From the catalogs of babes

{September 28, 2010}   oh, I have a blog?

Oh hai! I can haz a blog! It’s not like I forgot, it’s just that, well, doing things like fixing up a house and putting it on the market and moving across the country to a brand-new city and starting an entirely new school program kinda distracted me a little.

I really intended to post over the summer. I had some great ideas for posts! (Well, in my opinion, anyway.) But things happened and time got away from me so much that not only have I not posted anything since July, I haven’t even read any blogs since then. I feel very out of touch with not only the library world in general, but most especially professional practice.

This worries me, not just on a personal ignorance level, but especially in the context of this blog. See, the whole point of this here little exercise was to report experiences from the trenches–unique and bizarre trenches, sure, but real, day-to-day  experiences and effects nonetheless. And I’m no longer in a position to do that. While I don’t ever want to sacrifice my professional vocational experience in my studies, the fact is that I am starting to view things through the scholastic filter of academia. My goal is to always be able to keep a balance between the two sides of that coin, but I honestly have no idea how realistic that is or how successful I’ll be at it.

So what does that mean for this blog? (In English, since you can see I seem to already be getting caught up in the esoteric speak of academics…) I feel untrue and hypocritical trying to continue writing here under the guise of professional experience. Sure, I have backstories I could tell, or parables inspired by recent news events and happenings. But part of why I started writing in the first place was because I was tired of irrelevant edicts from academic theorists who knew the “right” way things “should” work without any real-world experience or context. I don’t want to become one of the voices I was retaliating against in the first place.

I still have plenty of opinions and things I want to say, but I’m not sure this is the right place for them. I’m not sure yet where such a place might be. And I’m not sure I won’t be in a position again in a year or 5 to once again offer and comment on concrete experiences and ideas stemming from there. I’m not sure that I won’t start some other blog or writing project in the meantime–people who know me seem to think I’ll explode without some outlet for my thoughts an opinions (though I suspect they may just be tired of shouldering the brunt of listening to all of my rants…) But I’ve always hated bloggers who’ve  left their projects to trickle off, so I wanted to offer some sort of conclusion, even if it ends up being transitional or temporary.

I really want to thank everyone who read this blog, ever commented (positively or negatively!), everyone who linked here or emailed links to others. Thanks for all your feedback and encouragement and support–deep down, I still believe librarianship is a profession about people, and the people I’ve met and connected with through this blog are amazing! Putting thoughts out there can be immensely intimidating, and every time I opened my email or read the comments I thought, “this is it, this time I’m on the chopping block.” But you people were crazy enough to respond encouragingly and supportively (and sometimes even in agreement!). I can’t tell you how much strength and confidence that builds, and I know it played a role in my professional development and this new academic path I’m following. Thank you.

If I decide to start writing again, or some other project, I’ll post here to let you know. This might be the last you’ll hear from me for now, but (barring any unforeseen accidents involving bread trucks) you’ll hear from me again. I’m far too opinionated with too big a mouth to stay silent for long. Comments & email should still work, if you need to reach me.

I don’t know what else to say besides: it’s been fun. Thanks.


{July 29, 2010}   SkyRiver vs. OCLC?

The library cataloging world is all a-buzz today since the press release(PDF) announcing that SkyRiver plans to sue OCLC for anti-trust violations.

I think anyone who’s been following any sort of cataloging news saw this coming miles away. I confess: I always suspected that the creation of SkyRiver wasn’t simply only to provide an alternative to OCLC, but rather an ulterior-motive vehicle for exactly this type of legal action. I know plenty of catalogers who have long felt similarly about OCLC’s apparent monopolistic behavior, but if I recall correctly from my 7th grade government class (and I likely don’t, but still), no legal action can be taken until there’s some sort of victim, some other company or organization that is directly hurt by the alleged violations. When OCLC had no direct competitors, there were no victims to file suit. Now SkyRiver provides exactly that. Now some kind of action can be taken.

I have no idea what will happen, but I’d sure love ringside seats.

{June 22, 2010}   the swing of things

Hi all. I’ve been away.

Despite not starting the Ph.D. program until September, I decided to leave my position at my former library at the end of May, and spend my summer vacation break sabbatical finishing some lingering projects as well as doing some traveling. I feel like it’s not often in our lives when we might get such an opportunity to take a few months off with the security that there’s something waiting for us at the end of it.

Despite my intentions otherwise, I’ve so far kind of turned my brain off to cataloging and libraries…I haven’t been reading many articles or following the blogs I usually do or any of that. While it’s nice to have a vacation of sorts, I know I need to get back in the swing of things shortly, or it’ll just be detrimental in the long run.

