From the catalogs of babes











Last week, a very interesting book came across my desk.

 

Now, we do tend to get a few auction catalogs for our collection, especially for costume sales and the like, so it didn’t seem all that unusual. Until I looked at the back and was about to scan in the ISBN.

 Above the barcode reads the publisher-assigned description “Fiction/Graphic Novels.” My immediate thought was: “Wow, this is the first time I’ve ever seen such an egregious typographical error from the publisher.” But Farrar Strauss Giroux really isn’t some two-bit hustler house that would let a mistake like that slide by. Something had to be up.

Looking at the t.p. verso, I found the CIP data from the Library of Congress, which assigned the DDC number 929′.20973 and listed the following subject headings:

  • Doolan, Lenore–Archives.
  • Morris, Harold–Archives.
  • Doolan, Lenore.
  • Morris, Harold.*
  • Personal belongings–United States–Case studies.
  • Couples–United States–Case studies.
  • Man-woman relationships–United States–Case studies.

No subdivisions for fiction whatsoever. I know CIP data is preliminary and can change, so I found the record in OCLC where one of the many libraries who edited the record was thoughful enough to add the genre/form heading “Experimental fiction.”

That’s right.This book is fiction. The people are not real. The made-up story of the two characters’ relationship is told though the fabricated “items up for auction” and their descriptions, letter excerpts, etc. It’s not a traditional novel per se, but it’s certainly not non-fiction and it’s not a real auction catalog. In my opinion, it’s genius, is what it is. But it’s hard to say if the Library of Congress shares my opinion, since it seems like the book stumped them but good.

It’s hard to blame them, though–the book is so well done that it stumped me too, at first, and most of the other library staff with whom I shared it. And if it stumped all of us, imagine the possible patron confusion that could ensue. Which brings me to my next challenge: where to class the book? I fear classing it with other auction catalogs may encourage the false belief that this was a real auction and the characters real people. But shelving it with The Devil Wears Prada and The Perks of Being a Wallflower not only opens up the potential for a constant barrage of questions from staff and patrons about whether or not the book is really in the right place, but it also almost nearly guarantees that, in a library focused on browse-based discovery, it may never be found by the patrons that might use it.

 

*WTF is up with listing the personal names twice, once subdivided and once not? I seem to recall some bizarre rule stipulating this, but it seems very redundant to me and I’m hard pressed to come up with any reasonable logical explanation.



Today a student responded to a suggestion to search the library’s catalog with: “I know how to use the catalog. I’m just lazy.”

Welcome to our patron demographic. This is not the first time we’ve heard this sentiment (although not in such blatant terminology), and I doubt it will be the last. I once was reprimanded for referring to our patrons as “ignorant” (and not in a pejorative way), so I would never dare refer to them as lazy (at least not outright). But this came straight from the horse’s mouth!

I’ve mentioned it before, but patrons of art and design school libraries are known to prefer real, human reference interaction over searching via computer interface. But it makes me wonder: why do they prefer that? Are they really all just lazy, like that self-admitted student? Is it that the interface of the catalog is so unfriendly to artists and other visual types that it’s difficult for them to use? Are they in such a hurry and have such a short amount of time at their disposal between studio classes, jobs, homework, and other projects? Is it that a real, in-the-flesh person offers more authority and credibility in this age of Wikipedia and Google? Or maybe a human being is more sympathetic than an unfeeling computer screen, or better able to distill down to their actual information needs in a way the computer can’t? I’d guess that all of these things apply in one way or another, in some combination. And I confess, it baffles me personally, a girl who prefers to attempt to find things first on my own, only turning to actual people when other self-reliant methods are exhausted.

So what does it mean for cataloging, if patrons are “lazy”? Are we obligated to combat their laziness by directing them to use the catalog themselves? Or should we approach it from the customer service standpoint of fulfilling their information needs in the way that works best for them?



{May 12, 2009}   blink for just a second…

So last week I moved into a new place. What does this have to do with a blog about cataloging? Nothing. But I did find it interesting that in the few days I was jonesing for my internet crack fix, several very interesting things popped up:

It never fails that all the good, juicy stuff happens while I’m gone. I haven’t had much time yet to investigate details on any of these, but I’m pretty sure I’ll have some strong opinions once I do…



et cetera