From the catalogs of babes











{May 20, 2010}   SOS: save our stacks

Man, I had a great segue of posts lined up for this week, with ideas that flowed into and built on one another, and then Donald A. Barclay had to go and write this.

It’s an article from American Libraries magazine (the online edition–I didn’t see it in the print issue) called “The Myth of Browsing,” and it purports that browsing the physical stacks  should not be a priority in the contemporary academic library. And with all due respect, I say “bull sh*t.”

Barclay offers a number of reasons why browsing need not be supported. First off, he claims that the physical stack browsing that current scholars feel is a historical precedent is actually false–public access to physically browse stacks is a relatively recent (20th century) concept. To this I say: so what? So what if it’s a new idea? Should we always do things the way they were done in the past? Should we take away OPACs and return to card catalogs–OPACs have even less historical precedence than shelf browsing. Oh, and let’s do away with full-text access in scholarly databases, too–that’s only been around, what, maybe 20 years? Just because something wasn’t done throughout the entirely of library history does not mean it’s incorrect or wrong–in fact, it’s quite possibly a positive innovation, and, in the case of public browsing, I think it’s been wildly successful.

Barclay also tries to shoot holes in the ‘serendipitous discovery’ valued by some researchers (especially in the humanities, and, near and dear to my heart, the arts). He tries to claim that because every resource in existence in the entire world cannot physically be on a shelf in a library to browse, that patrons are missing out, like “hitting the sale tables on day three of a three day sale.” Again, I must disagree. Of course we cannot offer every existing resource on a shelf at any given time, and yes, this will reduce some discovery possibilities. But aren’t our collections tailored to best serve our patron groups? Do not arts libraries acquire what they feel to be the best selection of books and resources for their clientele, while law libraries choose the best resources for their patrons, and so on? Yes, we must make choices, and yes, that mean perhaps choosing one resource over another and only offering selected books on the shelf. But isn’t that our job as librarians? Isn’t that what we are supposed to do, and what people rely on us for? Collection development and management are key components of professional librarianship, and to offer a collection of every resource in the known universe rather than a carefully tailored collection targeting user group needs, would be unsuccessful, and in my opinion, unprofessional. And at least with some resources on the shelves, something can be found, even if it’s only selected from a few dozen titles rather than every book in the world.  If resources are removed completely (say, to off-site storage as mentioned in the article) then nothing can be selected by browsing, and I personally think something is better than nothing at all. He also tries to claim that browsing is counterproductive due to issues with classification schema, but to me that reflects more on the appropriateness of the schema to the particular library. Regular readers of my blog know that I may be biased in this area, but I think such issues should motivate research into the library’s classification success (or lack thereof), even the success of the furniture design (as Barclay notes, books are more likely to be browsed at eye-level than on the top or bottom shelves out of view).

But what about digital access and browsing? Surely if we remove all those books off-site, people will be able to search and browse the library catalog digitally and find materials that way, right? This is Barclay’s claim–except he doesn’t mention libraries. He’s certainly keen to cite Amazon.com‘s “rich browsing experience” and how “so many of today’s academic library users routinely start by looking up books via bookstore websites.” He himself is saying it right here–library catalogs currently cannot and do not support the browsing needs of library users. Until we can offer the same sort of browsing and findability experiences digitally that library users can get from browsing the stacks, we are in no position to be removing stacks browsing access from our libraries. Now, I may be delusional, but I have optimistic hopes that the day will come when library catalogs are more robust and user-friendly than commercial book websites. But until that happens, we should not be putting our eggs in the basket of Amazon and other external sites and vendors over whose fate we have no control.

