From the catalogs of babes











This Library Resources & Technical Services grant announcement came across my feed reader about a week ago and I noticed one of the areas they are targeting is cataloging & classification 2009-2010. It seems like a worthy project, and I thought about applying, but I don’t think it’s really for me. When I think of the big topics in cataloging from 2009-2010, of course I immediately think of RDA and the semantic web, and I’m neither knowledgeable enough about those topics nor motivated enough to investigate to the level of depth that such a literature review would require. But I’m pretty sure some of you out there reading this are qualified and/or motivated, so I thought I’d share it. I won’t even ask for a finder’s fee if you get the grant after reading about it here! :) Act fast, because the deadline for applications is March 26, 2010.

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{March 19, 2010}   fun stuff for a Friday

I don’t know about you, but after my last few posts, I need some cheering up, so I thought I’d share a few fun things I’ve stumbled across recently.

1. This awesome postcard a fellow cataloger sent me in the mail:

Dewey Decimal Updates on Topics of National Security

 

2. These awesome endpapers I found in a book I was cataloging:

Nancy Gonzales handbags

Look closely: they’re not books, but handbags!

3. This awesome Facebook post, which totally made me smile when I saw it:

Art Center wants to hear from you

Sometimes it’s the little things.



{March 18, 2010}   to add insult to injury

I was just informed that our migration project to a new ILS has been denied.

I think I will go home and cry.



{March 17, 2010}   a survey of a different color

Well, we may not be contributing to the Year of Cataloging Research, but at least somebody is:

As seen on Celeripedean: Elaine Sanchez of Texas State University is conducting a Survey on RDA and AACR2 .

Please go there. Take the survey. Let’s see what working catalogers really think.

I’m also intrigued by the second “brief” survey, Your Feelings About You Cataloging (Metadata) Profession. Brief? That’s funny–I confess I haven’t filled this one out yet, but you’d better believe I will. I have so much I want to say, much of which has already been said here on this blog. I’m trying to think of a way of cutting + pasting my major points while still retaining the ‘anonymity’ a survey deserves. I wonder what the character limit is on those answer fields…



{March 17, 2010}   survey results

I haven’t been posting much here lately, and it’s partially because I’m depressed. Why?

About 2 weeks ago I was told that both the reclassification proposal and the student & faculty survey were rejected by the Board of Directors. Because I know you’ll ask why: I was not given any substantial reason. Yes, I have more I’d like to say about it. No, I’m not really comfortable posting about it on a public blog, unfortunately. But buy me a drink at the next conference and I promise to tell you all about it. So much so that you’ll probably regret buying me that drink.

I’m saddened to  have to hold back my thoughts and opinions, because one thing I’ve always tried to do here is to be very open and real, and less about lofty, idealized concepts that cutting edge libraries are implementing, but rather the day-to-day accomplishments and struggles of “real life” in the library catalog. 

While I have lots of things I’d really like to say but won’t, there is one thing I can’t seem to keep my mouth shut about, and that’s what kind of message an organization–any organization–sends out when it decides not to survey its users, for whatever reason, valid or not. I think unwillingness to survey your users is a tangible example of disinterest in what your patrons think and want. As a user, I’d be upset with any organization that so blatantly demonstrates that they don’t care what I think.

If they don’t care what I think, why should I care about them? No wonder libraries are losing support. I wouldn’t support an organization with that attitude, either.



{March 8, 2010}   RDA: why it won’t work

 With the release of RDA, people on every blog and listserv and Twitter feed are debating its merits. But I’ll tell you right now: RDA is not going to work. Why?

 1. It’s not easy.

2. It’s not free.

You can debate it up, down and sideways, but honestly, it’s as simple as that. Clay Shirky (in Here Comes Everybody) says, “When an activity becomes more expensive, either in direct costs or increased hassle, people do less of it.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: cataloging is hard. When it’s hard to do things right, people will get it wrong. Through no fault of their own. Who can blame the cataloger who applies subject headings incorrectly when there are literally 4 volumes of instructions, many of which have different rules and guidelines for each different subject? Who can blame someone for misremembering if a colon or a semi-colon precedes the 300b field? Who can blame a person for entering the title of a work in title case, rather than lower case (except for the first word and proper nouns), especially when the former is a national community standard taught in elementary education. And who can blame someone for not following these outdated standards because technology makes them no longer applicable or necessary?

This needs to change. It’s impacting our ability to offer quality services and access to materials.  We need to make it easy to do things well.

 I understand how complicated and complex some aspects of cataloging can be. But I don’t think “complex” necessarily has to equal “difficult.” I think there are ways we can structure software and cataloging interfaces to work for us rather than against us. When I first heard of RDA and it’s requisite electronic interface, I had envisioned it to be something along the lines of a “choose your own adventure,” or an electronic flow chart, where answering questions about the resource in hand would lead to the complete, automated creation of a catalog record.

I understand the use of consistency and standards, and how previously this was achievable solely through human application. But that’s no longer the case–many of these outdated standards can be automated, and in turn, more consistent than applications prone to human error. And if the profession values such standards, and truly wants everyone and every library to adhere to and meet those standards in order to create more interoperability, those standards not only ned to be easy to implement, they need to be freely accessible.