I wasn’t going to go to ALA, but my sweetie is going for work and I weaseled my way into a last-minute speaking gig there on Sunday. I’ll be part of a panel for the RUSA Catalog Use Committee’s “Lightning Rounds” session on Sunday, June 27, from 4-5:30 p.m. (EMB-Capital A). The theme is “Innovations in Catalog Use” and each presenter will have about 5 minutes to share a tip or innovation that worked (or didn’t!) for their library and catalog. Personally, I’m excited about the format–I think the short presentations combined with the practical tips will make this a really accessible and helpful session, and I hope if you’re at ALA you’ll come by to see it.

Also while I’m shamelessly self-promoting, if you’re going to be at ALA, make sure to check out the quilts up for silent auction at the entrance to the exhibits. I helped work on these, and all proceeds go to fund scholarships.

ALA Wonky Log Cabin front

You know you want to bid on some awesome quilts made by librarians.

Washington DC wasn’t exactly the travel I had in mind when I set out to take a summer vacation (I was thinking more like a month or two in Australia…), but I trust that things work themselves out this way for a reason. I confess it feels a little weird to be attending a conference without a specific library or position to tie it back to–I find myself interested in attending very different sessions than when I was working at the fashion library. I also find myself not quite such a slave driver to make every single remotely relevant session from 7 a.m. until 7 at night…I’m much more motivated to be a tourist this time around. I’ve never been to DC and I’m looking forward to seeing the Nation’s Capitol and the Smithsonian and all that good stuff.

So if you’re in DC for ALA, I hope you’ll say “hi!” and help me get back in the swing of things.

If for some reason you might be crazy enough to want to apply for my previous position, despite all you’ve read about it on this blog, here you go.

(Relocation not provided, sorry.)

{May 21, 2010}   anyone can catalog.

I think anyone can be a cataloger. You heard me. Sure, I think some people are certainly more inclined to be better at it than others. But I don’t think you have to be a professional librarian to be a cataloger. I think professional librarians actually waste their time on cataloging, when they should be working at a higher (dare I say “professional”?) level. My least favorite thing to do all day is sit at my desk and catalog books, a process I find to be not much above mindless data entry.

But some people are okay with that, as a day-to-day job. If all a person wants to do is download MARC records and fiddle with punctuation all day, then my advice is take a class or two in cataloging, either through an MLS program or independently (I’ve found The MARC of Quality really useful, personally), to learn that stuff, and then go about your business. Sure, it’ll help to have some paraprofessional experience, especially if all you want to do as a professional librarian is the same things you did as a paraprofessional.

But if paraprofessionals and professionals are doing the same things, where can we draw the line as to what “professional” cataloging entails? Many ‘professional’ catalogers have decried the ‘deprofessionalization’ of cataloging, and that professionals should be the ones doing the cataloging work.

I disagree.

If you move beyond the basics, if you want to do things like evaluate current cataloging standards in comparison to patron usage, improve metadata, organization, and information retrieval, and generally improve information access, then I think that’s where the professional line truly begins. That’s what makes the difference between paraprofessional and professional. That’s the line between “job” and “career.”  And it’s time catalogers and librarians took this professionalism by the horns, or we risk losing it altogether. Professional catalogers aren’t the ones who use AACR2r the best or can list subject headings at the drop of a hat. Professional catalogers are the ones who are evaluating their user bases, assessing how well those users are being served by the library’s cataloging, and pushing for improvements to narrow the gap between the two. Professional level catalogers shouldn’t be the ones spending their workdays on tasks like entering all the variant titles and spellings into 246 fields—they should be the ones designing new software to automate that process. They shouldn’t be the ones creating authorized forms of names and subjects submitting them to large, bureaucratic entities—they should be creating the tools to make that arduous submission process obsolete.

Many current MLS level cataloging classes spend the semester teaching punctuation and MARC tags when they could be teaching the actual professional aspects of cataloging—training people to design and create the ever-evolving standards, rather than simply applying them. Maybe you’re thinking that this is just my personal experience clouding my view, especially since my master’s program was one specifically focused more on the practical application of knowledge rather than some of the theory and academia-based programs. And maybe that’s true. But I’ve talked to lots of people—librarians, students, and faculty—at a lot of different institutions, and have heard very similar comments from all. And as the availability of quality cataloging courses and faculty continues to dwindle, I fear it will only get worse, not better. Until that begins to change, MLS programs will continue to churn out cataloging drones, rather than the innovative thinkers the profession really needs. So if a professional degree program isn’t providing it, where can the interested, engaged, passionate and professionally-inclined librarians go to learn what it really means to be a professional? Somebody tell me, because goodness knows I for one would like to be there.

