From the catalogs of babes











{August 29, 2009}   free to a good home

I haven’t been posting much, but rest assured I’m working on some big stuff. In the meatime, perhaps I can tide you over with the lure of free (as in beer, not as in kittens) stuff!

I happen to have a copy of Mary Mortimer’s Learn Dewey Decimal Classification (Edition 21) free for the taking. Be aware that this is for an older edition of the DDC. Our library moved up to DDC22 a while back, which included some significant changes in key subject areas of our school, so we won’t be using this book as training material anymore. It’s outdated for us, but I know there are plenty of libraries out there who haven’t upgraded, or perhaps it would be good practice for an MLS student. Heck, if you wanted to cut it up and make art projects out of it, I’d probably be okay with that, too. It’s got a barcode and a spine label, but other than that, it’s in good shape and hasn’t been written in.

Leave a comment if you’re interested. If I get overwhelmed with comments from interested parties, I’ll do a random drawing or something. Maybe I’ll make you all write haiku about fashion cataloging and pick my favorite. Or not.

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{August 21, 2009}   some things never change…

I stumbled upon this ALA Catalog Use Study from 1958(!) today.

Interesting how some of the exact same issues still plague us today…



{August 19, 2009}   anticipation

I can’t wait for the new issue of Cataloging & Classification Quarterly to arrive so I can read this!



It’s true. In high school, I wanted to learn Russian, or maybe Chinese or Japanese. My school was progressive enough to offer a full four years of classes in each of those languages. But my parents strongly suggested* I study a more practical language, like Spanish, that I would be sure to find useful in the future, in the job market and such.

Nowadays, I see oodles of cataloging jobs for people who can read Russian, Chinese, or Japanese. Spanish, not so much…

We’ve had a pile of foreign language books sitting in our workroom, uncataloged, since I started working as the cataloger. They’re great resources with amazing images, but they’ve been stored in the very back bottom corner shelf, because no one in the library reads Chinese or Japanese or Korean.

We’ve been working on improving our techncial processing workflow due to some staffing changes, so I’ve been cleaning off bookshelves and moving things around. I decided it might finally be time to bite the bullet and tackle these materials, even if it meant tracking down people throughout the school that could read these langauges and help me write records. So I pulled out the stack and discovered that almost every single book has an ISBN, and 90% have full records in OCLC with subject headings and everything.

Which is awesome, becuase I only read Spanish, and not all that well, even after all those years of classes. It’s not so awesome that those books sat there for 3+ years, but better late than never, right?

 

*You know how that goes with parents. I was pretty much forced.



This morning I happened upon a job posting from the Toledo Museum of Art that included the following as one of the “essential dutites and responsibilities” of a catalog librarian position:

• Enhance the usefulness of the library catalog by assisting users in applying cataloging principles to retrieve materials more efficiently.

I have to say, I’m a little disappointed. I can see what they’re getting at–basically, help users use the catalog–but they way they’ve written it sounds like they feel that the catalog librarian should be responsible for teaching patrons the inner detailed workings of AACR2r in order to successfully use the catalog, when I think it should be the other way around–the catalog librarian should be responsible for making it so the users don’t have to know a lick about AACR2r in order to find what they’re looking for.

It’s hard enough to teach librarians and library students the inner working of cataloging rules and standards, and here we’re talking about teaching them to patrons? That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve read all day. (The fact that it’s from an arts library to boot is even more disappointing. They don’t seem to have done much reaserch about their user base.) Teaching cataloging standards to patrons would not only be an immense challenge, but it emphasizes the idea that patrons need to adapt to the catalog instead of the other way around. The catalog is a tool. The patron is not. If your tool doesn’t work for the purpose you need, you get another one that’s more appropriate to the task at hand. If your saw is dull and doesn’t cut, you replace it with a new, sharp blade. If you have a wall of screws, driving them in with a hammer will not be successful. We need to change the tools we’re using to suit patrons’ needs–not the other way around.



We had another instance today of a patron searching for a title we hold that didn’t return in the search results. This time it wasn’t a student–it was the chair of the fashion design department.

She didn’t make a big deal out of it, blowing it off like it was a random typographical error, perhaps. Sometimes I wonder if it even occurs to patrons that it’s the catalog that’s broken, not them. When their catalog search doesn’t work, a lot of people walk away with the impression that they’ve done something wrong, when really it’s the fault of the catalog.

