From the catalogs of babes











{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 And who can blame someone for not following these outdated standards because technology makes them no longer applicable or necessary?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 But that’s no longer the case–many of these outdated standards can be automated, and in turn, more consistent than applications prone to human error.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?

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{February 18, 2010}   can a hotel have a biography?

Bib record for "Just Kids" by Patti Smith

Just wondering. Hotels seem like inanimate buildings to me, but what do I know?

Thoughts?



There was a thread not all that long ago on the RADCAT listserv asking people how they got involved in what seems to now be called “radical cataloging,” i.e., basically, anything that questions or deviates from the proscribed traditional standards. Many people cited Sandy Berman as an influence, but I confess I hadn’t even heard of him until I was almost done with graduate school. (I may have even first learned about him on that very listserv.)

Apparently I’ve always been a radical cataloger, because I started deviating from the rules in the very first lecture of my very first cataloging class. It was my second semester in library school, but I had been working at the library where I am now for almost a year at that point, and I had already spent 5 years working for a large retail bookstore chain. The professor was introducing areas of bibliographic description with an exercise where he held up a book and asked students to suggest characteristics that might be beneficial to include in a bibliographic record. Everyone named the obvious components like title, author, etc., right away. The book was green, and I remember him asking the class if we thought that was important enough to be included. I (and several other people) answered yes, and were corrected by the instructor and told that it wasn’t.*

But all I could think about were all the years I spent helping people looking for “that book with the yellow cover” (both in the bookstore and in the arts-oriented library where I work) and how that cover color was information that people wanted to know and wanted to use to find their books, and if that information wasn’t included, we were doing a disservice to a certain percentage of searchers.

So why isn’t cover color included in bibliographic description? I can certainly see obvious reasons why it’s not: covers can vary depending on printing, covers may be multicolored and difficult to describe, books are rebound, the information in the resource and not the resource itself is what’s important, etc. I think these are all certainly valid reasons for excluding color from bibliographic description; the issues and troubles that come from documenting cover color certainly outweigh any benefits derived from including cover description, at least in most libraries.

But in some libraries, like arts-focused libraries, patrons are interested to know what covers look like. This is documented by research as well as my personal observations. So why isn’t color cover included in bibliographic description if it does, in fact, serve patrons?

Because it didn’t fit on a catalog card.
The current cataloging practices we have now evolved directly from the use of cards, specifically card catalogs. I’ve heard Diane Hillman talk about how the semantic web is going to further FRBR and move us away from our archaic self-imposed card-based standards.  I’ve watched Tim Spalding’s talk  about the limitations of standards based on physical cards. We use “main entry” and the “rule of three” because catalog cards did not have space to include every author/contributor. LC prescribes 3 subject headings because any more would tax the available space on a 3×5 card. Modern cataloging has been far too heavily influenced by what kinds of information we could cram into a two-dimensional space a little less than 15 square inches.

Once we were no longer limited to that tiny piece of cardstock, did we start including more information? Has cataloging changed significantly with the new technologies that have manifested between the typewriter and today? It certainly doesn’t seem like it. I know I’ve talked before about discarding these limitations now that we have technology that’s not held bound by these constraints: why not make the title field repeatable, so that multiple versions of a title can be included in a bib record? Why not list all the authors, instead of just the first three? But it leads me to wonder–what else we might include once we’re no longer held back by the tradition of the catalog cards? People claim that RDA will address these issues, but I see RDA as another piece atop the house of catalog cards, teetering precariously, still based on preceding rules and standards and subject to implementation challenges too.

What I would really like to do is sit down and start from scratch. Pretend like card catalogs never existed. If I walked into my library today, with its users and its collection, but without any previous cataloging, how would I organize it? Would I make a card catalog? An online database? An index? A paper list? Piles? Would the height of the book be important? The page count? Would it be enough for my patrons to simply indicate “ill.” or would I describe resources more specifically in terms of maps, sketches, charts, photographs, images, reproductions, etc.? I might include width, rather than (or in addition to) height, so as to be easily able to calculate the linear feet necessary in our increasingly cramped shelf space. I might list all the authors, not just the first three named or the “main” one. I might include categories for artists, illustrators, designers, models, and other contributors that aren’t authors but are certainly creators or co-creators of the work. I might do a lot of things differently if I was given the chance to start fresh and not required to work under the shackles of a system that not only does not serve my niche library, but cripples the evolution of other libraries as well.