{April 13, 2010}   catalogers get my vote

So it’s that time of year again…time for ALA elections. I can’t say I’m overly active in most of the organizations I belong to (although the new local SLA happy hours certainly get my attention…). But I’ve always believed that voting for officers and leadership roles is not only my duty as a member, but also one of the main ways I can be represented in that organization. Even on my more cynical days, when I feel like voting is an inadequate method of representation, I still hold sway that I have no right to complain if I didn’t cast my vote at election time. So every year I dutifully cast my electronic ALA ballot.

But every year there are something like 30 openings for members-at-large (not to mention all the candidates for offices like president and treasurer and whatnot). If I was really dutiful, I would take my time and thoroughly read each and every single one of those bios and elections statements and carefully select who I felt would best represent me in the organization. But who has time for that?

So here’s my strategy: I open up each bio page and search for words like “catalog,” “cataloger” or “cataloging.” If I find one, I read over that person’s bio. With rare exception, I usually end up voting for them. While it may not be the ideal way to select my representatives, it’s a compromise that I can live with, and it makes sense to me that I myself, as a cataloger, would want to elect other people who understand (and, theoretically, advocate for) cataloging to the ALA board. Out of  about 117 candidates this year for Counciliors-at-Large, members could vote for 34. After I ran my search, I voted for 7.

7 out of 117 had some reference to cataloging in their bio or background. That’s about 6%. I wonder if that’s an accurate representation of the profession–are 6% of librarians catalogers? What about 6% of ALA members? I’d be interested to find out.

I mention this because recently I’ve had ongoing thoughts regarding catalogers and their escalation to leadership roles, if any. I have a sneaking suspicion that only a tiny fraction of library leadership comes from a cataloging background. The stereotypical ‘antisocial in-the-basement’ cataloger is not perceived as a personality type that lends itself to leadership roles. And if most catalogers enjoy their day-to-day cataloging duties, they probably aren’t interested in moving up to management. Most of the librarians I’ve talked to who have moved up to management (catalogers and others) regret that they spend more time on administrivia and less time “in the trenches” doing the direct work that drew them to librarianship in the first place.

So I’ve been wondering: how many catalogers actually move up to management or administration? I’m not talking here about heads of metadata or technical services. I’m talking about roles that oversee larger and more diverse library functions, beyond just cataloging-related tasks. How many library directors have a  background in cataloging? If we wonder why cataloging and its related services are often overlooked and/or undervalued, I wonder if this plays a large role in why? If management and administration aren’t familiar with cataloging (I’m talking about more than just one crash course in library school 20 years ago), how can they see the value in it? And if they can’t see the value in it, how can cataloging gain the support it needs to serve and improve the library?

{April 10, 2010}   season 2

It’s no secret that the wind has gone out of my sails lately, and I haven’t been posting much because of it.

I tend to think of blogging along the lines of a TV show: there are individual episodes (posts), and there are many episodes in a season. Some of those episodes are one-offs, just meant to express one idea or one night of entertainment, unrelated to the overall direction of the show. Other episodes speak to a story arc, an episodic plot that creates an ongoing  storyline for the entire season. Good TV shows, imo, often have both types of episodes, to varying degrees, and I feel similarly about blogs. The good ones that I like to read have both one-off posts but also an ongoing story, whether it’s the day-to-day happenings or a certain library or person, or the chronicle of a project over time. I think such an ongoing story approach adds depth and context to the posts, and also makes the blogger more accessible to the reader, as they follow along through triumphs and failures.

I didn’t set out with any particular story arc in mind when I started this blog. I meant it to be simply observations and ideas about my experiences in the library cataloging world. But ongoing themes emerged, and plots developed anyway. But now, many of those arcs have ended. Both of the major projects I’ve been working on (and blogging about) have been stonewalled. I’m as much at a loss for what to do with myself during the workday as I am what to write here.

But it’s the nature of stories to end, and new ones to begin. So what happens when you have the same cast of characters, the same setting, the same overall themes and ideas, but a new story? In television, that sounds like a new season.

I think it’s time for a new season here. As with before, I don’t have any particular plot in mind (although I do have some ideas bubbling…) I’ll start off season 2 with some random thoughts and observations, and see where it goes from there.

Thanks for watching reading! Be sure to stay tuned, because while I don’t always know where things will end up, I already anticipate some cliffhangers!

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.

{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 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…

et cetera