Many librarians are balking at the cost of implementing RDA, I think rightfully so, although not for the same reasons. I’m not bitching about it because it’s unaffordable for smaller libraries, or because it’s a subscription rather than a one-time printed book cost (although I think those are valid points). I’m bitching because putting a dollar amount on something, now matter how low it is, will stop people from using something, especially if there’s a free alternative. In this case, I see the free alternative as ‘ignoring rules altogether and/or making you your own standards.’ Requiring a price makes adhering to standards–a key value-added service of libraries and librarians–inaccessible. Which is pretty ironic, considering that libraries are supposed to be all about access. We’re all proactive about offering access to our patrons, but we can’t extend that same philosophy to ourselves, to help us do a better job??

The more depth and complexity in cataloging standards, the more we need to make it as easy as possible for catalogers to apply these standards. More work will get done (and done correctly!), more tasks delegated, turn-around times improved, access increased–all of which benefit not only the cataloger and other library staff, but in turn the patron, which is ultimately what it’s all about.

Help us, ALA. Give us better, faster, easier, more efficient ways to do our jobs so that we can, in turn, make our patron’s information experiences better, faster, and more efficient. If you can’t or won’t help us, who will?



As some of you know, I’ve been lobbying for quite a while for new ILS/catalog software for our  library. Lobbying hard, considering our current state. I feel like we’ve made some successful progress: we had a great library staff committee to evaluate potential commercial software packages, and once we decided on our top choice and presented it to the director and the administration, the response was positive. However, at approximately the same time, the world decided to have some sort of Giant Economic Crisis, and despite the fact that it may truly be an unnecessary precaution for our institution, all software budgets were frozen until the beginning of FY2010. Not to worry though—I’ve been assured it’s our #1 top priority the minute the 2010 budget opens up. But I’m not exactly holding my breath here. What can I say? I’m frustrated that this project—in the works for several years now, since shortly after I first began working here—might be put off yet again, not just because I’m annoyed by delays or buget frustrations, but because I can’t understand why something so intrinsic to improving patron experience and access success seems to be so inconsequential to the powers that be. So it goes.

While I’m perfectly satisfied with the out-of-the-box product we’ve chosen and I have no doubts it will more than fulfill our current needs, some part of my mind can’t help wonder what a catalog for our patrons might be like if we could design it ourselves, from scratch, to specifically meet our patrons’ unique needs, rather than settling for the best pre-made system that addresses most of them in a traditional library way. Because I’ve never quite been sold on the idea that a traditional “library catalog” interface would be the best discovery tool for our students.

I’ve thought about this on and off ever since the RFP was but a twinkle in my eye, but Karen Schneider’s post about the shift from the “librarian-centric” to “developer-centric” model brought it back to mind:

Librarians do bring terrific skills to the table. We have a strong service orientation. We are practical. We understand what these products must do, and we have a firm grasp on timelines and calendars. We also have an appreciation for order, governance, and transparency. But we simply don’t (yet) have the core competencies to do what we did one hundred years ago — design, build, and manage our own tools.  We lost our way several decades ago, and we need to acknowledge that we can’t get out of this forest on our own.

If I could sit down today and start from scratch, and not base the design on previous library catalogs, I have an idea for how I’d like our catalog to function. Instead of title/author/subject based searches and entries, I imagine a browseable subject hierarchy. The opening screen displays visual representations (i.e. images instead of and/or in addition to text) of maybe the top ten or so popular research subjects that hour, day, etc. There might be a Google-esque search box, not the focus of the screen but certainly available for those with more specific needs or interest in topics not readily apparent. But overall, a simple, clean, un-cluttered, uncomplicated design.

pencil sketch of an idea of a new catalog interface

Please excuse the poor quality of my sketches—just because I work at an arts-related library doesn’t make me an artist. :) My original plan was to jerryrig some screenshots and do some fancy Photoshop work, but I kept running out of time and putting if off, and finally decided that my crappy sketches got the idea across and were better than nothing. Sorry about the bleed-through, but I'm a proponent of recycled paper.

Clicking on a subject (either from the home screen or after a search) does not take the user directly to a list of materials, but rather an authority page for the subject. Not a library-jargoned authority file like an LC authority record, but more like a Wikipedia-esque page with some basic info about the subject. A basic biography, birth/death dates, what they are famous or known for if a personal subject (like, say, Christian Dior);  a brief definition or explanatory information for a topical subject, such as Art Deco. Beneath this brief info, the screen would offer materials results: books, articles, DVDs, images, and other references (links to designers’ websites, contact information for design companies, etc.).

sketch of new catalog interface--second level screen

I think the subject focus would appeal to our students, and a page design reminiscent of a familiar site like Wikipedia would ease use. I think it would be more in touch with our patron demographic, both in their information-seeking behavior and their technology literacy.

Apparently other people agree with me, too, because while I was spending time writing this entry and putting off sketching, I happened across this fantastic blog post about concept-oriented catalogs which shares some of the same ideas (right down to the Wikipedia analogy) as this post I’m writing now.

So why isn’t our library’s catalog like this?

Because I can’t build it. I’m a librarian, not a computer programmer. As many of us are, and, as Karen Schneider notes, to our own disadvantage. I can understand my patrons’ information needs and behavior, and I can figure out how to organize and present that information to them in a findable way. I know what to do, I just don’t know how to manifest it. How, then, can we take the next step, from concept to creation?



et cetera