Of course, we can’t start fresh—libraries already have large amounts of time, money, and inertia invested in the defunct status quo. Libraries balk at the effort to perform retrospective cataloging and reclassification projects—to throw everything out and develop new cataloging from scratch would be unthinkable. And truth be told, not only is it economically unviable and incredibly taxing to an already overworked personnel, there’s also oodles of valuable data already in catalogs that would be inefficient to simply throw away.

We can certainly harvest that data, but we need to add all the other stuff that’s missing—all the stuff that was left off in the past because it didn’t fit on that tiny little card, all the additional authors and contributors and series and width measurements and whatever else proves to be important to us and our patrons. LibraryThing already does this with some of its Common Knowledge data, which is clearly established as important information to the user group the site serves. As an arts librarian, I’d love to see development in the physical description areas, since our patrons seem to be so influenced by the physical characteristics of our resources. I wonder if this could also be crowdsourced/added socially: in the same way that LibraryThing members contribute series and character information, perhaps arts library users could describe their resources in ways that they find important to them? And if each library added the data that was important to them, imagine how fleshed out, detailed, and useful our bibliographic records could be!

Every library is different, and one tiny 3 x 5 card can’t hope to fit all the information needed by all of the different libraries out there. So now it’s my turn to hold up a book and ask which components might be important. Think about your library, its users, and its collection. Pretend catalog cards never existed. Tell me: How would you organize your library’s materials? What information would you record?

* I don’t begrudge the instructor for his answer–it was correct in context in that ‘color’ isn’t included in the traditional 8 areas of bibliographic description, which was, after all, what the lesson was about. He is actually a fantastic instructor who I would recommend to anyone, and I’m totally going to steal that exercise idea someday when I’m teaching cataloging.



{January 13, 2010}   missing midwinter

As I’m starting to see posts and tweets from Midwinter, I confess I’m a little sad to not be attending this time around. It sounds like there are some cool sessions, plus I’ve never been to Boston. Not to worry, though: Boston is still a viable goal for 2010… 

For those of you, like me, tuning in from home, I’m happy to share that I’ll be participating in a virtual midwinter presentation, sponsored by the arts section of ACRL

ACRL Arts Section’s *Virtual* Discussion Forum
ALA MidWinter 2010

Join ACRL Arts Section’s first *virtual* discussion forum!
Saturday, Jan. 16th @ 11am (EST) via Conference Call (and ALA Connect)

It will be an exciting first, and you won’t want to miss it!

Rachel Clarke is a Cataloger at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising Library. Her presentation entitled “Avant-Garde Cataloging: Pushing the Boundaries of Traditional Standards to Better Serve Arts Library Users” will talk about cataloging for arts and design school libraries.

Marie Botkin, an MLIS Graduate student, will discuss Medieval Manuscript Illuminations and their significance to fashion changes.

There will be a Q&A session after the presenters.

How to join the discussion:
1. Dial into the conference call: 218.844.0850. When prompted, enter the access code: 713404*.
2. During (or before) the conference call, log into ALA connect (www.connect.ala.org), find the ACRL Arts Section community, click on the Discussion tab, then click on ACRL Arts Section Virtual Discussion Forum. Download the documents, and now you’re ready to follow along with the presenter!

Have technical questions or questions about the discussion forum? Please email Yen Tran at ntran@library.ucsb.edu. Hope you’ll join us for this exciting discussion! 

 

Yes, I am doing a virtual presentation on cataloging and classification for arts libraries. I do hope you’ll join in! Personally, I’ve found ALA Connect somewhat awkward in terms of navigation and login, so you might want to go in ahead of time and poke around to make sure you’re hunky-dory with your username/login and navigation. But just in case,  here’s a link to the exact page within ALA Connect. There’s no need to be an ALA member to use ALA Connect or attend the presentation, so come on!



{January 7, 2010}   disappointing start

What, no one has any cataloging resolutions??  Not a single comment. How disappointing. So much for getting 2010 off to a good start…

Also a little disappointing: I didn’t end up making the LISNews 10 Librarian Blogs to Read in 2010 list. I’m not overly disappointed that my blog, personally, didn’t make the list, but I confess that I’m more than a little disturbed that not a single one of the 10 blogs is a cataloging/cataloger’s blog. There’s one with a technology focus, and there’s one that I particularly enjoy reading that has had some great cataloging-related posts with a very user-centric perspective, but the rest are the usual gamut of academic, public and humorous library topics. Come on, really–Awful Library Books made the 2010 must-read list, but not a single blog about cataloging? And this is the Year of Cataloging Research, for heaven’s sake. That’s not just sad, but also, imo, another example of just how misunderstood and passed-over cataloging is in the library world.

