, as we were both on the same task force. I mentioned some of the things I was doing, like publishing articles and book chapters and presenting at conferences, and she asked me why I wasn’t working on a doctorate, since I was already doing the same sort of work it would require. Her comments stuck with me long enough to start the application process last fall, and I was accepted to the program in March.

It was a tough decision to make, but in a roundabout way I’m grateful to my library for making it easier for me to make the choice to leave. Had either my reclassification proposal or the migration to a new ILS been given the green light, I would have wanted to stay, to work on those projects and see them through. When they were both summarily rejected in April, the decision was clear. There wasn’t much left here for me to work on besides the weekly delivery of materials to be cataloged. Maybe that’s enough for other people, but that’s not enough for me. I want to do more than that. I want to make a difference not only to my local library, but all libraries, to librarianship, to cataloging, the way we approach it and implement it and teach it.

I tried to make a difference here. I did all I thought I could here to make the library better for patrons, for everyone. It didn’t always work, but I like to think I gave it a darn good shot. And I’m not giving up. I may be done trying here, but I’m certainly not done trying.



{May 21, 2010}   anyone can catalog.

I think anyone can be a cataloger. You heard me. Sure, I think some people are certainly more inclined to be better at it than others. But I don’t think you have to be a professional librarian to be a cataloger. I think professional librarians actually waste their time on cataloging, when they should be working at a higher (dare I say “professional”?) level. My least favorite thing to do all day is sit at my desk and catalog books, a process I find to be not much above mindless data entry.

But some people are okay with that, as a day-to-day job. If all a person wants to do is download MARC records and fiddle with punctuation all day, then my advice is take a class or two in cataloging, either through an MLS program or independently (I’ve found The MARC of Quality really useful, personally), to learn that stuff, and then go about your business. Sure, it’ll help to have some paraprofessional experience, especially if all you want to do as a professional librarian is the same things you did as a paraprofessional.

But if paraprofessionals and professionals are doing the same things, where can we draw the line as to what “professional” cataloging entails? Many ‘professional’ catalogers have decried the ‘deprofessionalization’ of cataloging, and that professionals should be the ones doing the cataloging work.

I disagree.

If you move beyond the basics, if you want to do things like evaluate current cataloging standards in comparison to patron usage, improve metadata, organization, and information retrieval, and generally improve information access, then I think that’s where the professional line truly begins. That’s what makes the difference between paraprofessional and professional. That’s the line between “job” and “career.”  And it’s time catalogers and librarians took this professionalism by the horns, or we risk losing it altogether. Professional catalogers aren’t the ones who use AACR2r the best or can list subject headings at the drop of a hat. Professional catalogers are the ones who are evaluating their user bases, assessing how well those users are being served by the library’s cataloging, and pushing for improvements to narrow the gap between the two. Professional level catalogers shouldn’t be the ones spending their workdays on tasks like entering all the variant titles and spellings into 246 fields—they should be the ones designing new software to automate that process. They shouldn’t be the ones creating authorized forms of names and subjects submitting them to large, bureaucratic entities—they should be creating the tools to make that arduous submission process obsolete.

Many current MLS level cataloging classes spend the semester teaching punctuation and MARC tags when they could be teaching the actual professional aspects of cataloging—training people to design and create the ever-evolving standards, rather than simply applying them. Maybe you’re thinking that this is just my personal experience clouding my view, especially since my master’s program was one specifically focused more on the practical application of knowledge rather than some of the theory and academia-based programs. And maybe that’s true. But I’ve talked to lots of people—librarians, students, and faculty—at a lot of different institutions, and have heard very similar comments from all. And as the availability of quality cataloging courses and faculty continues to dwindle, I fear it will only get worse, not better. Until that begins to change, MLS programs will continue to churn out cataloging drones, rather than the innovative thinkers the profession really needs. So if a professional degree program isn’t providing it, where can the interested, engaged, passionate and professionally-inclined librarians go to learn what it really means to be a professional? Somebody tell me, because goodness knows I for one would like to be there.