Finally, Barclay claims that large physical book collections have become an “unsustainable luxury.” I don’t inherently disagree with this. But why are the unsustainable? Because we’ve made them so. Perhaps better management and strategic planning, with a focus on sustaining physical collections, would alleviate this issue. As for luxuries–indeed, large book collections are luxuries. That’s what attracts people to them–it’s a luxury that most people cannot afford on their own. Libraries are luxury, that’s part of what they’re designed for. They are a luxury of civilized, educated societies, which we need to offer if that’s what we purport to be. And again, from the way I see it from behind my rose-colored glasses, if it’s a luxury people want, they will say so. Which is exactly what they did at Syracuse, and what prompted Barclay’s article. Which brings me to my final (and biggest) beef with Barclay’s piece: here are library users stepping up and saying what they want and value about the library–in this case, physical stacks to browse and a hallowed environment in which to study–and yet Barclay throws everything in his arsenal against it. He sees library users saying in no uncertain terms what they want, and yet he argues against it. No wonder librarians get a bad rap; no wonder people sometimes see us as snooty, uptight traditionalists who push our ways on people because we assume that we know better. Now, I understand that users may not always know what they want, or even what might work best for them, but we’re certainly not doing anyone any favors by shoving that down their throats and blatantly arguing against supporting their needs and wants.

I don’t know much, but I do know this: people want physical spaces to browse print materials and immerse themselves in the traditional atmosphere that occurs only when in the presence of a large number of books. I believe they want it so much, that someday, when all these libraries have taken it away from them in favor of digital access and offsite bunker storage, I will open a space for them where they can come and browse and smell and take in the atmosphere. Maybe if I’m nice I won’t even charge them for it. On certain holidays and every fifth Tuesday of the month.

ps> Way to go, American Libraries, for not allowing comments on the article.

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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.



Dear Readers,

I’m looking for concrete examples of libraries currently using alternative classification schema (i.e., not DDC or LCC) for some reasearch I’m doing regarding our library’s reclassification project. BISAC, Bliss, Colon, locally-designed, home-grown, what-have-you are all okay. Examples of academic libraries (regardless of size and specialty) are preferred, as are corporate libraries. Not so much on the public libraries (I’ve already noted Maricopa County and the other public libraries recently featured in the press) but I’ll take whatever I can get. Beggars can’t be choosers, and all.

If any of you faithful readers out there know of any examples, please leave a comment with any info you have and you will earn my undying gratitude (at least for now, until the next project…)

With sincere thanks,

your friendly neighborhood cataloging librarian



I was pleased to see this article from the current issue of SJSU’s student newsletter The Call Number talk about one student’s experience creating a unique classification system for a small arts library. While she doesn’t talk much about the specific information-seeking behavior of her particular patron base, I can’t help but feel a person can’t go wrong with her three tenets of “specific, simple and searchable,” regardless of the genre.

I wrote for The Call Number when I was a student at SJSU (when it was still published in print and PDF) and I’m glad to see it carrying on successfully in a more accessible and technological format.



{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!



On the first day of classes for winter quarter, we had a bunch of comments about the new DVD classification from students, faculty, and internal library staff–all of them positive. Every. Single. One.

“Oh! It’s actually better because like, now I don’t have to look through, like everything.”

“It’s so organized, like Blockbuster! Makes things much easier to find.”

“I really like it– I’m going to tell my roommate who is really into musicals that there is a section now– and I know what to avoid when getting something for my boyfriend.”

“Oh, they’re all labeled now! Perfect. Now I can find what I want.”

Looks like we might be off to a good start after all!



2 days. 2 staff. 1200 DVDs. One mission:

DVDs sorted by category, with labels

It may sound like a bad action movie tagline, but it’s true: two people reclassified our feature film collection in two days.

I say this because I get a lot of balk whenever I bring up reclassification, anything from upgrading to the latest DDC edition to instituting an entirely new schema. Libraries are understaffed, underfunded, don’t have the manpower or the time to go back and retroactively convert or upgrade or migrate to a new system. And I say (pardon my French): bullsh*t.

I’m not denying that it’s a lot of work. It’s a crazy amount of work. What I am saying is: isn’t that work worth it? Obviously every project requires a calculation of return on investment, and sure, sometimes the amount of effort expanded won’t be worth it.  But how can you calculate the returned value of patron service? Doesn’t improved findability for patrons (which in turn increases library usage and circulation) warrant a significant investment? And to anyone who claims otherwise, I ask that you re-examine the mission and purpose of libraries in general, because if you’re not willing to invest in patron service, then what exactly is your purpose?