I suppose I should be used to such short shrift by now, yet somehow I continue to plug forward with some strange sort of optimism that things will change.



{January 1, 2010}   Welcome to 2010!

Welcome to a new year! I think it’s gonna be a good one. Not only has 2010 been designated the Year of Cataloging Research, but this blog has also been listed by Cataloging Futures as one of the top ten cataloging blogs to read in 2010 and also nominated by both the former and some kind anonymous readers as one of the top ten library-related blogs to follow in 2010 by LISNews. I sure hope I can live up to all of that!

 I know I’ve got lots of big plans in store for this year, lots of things to talk about, and, of course, lots of strong opinions. Let’s make some resolutions to do some research, assessment, evaluation, and improvement in our services, big or small, to make 2010 a better year for our patrons as well! If anyone out there has plans regarding cataloging, classification, or any other collection organization for this year, I would sure love to hear about them. Please leave a comment and let me know: what’s your cataloging resolution?

2010 is going to be a good year. I know that together we can all investigate and make changes that truly make a difference in people’s library experiences and lives!



It’s the last day of the quarter at our library. The library is dead. I think maybe 4 people have come in all day, mostly to drop off books before we close for winter break. Our school is on the quarter system, and for about 2 weeks between each quarter, the library is closed to patrons, although we still come in every day to work on projects and backlogs that we can’t seem to accomplish when school is in session. I know we’re lucky; most libraries don’t have that luxury.

Sometimes, as the end of the quarter rolls around, and especially during the holidays, we get cards and gifts and candy treats from some of the staff and faculty, a very kind and thoughtful gesture of appreciation. Sometimes patrons will thank us individually, with a card or small gift, for personally helping them with a specific project, or always interacting with them in a positive way.  Yesterday, one of the circulation staff came in the workroom to share a nice gift he’d received from a teacher he always helps. And I confess, it made me a teensy bit jealous.

I’ve never been one of those outgoing, perky, friendly people who bonds with others right away. I think I’m pretty outgoing once I’m friends with someone and no longer have to interact with them in a professional manner. I suppose I’m old enough that to me ‘professional manner’ still equals a sense of some sort of formality–I’m not saying this is good or bad, it just is. I know I can come across as stand-offish, aloof, even stuck-up and snooty. I try very hard to be friendly, open, and approachable, especially at the reference and circulation desks, but I’m just never going to be one of those people with whom students and faculty have an instant rapport. Most of the time, I’m okay with that. As nice as it might be, it’s not my job to be the patrons’ friends. It’s my job to help them find the materials and resources they need.

And that’s what cataloging is: helping library users find, identify, select, and obtain(pdf) bibliographic resources. The purpose of cataloging is not to create a bibliographic record; that is a function of cataloging, but it is not a purpose. Bibliographic records are valuable contributions to cataloging and make up a majority of the work that catalogers currently do. But a cataloger’s job is (or should be) larger than that–they should use whatever appropriate means necessary to enable the library’s user to find materials, to identify and/or differentiate between materials, to select the best or most appropriate material for their needs, and to obtain or acquire that material. To enable library users to accomplish these tasks takes more than bibliographic records. It takes more than authority control, more than subject analysis, more than classification, metadata, stacks management, holdings, circulation, reference, bibliographies, reader’s advisory, inventory, needs assessment. It takes all these things and more to get to a point where users can not only find, identify, select and obtain materials, but can do so seamlessly–without errors, hassles, broken links, missing materials, unnavigable interfaces, and all the other obvious obstacles that users see on a day-to-day basis.

And that’s the problem: cataloging, and all its related functions, when done property, should never even be noticeable. The only time we’re brought to the attention of patrons or other library staff is when things aren’t working. What kind of reputation does that give us? It lends the impression that we’re all errors, all the time. I have a friend at another library where they recieved a report of some broken links to articles on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, and the faculty member who filed the complaint had the nerve to complain that it took 4 hours to get it resolved. 4 hours! During a holiday weekend, when the library was closed and no one was working! To me, that shouldn’t warrant a complaint, it should warrant a bonus. But the staff fixes errors so rapidly on a regular basis that  I guess 4 hours must have seemed outrageous.