I worry about this building a cycle of poor self-esteem and confidence, especially considering that library anxiety is a documented issue. Not only might our patrons walking away without the resources they seek, but also without the belief that they are smart or skilled enough to find those resources in the first place.



friend of mine invited me to call in to a web talk show about “who curates the real time web?” after I posted some characteristically snarky answers to the question on his Facebook page. I tried to call in, but between my phone-phobia, my partial deafness (I have a really hard time hearing on the phone) and the time constraints of the show, I didn’t quite make it on-air.

The initial summary of the session (the irony of it being no longer available on the site, as far as I can find, is not lost on me) included the authors’ suggestions for some sort of curatorship, software or human. My haunches bristled when I saw the use of the word “curator.” Other words bandied about during the talk were “archiving” and “taxonomizing.” They didn’t know it, but what they were asking for was a librarian. And we already exist. Here a bunch of much-lauded tech-entrepreneurs think they just came up with the most brilliant idea in the world to help users navigate information. Well, I hate to break it to you, buddies, but we’ve been around for thousands of years, and that’s what we do: we select, process, organize, deliver, manage and mediate access to information, and instruct users how to locate, evaluate, and effectively use this information.

 But there’s obviously still some sort of need, or else this whole discussion wouldn’t have been happening. Why?

Needlelane Silos by jhritz

Needlelane Silos by jhritz

Silos.

In library jargon, a “silo” generally refers to a disparate, stand-alone resource that cannot be searched in an integrated way with other resources. A common example is the inability to ingrate subscription databases of newspapers, magazines, etc., into the online catalog. A patron has to search the catalog for books, then a separate database for newspaper articles, a third for magazines, etc. In business, I generally hear silos referred to in terms of departments functioning independently, in a “one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing” kind of way. I think the same thing is happening here, with libraries and librarians in one silo, and the tech-savvy entrepreneurs in another.

Let’s look at this discussion: who were the speakers, and who was the target audience? Businessmen, tech-geeks, entrepreneurs. Middle-and upper-class educated users and developers of technology. People motivated by sales and funded by venture capital. Basically, what I’d call the “technical elite.” As far as I could tell, no librarians, curators, archivists, or taxonomists were invited to be on the discussion panel. Libraries and librarians are not part of the tech-elite demographic. While there are nuggets of progress here and there, librarianship overall is a slow-evolving profession and often last to the gate in terms of technology. I’m not in denial about how backwards we are. How long did it take us to move away from the card catalog? Have you compared a library OPAC to Google, Amazon, Netflix?

These companies spend tons of money and market research on giving their users what they want, making it easy for users to find what they seek. Libraries want to do the same. But they don’t have the same resources and motivations. They don’t turn a profit and don’t have investors. Traditionally underfunded to begin with, many libraries and librarians are seeing their budgets cut further and jobs cut altogether. Libraries don’t have the same financial resources and motivations as tech entrepreneurs.

Libraries and librarians aren’t limited to a certain target market or demographic.  I felt a blatant bias in the talk show participants–talking about how “everyone” gets up in the morning and checks Twitter and how “everyone” is on Facebook. According to Pew, only 35% of American adults have a social networking profile, and only 22% of those people are on Facebook (MySpace still leads at 50%, but interestingly enough, I never heard it mentioned in today’s discussion). A mere 11% of online American adults use Twitter. I can forgive the speakers a bit due to their intended listening audience. I understand a business targeting the tech-savvy demographic, since they tend to have more education and disposable income. And I understand that these are the people on the forefront of things, and even though only 11% of people use Twitter right now, that number could be expected to rise as the service becomes more ubiquitous. So I’m willing to cut a little slack there. But talk about closing yourself off in a silo! Who’s curating the web for the rest of America?

The librarian silo is starting to crumble at the bottom from rotting woodwork. The tech-business silo can’t be built any taller without more resources and materials. I can’t help but think maybe if we were all in the same barn, instead of off building our own silos, our Twitters and our OPACs, we could achieve real progress, for both sides of the spectrum. Librarians have immense value to offer. We know how to organize, annotate, and recommend materials and information. We have a history of credibility, authority, and reliability (unlike “brands” that were recommended as reliable sources).  We have exactly the skills called for in today’s discussion. But we just don’t have the money, the support, or the technological skills. The tech elite wants their web organized, and they have resources to throw at it. They just don’t know how to do it. Imagine what we could do if we broke down those silos and worked together.