To the catalogers who balk: I know we’re all swamped and underappreciated, and most libraries have backlogs enough to keep them occupied until the year 2063. (And I can rant about that for the same amount of time, but that’s a post for another day…) Cataloging new acquisitions and making them accessible is important–it’s personally my highest priority as well as being the highest priority in our cataloging policies here. But as high as it is, it’s not the only priority, just as bibliographic records are not the sole point of cataloging. As busy as we all are, I think there are ways to work on updating and/or reclassifying a collection so as to improve patron accessibility and experience. Here’s what we did:

  • Tuesday morning, circa 9 a.m.: The audiovisuals specialist and I decide to reclassify the feature films. Okay, that’s kind of a lie. It was an idea we’d been talking about for a while, 2 quarters at least. Repeated observation and commentary from students and faculty led us to believe there was a great deal of difficulty finding feature film DVDs and videos, which up until now, had simply been shelved in DDC/Cutter order. All features were assigned 791.4372 + Cutter number; essentially all 1200+ commercial Hollywood movies were arranged in alphabetical order. Try to imagine walking into a Blockbuster Video arranged like that and trying to find a movie. I sure hope you know exactly what title you want to see, because if you’re in the mood for a light romantic comedy or a scary thriller, you’re SOL. Sure, we could have built out DDC numbers for the film genres based on the schedules under 791.436 + Table 3C, but honestly, that’s not only a lot of work, but how does that help our patrons? Maybe it lumps together like genres, sure. But by that point you have a number so long that it wraps around the spine of the DVD case, making it difficult to read as well as still being a number that patrons don’t identify with. Much easier to just divide into sections by name of genre and label accordingly. And that was what we decided to do, and Tuesday morning we looked at each other and decided that we’d dallied around long enough, and we were just gonna bite the bullet and do it.

 

  • 9:30 am: The two of us brave immensely strong winds on our way to the nearly office supply store to purchase a package of labels for the project. Total cost =$12.99 + tax.

 

  • 10am: We discuss and decide on 7 categories: Action, Animated, Comedy, Drama, Foreign, Musicals, and Sci-Fi/Horror. We debate other ideas, like Historical and Documentary, but we decide to keep it simple and just stick with the main seven. They are based on traditional movie genres as well as what our patrons commonly request, as well as what they don’t want–we’ve had numerous occurences of students checking out films only to return them with disappointment because they didn’t know the movie was a musical or in a foreign language. Separating those two categories out should help alleviate that problem, if not solve it entirely. We print color-coded labels for each section.

 

  • 11am: We start pulling materials off the shelf and sorting them into piles. Of course we encounter problems as we go. Some movies span multiple categories; some are totally unfamiliar to us and we have no idea where to class them. We begin making executive decisions: all war movies will go in Action; all Jane Austen films will go under Comedy (where we have already decided to class romantic comedies); an animated film in a foreign language will go under foreign, because our students are more interested in avoiding subtitles than they are in finding (or avoiding) animated films. This is the thing about physical classification–there comes a point when these decisions have to be made. Yes, everything is miscellaneous, and I can point you at examples of animated foreign musicals. But you have to make a decision, you have to document that decision, and then you have to move on. And I think this is where many classification/reclassification projects shut down, either at this point, or even before, just from fear and anticipation of this point. (See: Open Shelves Classification.) Face it: you’re not going to please 100% of the people 100% of the time. There’s going to be a lot of compromise. Be Zen with the compromise. Embrace it. And most of all, be able to explain it to people–that’s one reason you’re documenting it, so you can say “here’s where we put war movies, we file them under action.” As long as you know where they go, you can direct a user there. Because believe me, someone, somewhere will be upset that you don’t have a top-level category for war movies. But if you can say, “hey, we didn’t have enough to make a separate section, but we put them all in action, you can find them all there,” as long as the person inquiring knows where to find them, they’re usually happy. (There are a few people who will never be happy no matter what. That’s life. Move on.) We end up with a small pile of materials that defy obvious classification, so we look them up on Amazon (notice I didn’t say the Library of Congress or in the bib record) to determine the best place for them. 

 

  • Noon-ish: Now that we have piles, we start slapping labels on materials. We take a few minutes to agree in which direction and where on the spine they should be adhered. Then we get to it, and madly begin sticking labels on everything, including ourselves.

 

  • 1:00: Break for staff holiday potluck. Whee!