{May 20, 2010}   SOS: save our stacks

Man, I had a great segue of posts lined up for this week, with ideas that flowed into and built on one another, and then Donald A. Barclay had to go and write this.

It’s an article from American Libraries magazine (the online edition–I didn’t see it in the print issue) called “The Myth of Browsing,” and it purports that browsing the physical stacks  should not be a priority in the contemporary academic library. And with all due respect, I say “bull sh*t.”

Barclay offers a number of reasons why browsing need not be supported. First off, he claims that the physical stack browsing that current scholars feel is a historical precedent is actually false–public access to physically browse stacks is a relatively recent (20th century) concept. To this I say: so what? So what if it’s a new idea? Should we always do things the way they were done in the past? Should we take away OPACs and return to card catalogs–OPACs have even less historical precedence than shelf browsing. Oh, and let’s do away with full-text access in scholarly databases, too–that’s only been around, what, maybe 20 years? Just because something wasn’t done throughout the entirely of library history does not mean it’s incorrect or wrong–in fact, it’s quite possibly a positive innovation, and, in the case of public browsing, I think it’s been wildly successful.

Barclay also tries to shoot holes in the ‘serendipitous discovery’ valued by some researchers (especially in the humanities, and, near and dear to my heart, the arts). He tries to claim that because every resource in existence in the entire world cannot physically be on a shelf in a library to browse, that patrons are missing out, like “hitting the sale tables on day three of a three day sale.” Again, I must disagree. Of course we cannot offer every existing resource on a shelf at any given time, and yes, this will reduce some discovery possibilities. But aren’t our collections tailored to best serve our patron groups? Do not arts libraries acquire what they feel to be the best selection of books and resources for their clientele, while law libraries choose the best resources for their patrons, and so on? Yes, we must make choices, and yes, that mean perhaps choosing one resource over another and only offering selected books on the shelf. But isn’t that our job as librarians? Isn’t that what we are supposed to do, and what people rely on us for? Collection development and management are key components of professional librarianship, and to offer a collection of every resource in the known universe rather than a carefully tailored collection targeting user group needs, would be unsuccessful, and in my opinion, unprofessional. And at least with some resources on the shelves, something can be found, even if it’s only selected from a few dozen titles rather than every book in the world.  If resources are removed completely (say, to off-site storage as mentioned in the article) then nothing can be selected by browsing, and I personally think something is better than nothing at all. He also tries to claim that browsing is counterproductive due to issues with classification schema, but to me that reflects more on the appropriateness of the schema to the particular library. Regular readers of my blog know that I may be biased in this area, but I think such issues should motivate research into the library’s classification success (or lack thereof), even the success of the furniture design (as Barclay notes, books are more likely to be browsed at eye-level than on the top or bottom shelves out of view).

But what about digital access and browsing? Surely if we remove all those books off-site, people will be able to search and browse the library catalog digitally and find materials that way, right? This is Barclay’s claim–except he doesn’t mention libraries. He’s certainly keen to cite Amazon.com‘s “rich browsing experience” and how “so many of today’s academic library users routinely start by looking up books via bookstore websites.” He himself is saying it right here–library catalogs currently cannot and do not support the browsing needs of library users. Until we can offer the same sort of browsing and findability experiences digitally that library users can get from browsing the stacks, we are in no position to be removing stacks browsing access from our libraries. Now, I may be delusional, but I have optimistic hopes that the day will come when library catalogs are more robust and user-friendly than commercial book websites. But until that happens, we should not be putting our eggs in the basket of Amazon and other external sites and vendors over whose fate we have no control.