What catalogers do goes on behind doors, in basements and workrooms, away from the public eye. Ideally, the tasks we perform make library functionality seamless and transparent. Many do not understand what is we do all day, or how it applies to tangible library services or manifests in patron services. Patrons rarely (if ever) see us, yet we touch so many of them directly though records, indexes, subject headings, and other services. Patrons don’t bring us gifts for making their searching easier. Every thank you note I’ve ever received has been for instructional presentations, never for increasing findability.

I’m not trying to fish for sympathy. Despite some of the bad days, when it’s finals and students are stressed and teachers are disorganized and frustrated, I think most of the time, our patrons really do appreciate us. We’re always appreciated for our public face–our thorough and knowledgeable reference service, our extensive collection of materials, our flexibility in terms of circulation and accessibility. I don’t need recognition from patrons to know that I do my job well and I improve library services. I observe it everyday, when I watch people look for books and DVDs. I’ve seen students retrieve books in searches that I know only turned up because I added keywords or headings to the record. I’m not in this for applause or reward or grandeur (although I sure wouldn’t turn it down…), and I know many other catalogers feel similarly.

But if you have a minute, maybe you can stop by your cataloger’s desk and say thanks. Tell them you appreciate what they do. If you don’t know what it is exactly they do (and it’s hard to appreciate something if you don’t even know what it is), maybe take a few minutes and talk to them about it and ask them to explain it to you. It could be a beneficial and enlightening conversation for both parties.

And hugs to all my cataloging friends out there. Keep up the good work!



…becuase I’m really tempted to submit “Jeggings.”

Yes, I have literary warrant.



I often get asked, both in blog comments and in real life, how I got started in library science and cataloging. Also, the Library Routes Project has been making the rounds in the blogosphere, and so I figured it was about time I posted something about how I got to where I am today (even though I might not always be sure where that is…)

Once upon a time, there was a girl who had a job making trophies. (As with most of my parables, the girl is, of course, me.) I was working for a promotional products company, doing graphic design for all sorts of tchotckes and etching crystal paperweights with company logos. In the spring of 2005, I was let go from my job there. I started applying for teaching positions (both of my parents had been teachers and I had some related experience) but the schooling required to acquire a teaching credential did not appeal to me. At all. In fact, many people suggested that I go back to school, and I was having none of it: I hated sitting in classrooms, I hated the inherent bureaucracy of higher education, I hated the time investment to acquire a piece of paper that I wasn’t really interested in acquiring in the first place, only because it was mandatory for the job. I’d spent some time in my undergraduate days working my way up the chain of retail bookstores, and while I enjoyed it greatly, I knew that retail was not a lucrative career path, especially one I would enjoy.

One of my friends who was pressing me to return to school suggested library science. I explained, all the reasons above and more, why I in no way, shape or form, wanted to go to grad school. He then sent me a link to a list of course descriptions from the University of Denver’s MLIS program. The page is different now, but I can still picture what it looked like when I read it for that first time. One of the first descriptions I read was for a class called “Online Searching.” I read that description and thought, “Hey, I Google-stalk people all the time, and I like it and I’m pretty good at it. You’re telling me there’s a class where I can learn to do this kind of thing even better?!?” I remember thinking how amazing that class sounded, that I didn’t even care about a degree or any sort of higher accomplishment–I wanted to take that class not only because it sounded interesting, but because it sounded fun.

I wanted to start so badly that I applied to the two local(-ish) programs that would let me start the earliest, that coming spring (Denver and San Jose State University, just for the record). The other feasible schools only accepted students to start in the fall of the following year, and I didn’t want to wait that long. I figured if I didn’t get accepted at the first two, then I would have time to improve and reapply for the later-starting ones.

In the meantime, I applied for a circulation assistant position at a fashion design school. Unfortunately, I didn’t get that job, but the head librarian at the time asked me if I might be interested in a temporary position for a few months while one of the circulation staff was out on maternity leave. I knew that a temp job could easily be a foot in the door, and even if it wasn’t, temporary work was better than none, so I took it. My very first project was organizing a collection of vintage sewing patterns. I thought it was a perfect task for me at the time simply because I was familiar with the major pattern companies and brands, as well as 20th century fashion and styles. It was easy for me to sort the patterns into women’s, men’s and children’s wear, then groups by decade and then alphabetically by name of pattern company and numerically by design number. Looking back, it’s clear to me that it wasn’t just the fashion familiarity at work–it was also the innate tendency to sort, classify, and organize those materials, to group like things together, and to base the method of organization on the inherent characteristics of the materials of that specific collection.