 

  • 2:30: Back to work. The audiovisuals specialist continues to label while I begin changing call numbers in the ILS. Unfortunately, we don’t have any sort of batch change option, so each record must be changed individually. Previously, a DVD call number would read something like:

DVD 791.4372 AL42w

After the change, the call number now reads:

DVD Animated A

That’s a lot easier to read and understand, no?

We continue like this until the end of the day Tuesday and resume Wednesday morning. We get a little help finishing up the labeling from some wandering part-time staff in need of projects. After the labels are done in the morning, I continue to change call numbers in the system while the audiovisuals specialist begins shifting the stacks and alphabetizing and reshelving materials. After I finish working on the computer, I join her, and by 5 p.m. Wednesday, the project is done. Well, we still need to order some alphabet labels to replace the old DDC spine labels–until those arrive we’ll still alphabetize by the old Cutter number. But other than that…

DVDs arranged neatly on shelves

So that wasn’t so hard, was it? Sure, it was a lot of work, but hey, that’s our job. I think it’s often fear and anticipation of the overwhelming nature of such projects that puts a stop to them even before they start. I’ve done quite a bit of reclassification now, and here’s some stuff I’ve learned so far:

1. Start small. Work in sections. If you look at reclassifying your whole collection, it’s going to be too much. This time around, we didn’t even do all of our audiovisual collection–we limited it to just feature films. When I updated our collection from DDC21 to 22, I worked section by section, first tackling 745, then 747. Break it down into manageable chunks. We’re on the quarter system here, so I like to go quarter by quarter. One quarter I took on 750, reclassing painters by name rather than country origin (since it made more sense for our students that way). The next quarter I did the same thing for architects in 720. Also, if you’re working in a smaller section, it’s easy to throw up a ‘pardon our dust’ sign telling patrons that there’s work going on in that section and to ask staff for help if they need anything there. Also, a smaller section or sub-section can function as a test case, where you can observe patron reactions and adjust accordingly before moving on to larger projects. Maybe (for some unthinkably bizarre reason) our patrons will hate what we’ve done with the DVDs. It’s a small enough section and easy enough work to restore them to the original DDC order if desired.

2. Have a plan. As much as it seems like we jumped into the project on Tuesday, it really was a long time coming and part of a larger strategic goal. Even though we finalized the categories that morning, we had discussed them in-depth previously as part of a larger collection reorganization. Make sure what you’re doing is in line with the larger scope of the library and the collection as a whole. Having a plan assumes research regarding your library’s collection and users.

2a. Once you have a plan, get to work. Once everything is ready to go, go do it. Try to do it as quickly and efficiently as possible. Don’t plan reclassification for a time right before you’re going on vacation, or it’s finals week in the library, or other situations where you might be interrupted. I think drawing this type of project out or letting it linger in limbo doesn’t do staff or patrons any good. Hence tip #1 to start small. If all you can do is one shelf a month, then pick your shelf and get it done and just do that one shelf. But do it, rather than putting it off until you “have more time.” We’re never going to have more time. Libraries never do. If you’re going to do it, find a way to get it done, or don’t do it at all.

3. Take advantage of available resources. Part of the reason we could reclassify our feature films so quickly is because both of us were intimately familiar with our collection. I can reclassify DDC 22 because I know the system like the back of my hand. I can look at most materials that come into our library and classify them immediately, without even looking at the schedules. This means I can reclassify sections in a day that might take the staff at out other campuses a week or more. Harness these strengths. Use people on your staff (yourself or others) with expert knowledge. Can you do some sort of batch change or find-and-replace in your ILS? Use that to your advantage. Do you have volunteers, interns, student workers who need easy projects? Set them up labeling or shelving.

4. Don’t overthink it. You can easily get bogged down trying to accomodate every tiny little niche category and user. Yes, browseability is important, especially in an arts library like ours. But remember that you can’t please all the people all the time. Remember that there are alternate means of access, like the catalog. There are still ways to find all the films set in a certain time period, or all the Pierce Brosnan movies. Think of your classification as broad browsing categories, and leave the niche, faceted searching to the catalog. Many people will not understand this, and everyone will have opinions about classification categories. But remember: this is what you do as a cataloger. This is ostensibly your area of expertise. It’s our job to consider ideas and suggestions from users and staff alike, but it’s also our job to use advanced knowledge to screen the ideas and create something functional, rather than getting bogged down trying to incorporate every idea and suggestion. There are other, better tools and technologies for that, and all these things can be designed to work together rather than replace each other.

