From the catalogs of babes

{February 9, 2009}   an open letter to my congressperson

Dear Congressperson,

I am writing you today regarding the state of our nation’s libraries; specifically the Library of Congress, which, as I’m sure you know, is our nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world. The mission of the Library of Congress is to make its resources available and useful to the Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations.

One of the resources provided by the Library of Congress to assist with the sustaining and preserving of knowledge is Classification Web, a paid subscription service for libraries and librarians offering online and searchable access to Library of Congress Subject Headings, Classification schedules, correlations, and more.

Like many other libraries across the nation, my library has a subscription to this service. As I have previously mentioned, ours expires every year in October. Every year, in October, we send a payment to renew our subscription. And every year in October, they cut off our access, telling us that our subscription has expired. They are nice enough to cut off our access with no warnings or reminders. So every year we make numerous phone calls to the Library of Congress, playing lots of phone tag and wasting our time and theirs. After several weeks, when we finally get a hold of a live person at the LOC, they tell us, yes, we did pay (which we obviously already knew) and that it will take a few weeks to reinstate our service. (And in this day and age, I’m agog at any web subscription that takes 2 hours to reinstate, much less 2 weeks.)

This year, I had the opportunity to attend the ALA Midwinter meeting, where I chanced upon the LOC booth in the exhibit hall. I stopped to speak to a representative from the LOC about this problem and possible solutions. After I explained the situation to her, I asked her what we might volunteer to do on our end that would help expedite this annual snafu?

And that, my honorable Senators and Representatives, is what brings me to you. I’m sure by now you are wondering why I am writing a letter to you about ClassificationWeb and not, say, lobbying for public library stimulus funding (you should be receiving those letters shortly, if you haven’t already). I am writing to you about my library’s ClassWeb subscription because that was the exact and sole solution supplied to me by the LOC representative at the ALA Midwinter booth.When I asked, “What can we at our library do to help expedite this process and eliminate this problem,” she told me (and this is a direct quote), “Write your Congressperson.”

She babbled on to say that the LOC is short-staffed and under-funded, facing budget cuts and layoffs, and that writing my Congressperson would help them solve those problems. And here I thought it was just a simple customer service issue: I have a problem with my service, I contact the service rep, we work it out. But apparently this is a problem of national proportions requiring a letter to you, my Congressional advocates, to stop everything you are doing and address my small customer service problem, that might have easily been solved by a reasonable customer service rep by saying, “Gee, I’m really sorry about that, why don’t we prorate you for the 3 months lost service, and I will put your name down on the top of my list to investigate why you don’t receive warnings and reminders about upcoming expiration dates.”

I am really sad about the budget cuts and layoffs at our nation’s cultural repository. But really, if this is the standard acceptable level of behavior and functionality from the world’s largest library, perhaps the cutbacks are for the best. I found it interesting that they apparently still have money to set up a booth at ALA and attempt to sell services for which they cannot seem to provide adequate support.

So, my senators, here I am, as directed, writing you for solutions to my issue. Clearly, there is nothing the LOC can or will do for me.  Can you solve my ClassWeb subscription problems?

Your respectful constituent,

the catalog librarian


(Afterward: I did bully the rep into starting our subscription year from Janaury 2009 rather than the original renewal date of October 2008. At my suggestion, not hers, btw. But I still have no way of knowing what will happen with our renewal until next January.)

Laura says:

You’re not alone. This has happened at my institution. I’m sure it’s happened at many others. The staff at LoC is totally demoralized and their letting it affect their service. I’ve seen a marked decline in the past 5 years, especially after they merged their acquisitions and bibliographic units.

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