Finally, Barclay claims that large physical book collections have become an “unsustainable luxury.” I don’t inherently disagree with this. But why are the unsustainable? Because we’ve made them so. Perhaps better management and strategic planning, with a focus on sustaining physical collections, would alleviate this issue. As for luxuries–indeed, large book collections are luxuries. That’s what attracts people to them–it’s a luxury that most people cannot afford on their own. Libraries are luxury, that’s part of what they’re designed for. They are a luxury of civilized, educated societies, which we need to offer if that’s what we purport to be. And again, from the way I see it from behind my rose-colored glasses, if it’s a luxury people want, they will say so. Which is exactly what they did at Syracuse, and what prompted Barclay’s article. Which brings me to my final (and biggest) beef with Barclay’s piece: here are library users stepping up and saying what they want and value about the library–in this case, physical stacks to browse and a hallowed environment in which to study–and yet Barclay throws everything in his arsenal against it. He sees library users saying in no uncertain terms what they want, and yet he argues against it. No wonder librarians get a bad rap; no wonder people sometimes see us as snooty, uptight traditionalists who push our ways on people because we assume that we know better. Now, I understand that users may not always know what they want, or even what might work best for them, but we’re certainly not doing anyone any favors by shoving that down their throats and blatantly arguing against supporting their needs and wants.

I don’t know much, but I do know this: people want physical spaces to browse print materials and immerse themselves in the traditional atmosphere that occurs only when in the presence of a large number of books. I believe they want it so much, that someday, when all these libraries have taken it away from them in favor of digital access and offsite bunker storage, I will open a space for them where they can come and browse and smell and take in the atmosphere. Maybe if I’m nice I won’t even charge them for it. On certain holidays and every fifth Tuesday of the month.

ps> Way to go, American Libraries, for not allowing comments on the article.



{May 18, 2010}   I am not a librarian.

I am not a librarian.

You heard me. I’m not a “librarian.” I never have been.

Officially, my job title is “Catalog Coordinator.” It’s a title I despise, for several reasons. Some of them petty—I went to graduate school and got my MLIS, and now I want to be a librarian, damnit! Some of them logical—try telling anyone outside of libraries (and sometimes even within the field) you’re a “catalog coordinator” and they want to know how you decide on product photo placement for this year’s Lillian Vernon. Heck, even “cataloging coordinator” might be a little bit more accurately descriptive (and grammatically correct) to reflect what’s actually in my job description: things like cataloging materials in all formats; developing and creating library cataloging standards; oversee local technical processing; oversee cataloging across 4 campus branches, including standardization, education and training.

I know there are lots of titles for this type of job in use, some of them without the word “librarian” in them, even: Cataloger, Cataloging Supervisor, Metadata Manager, Technical Services Coordinator, and everything in between. And, sure, some of those titles encompass different duties and are not all equivalent (for instance, “Head of Technical Services” covers plenty more than just cataloging, and would be an inappropriate title for what I do. Although “Technical Services Librarian” might, depending whether or not it included all aspects of technical services).

So sometimes I wonder: if we librarians are supposed to be all about vocabulary control, why can’t we control this? Our titles are just as outdated as our subject headings. I’ve already gone off about the terms “OPAC” and “catalog” and changing them to more appropriately descriptive titles, why not our job titles as well?

For many, “librarian” conjures up a stereotypical image of the woman with the glasses and hair in a bun, shushing library patrons and stamping due dates in books. You and I know better—we know that librarians are so much more. We lament it all the time and try to find ways to explain to people what we do, that we do more than shush people and read books all day. That yes, we do need graduate-level educations to do our job. So maybe we need an updated ‘subject heading’ for what it is exactly that we do nowadays.

The New York Times recently mentioned “metacurating” the web: users controlling and vetting streams of information tailored to their personal interests. “Metacurator” might not be so far-fetched as a job title in the future.  Even if we don’t drop the “librarian” bit (and I can certainly see reasons to keep it), perhaps we can still clarify. What does “cataloging librarian” really mean to people? Even within the profession, I find that people have a narrow understanding of the job. Heck, I don’t even understand professional designations myself sometimes—I still can’t figure out the difference between ‘cataloging’ and ‘access services.’ If cataloging ain’t about access, I don’t know what is. Personally, I always tried to convince my boss (with zero success) to change my title to something more descriptive regarding what it is I actually do: I was gunning for “discovery librarian” or maybe “findability librarian.” But no dice.

In the scheme of things, does it really matter what my job title is? Probably not. And so perhaps I’m just being a petulant child about being a “librarian.” But that’s what I want to be, that’s what I went to school for, what I trained to do, what I’ve been devoted to accomplishing, and it seems like it will never happen.



et cetera
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