5. Don’t get too carried away! I love classification and reclassification, and goodness knows I might reclassify everything in sight if given the chance. But some materials and collections don’t need it, and it’s better to direct energies elsewhere. Change for improvement is good. Change simply for change’s sake is just change. And change can be hard to adjust to, for library staff and patrons alike, even if it is designed to improve user experience. Which brings me to…

6. Documentation and training: Sure, some of the reclassification projects I’ve mentioned, like upgrading to DDC22, are theoretically pretty seamless to staff and all but invisible to patrons. Something like our DVD categories seems pretty self-explanatory. But believe you me, when we open our doors again on January 7, we’re gonna see some wide-eyed and confused faces. Be ready to explain–many, many times over–the new system and how it works. Make signs. Make handouts. We’re planning on typing up descriptions of the new categories, posting them in the audiovisuals area as well as on our student portal/website and faculty intranet. Additionally, I’ll be writing up something similar for internal library use, not just for staff reference but also training and succession planning. This way anyone who adds new feature films to the collection in the future will have documentation telling them exactly where to class Jane Austen or animated foreign films. This also ensures consistency, so that all war movies will really be classed under action.

7. (Most importantly) Have fun! Yes, this is a lot of work. Maybe I’m crazy, but I really enjoy these sorts of projects.  I like classifying things, and I like having a tangibly demonstrable example of improving user experience. I can’t wait until the quarter starts to see the reaction from students and faculty. Maybe they’ll hate it and so we’ll change it. But maybe they’ll love it, and be very happy about it. That’s what I’m anticipating, and that’s what I’m looking forward to seeing–after the shock of change, the smiles on their faces, as they are not only happy with the new ability to find materials, but also the realization that we listened to what they had to say, and acted on it.



DVD reclassification projectDVD reclassification projectDVD reclassification--spine labels



So I finally joined ARLIS, which I know seems strange that it took me this long to join the organization devoted to arts libraries. It’s not that I didn’t want to join before, because I did. It honestly sometimes just comes down to a matter of money. I started joining professional organizations when I was a student, and I personally find them very beneficial. It’s cheap to join as a student, but the membership fees often drastically increase after graduation. I don’t fault the organizations for this, and I don’t think any of their individual fees are outrageous, but by the time you’re joining 3 or 4 organizations, it can get pretty pricey.

I’ve tried to cull the herd and cut some of my memberships, but I find it very difficult. I don’t want to leave ALA, as I feel it’s the “core” organization of the field. With ALA comes ALCTS and LITA. I’m hesitant to leave SLA (although the debate about the realignment and name change may just drive me away), not only because the specialty library focus ties in so closely with our library and what we do, but also because they invested in me when I was a student, and I still feel I owe it to the chapter and the organization to make good on that investment. I was considering dropping SAA, since I don’t currently work as closely with archival materials as I used to, but then they published my paper in their journal, and I’d feel bad leaving so soon after that. So I’ve got those three, plus their subdivisions and local counterparts, plus now ARLIS, and I still think ASIS&T would be worth the membership if I could afford it. By this point, we’re talking hundreds, if not $1,000+ per year for professional organization memberships alone.

But I finally ponied up the dough to join ARLIS, since I’ve been wanting to attend one of their conferences for a while and though 2010 might be a good year to do so. And I’m really glad I joined–it really does seem to cover the niche area I want to work in. I got several friendly and welcoming emails, including one that alluded to a local discussion group specifically for catalogers in the arts! I know must know how excited that made me–how awesome to find a group of people like me, and even better, their next meeting was coming right up, so I was chomping at the bit to attend.

I wish I hadn’t gotten so worked up. Don’t get me wrong–it was a nice meeting, with a lot of nice people, and well-educated catalogers, which was a nice step up from some meetings I’ve been to. Unfortunately, I missed the introductions, so I’m not sure exactly which and what kinds of libraries everyone was representing, which was dissapointing becuase I feel that’s so intrinsic to cataloging work–what type of library are you, who do you serve as your patrons, what types of materials do you collect? I know quite a few attendees came from art museum libraries, which are going to have very different research needs than art schools. What I didn’t understand was how no one else seemed to understand that.