For those that haven’t heard, the Louisville Free Public Library (home of Greg Schwartz, creator and host of the Uncontrolled Vocabulary podcast) suffered serious and irreparable damage due to flash flooding.

While all stories like this break my heart, the flood following so closely on the heels of the Libraries Are Free But Books Aren’t book drive really hurts.

If you have a bit to spare, please consider helping out. A disaster recovery fund has been established; you can mail a check to:
The Library Foundation
301 York Street
Louisville, KY 40203

Or you can pay into a collection organized by Steve Lawson.

I may get upset about the dysfunctionality of our catalog, but at least ours isn’t served on a computer buried under 4 feet of water.



{August 4, 2009}   I hate our catalog.

It’s pretty rare that I see a student searching for a specific title, but tonight a student came in looking for A Consumer’s Directory of Cosmetic Ingredients. I suggested using the catalog to see if we had the book.  I watched her type “a consumer’s dictionary of cosmetic ingredients” into the title search field, which gave the following results:

A contentious fraternity — The origins of American photography : from daguerreotype to dry-plate, 1839-1885. Davis, Keith F. Hall Family Foundation : In Association with the Nelson-Atkins Muse

A conversation with a designer and a photographer / Ted Muehling : a portrait. Freeman, Don. Rizzoli, 2008.

A crack in time / The downtown book : the New York art scene, 1974-1984. Princeton University Press, c2006.

Etc., etc. Nothing remotely close to the title she was seeking. The title was listed on a handout from her teacher, and the student said the teacher told her the book was in the library. Now I know that our teachers aren’t always the most accurate when transcribing titles or remembering where they found books, but it certainly seemed like a title we should have in our collection, since we buy just about everything in existence about cosmetic ingredients to support our beauty curriculum.

Even if we didn’t have that exact title, I thought another book with cosmetics ingredients might help the student. So I entered “cosmetics” and “ingredients” into the keyword search boxes (don’t even get me started on the rant about how it only works if each keyword is entered into a disparate box) and lo and behold, the second result in the list is

A consumer’s dictionary of cosmetic ingredients : complete information about the harmful and desirable ingredients found in cosmetics and cosmeceuticals. Winter, Ruth. Three Rivers Press, c2005.

I think maybe my eyes are crossing because it’s late so I check the title search again: entering “a consumer’s dictionary of cosmetic ingredients” gets me nothing. Entering “consumer’s dictionary of cosmetic ingredients” turns up the title. I figure maybe it’s a problem with the 245 second indicator, but I check it and it’s 2 just like it should be. So it’s not an indicator problem, but a stopword problem. A problem that’s been going on for who knows how long–probably the entire time this catalog has been in use. Which means that anyone who has ever searched for “The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion” or “A History of Interior Design” must think we are one sad & pathetic library that we don’t have two of the most popular, highly used resources in the school. And I’ll check tomorrow, but I’m not even sure anything can be done to change it.

Maybe you’re saying, why not just teach the student to drop the initial article when searching, like you and I were probably taught in school? Maybe I should have. But to be honest, I can’t see the point. A person should be able to enter the name of the book–as it appears on the resource–and return the correct result.

I know at this point, most catalogs can accommodate this, unlike our outdated software. We’re working on upgrading, but unfortunately those decisions aren’t entirely up to us. Maybe if the powers that be read this blog entry or saw this student–who did everything right and yet the library failed her–maybe they might be more inclined to help us move forward, instead of hobbling us with IT and budget issues like they have been for the past few years.

In the meantime, I find it incredibly hard to see the point in promoting the use of such a non-functional catalog at all. It makes me feel worthless, to waste my time inputting data into a tool that doesn’t even work. No wonder people don’t understand the point of my job–they can’t see the benefits of what I do if there are no benefits.



{August 1, 2009}   Dear journal editors,

Dear journal editors,

Please do not take almost a year to read and review my manuscript and then ask for a revision in six weeks. I understand the level of cat-herding that must be involved in the peer-review process, and do not fault you for your length in responding. However,  you can’t for a minute believe that it would take such significantly less time to actually do work on the paper than to simply read it and offer a few comments, can you?

Sincerely,

Someone who has other things to do with her time in the next 6 weeks



et cetera