Thankfully, I was accepted at both of the schools to which I applied.  I ended up choosing SJSU’s distance program because I had just been offered a permanent full-time position at the library, mainly copy-cataloging books from the vintage collection and building preservational boxes for them. By this time, upon suggestion of the head librarian, I had just read Cataloging and Classification for Library Technicians. I still think it’s one of the best introductory texts available.

I don’t remember when I learned about MARC, or Dublin Core, or AACR2r, or LCSH, or any of those things. To me, it’s like learning how to read–I don’t remember a time before, I don’t remember the actual learning, it’s just something that I’ve always been able to do, something that I’ve always been aware of. I do remember starting the MLIS program in the spring making sure to take the prerequisite course for cataloging, since I would need to take beginning cataloging over the summer if I wanted to take advanced cataloging in the fall (the only semester it was offered). So even before I started my first semester, I already knew that cataloging was the area I wanted to study. I remember taking the introductory library science course, which included assignments like an annotated webliography and a summary of job trends in a particular area of library science. I think these assignments were designed to help students explore different areas of focus in libraries and information science. While other people wrote about law libraries for one assignment and reference for another, I wrote every single one of my assignments focused on cataloging.

I took a lot of classes in information organization and architecture, but I also took quite a few courses in archives. It wasn’t just that I was interested in crazy old stuff and personal papers (although that was certainly part of it), but I was also interested in the organization of these unique, one-of-a-kind collections. Like the vintage pattern collection that was my very first library project, archival collections come with their own organization issues, and it’s always been more interesting to me to puzzle out the best ways to organize things, rather than simply following a strict set of inflexible rules–especially when they can’t apply.

After a year of copy-cataloging for the vintage collection, I started copy-cataloging for the general collection at large, and then eventually handling the cataloging (copy and original) of all the library’s materials, as well as attempting to formalize policies and procedures for cataloging across the library’s four campus branches and starting a campaign to migrate to a new ILS.

In my final semester of graduate school, I applied for an additional job keywording images for a graphic design company. Image cataloging was an area that interested me, but also seemed to be one of those areas where you need the experience to get the jobs, but you can’t get the experience without previous jobs. A representative of the company spoke to my vocabulary design class and I was intrigued by the company’s controlled vocabulary, especially the use of natural language and user search terminology. I kept my eyes on their employment page and submitted my application the minute a position opened up. I mention this job specifically because I distinctly remember the posting describing the types of people wanted for such a position:

“Successful Keyworders are highly organized. Many have backgrounds in library science. Some even claim to enjoy alphabetizing their CD collections.”

Yes, I saved the posting. (Remember, I did study archives.) The thing that caught my attention was the bit about alphabetizing CD collections. Because that was me. Literally. Not only did I like to alphabetize my CDs, I liked to pull them all off the shelf and re-alphabetize them, or put them into genre categories, or by artist, just for fun. Yes, this was a hobby of mine. I’m not ashamed to disclose my lack of popularity or party girl status.

It’s a pretty roundabout story of how I came to be a cataloger, and while I can put my finger on the moment I knew I wanted to study library science, the exact moment when I decided that cataloging and information organization would be my focal point isn’t exactly clear. Looking back, I sometimes can’t believe I didn’t figure it out sooner. But I list all these bits of experiences here because they are not only what made me a cataloger, but what made me the cataloger I am, with my background and perspectives and opinions, where they come from, and why.

 



I know it’s barely Thanksgiving, but time is going by so fast that it feels like it’s practically 2010 already. It’s going to be here before we know it.

According to the current issue of Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 2010 has been dubbed “The Year of Cataloging Research.” I’d heard rumors of this at ALA, but forgot about it until I saw it mentioned again yesterday.

Oddly enough, yesterday was also the day I met with our head of institutional research to discuss surveying library users about findability of materials in the library. Coincidence?

Remember the proposal I submitted for library reclassification? I got a green light to proceed, and it specifically included assessment as one of the first steps. We’re working on designing a short survey for faculty and students about how easy or hard it is for them to find books, DVDs, magazines, and other research materials in the libraries. If all goes according to plan, the survey will be distributed to faculty in late January 2010, and will appear to students via the online student portal in mid-February.

I’m so excited! I can hardly wait to see the responses. I have gut instincts and observational experiences that color my expectations of the results. But like Carlyle says in her editorial, “we need to have real evidence for the claims we want to make.” I’m so very interested to see what our library users really think, instead of just doing my best to made educated guesses from experience and observation. 

Is it really just coincidence that we’re going to be starting off 2010 with some cataloging research of our own? Well, probably. But I’m gonna milk it anyway, for all it’s worth.



et cetera