I felt a very strong presumption in the room about Cataloging Rules and How Things Should Be Done, and not very much about users at all. Most of the agenda covered what I consider to be very niggly little bits of cataloging propriety: is the entry in this 1XX field correct, is “$vCatalogs” being used correctly in this record, should this piece of ephemera be described as “1 sheet, folded” or “1 folded sheet”? I know I’m probably going to get flayed for this, but really, people: who the hell cares? Software, if designed properly, makes all those issues irrelevant. Google’s search algorithms will find your folded sheet either way, and probably even if you call it “folded paper,” too.

I was shocked at the apparent prejudice–while discussing whether or not a “cheat sheet” for cataloging exhibition brochures was correct (see above re: niggly minutiae), many people were asking “why would anyone bother to collect those things anyway?” and similar narrow-minded comments. Perhaps that institution has the largest art ephemera collection in the world. Perhaps those materials are in great demand in that geographic area. Perhaps the brochures are used as examples for graphic design classes or instruction in art exhibition design. Who knows? None of those catalogers, because they didn’t even bother to ask before ripping into not just the proper application of MARC and AACR2r on the cheat sheet, but also the reason for the collection itself.

There was so much narrow focus on minutia that it seemed like the considerations of library users didn’t even exist. One woman from an art museum brought up a dispute with a classification number assigned by the Library of Congress to a book about 4 artists. LC classed it in ND237.O5, evidently specifically under Georgia O’Keeffe, but she felt LC was incorrect and a broader classification would be more appropriate. After spending a lot of time hemming and hawing and discussing why LC had classed it that way, based on the rule of three and classing on the first listed subject heading, and how it was biased for LC to class it only under O’Keeffe since she was the most famous, and how this woman had seen the exhibition herself and it was beautiful, and how the book might be classed under women artists, and why the book shouldn’t be classed under women artists because it’s not specifically feminist enough, about how the book might be classed under American painting, but the book wasn’t all painting, there was one piece of sculpture included… it was all I could do to bite my tongue to keep from shouting: “If you don’t like it, just change it!”  (Someone alert the classification police, because we do it here all the time. I changed the classification numbers on no less than 10 titles this morning alone.) Especially since the women’s primary complaint was that her museum curator would “not understand why the book was classed there” and would be unable to find it! I think books should go where your users will find them, most especially in arts libraries, where established research repeatedly shows a preference for browsing access over searching.

As if that wasn’t enough for me to bite through my tongue, another cataloger actually said that “classification is nothing more than an address” and “not to fret over the call number.” I wish I knew which library she worked for. I’m sure this is a fine model for more research-oriented libraries like perhaps the Getty or LACMA. But as a group of not just catalogers, but catalogers serving arts libraries, I was appalled at the lack of understanding of patrons’ information-seeking behavior. These people are so busy counting the knotholes in the trees, not only do they not see the forest–they’ve forgotten the forest even exists.

It was my first meeting, and as a newbie and relative unknown, I wasn’t quite ready to vocalize my thoughts and make waves. (You might not guess it from my outspoken rants on this blog, but I’m actually fairly introverted and shy.) I’m still glad I went–I saw a few more potential rogues in the woods, and the meeting really opened my eyes in a lot of ways to just how entrenched we are in our methods of cataloging, how much momentum the history of cataloging carries, how hard it just might be to switch to a user-based model of cataloging. It’s going to be an uphill struggle, that’s for sure.

And now that I know what the general tenor of the group is like, I feel better about starting to broach the idea to the group slowly, perhaps with an announcement at the next meeting in February about my forthcoming book chapter about cataloging for art school users. It also makes me wonder if maybe the time isn’t right to pitch a session on user-based arts cataloging to ARLIS…but one thing at a time. Sometimes I have the problem of seeing just a little too much forest and not enough trees!



{October 7, 2009}   “The Dewey Dilemma”

Library Journal posted a great article the other day profiling libraries migrating away from DDC to alternative classification systems. I found it pretty fair and balanced and definitely worth the read. Check it out if you have a minute.



et cetera