From the catalogs of babes

{July 14, 2010}   post-ALA travel

After ALA was over, my sweetie and I decided to visit New York for a few days, since we were over on the east coast and all, and since I had never been. Of course we made the obligatory stop at the New York Public Library.

me making a thumbs-up in front of the NYPL lions

Here I am, showing what I think about libraries.

Of course the library is overwhelmingly beautiful, with all that old-fashioned library reverence and ambiance of Serious Library Building. But when I found this room (after getting lost several times looking for the bathroom), I was blown away:

Catalog Room

from askpang, on Flickr

It’s the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room at NYPL. Imagine: a whole room, devoted to the catalog! There are so many things about this that just make my heart sing:

1. A whole room dedicated to the library catalog(s). Not just OPACs, but all the general and specialty print catalogs constructed over the years. All in one place. The fact that the catalog(s) are given their own room accords them importance in my eyes, and makes me think that the library sees them similarly.

2. This is where you start your search. This is where the reference desk is. It’s obvious that if you’re looking for something, this is the place to go, the place to be. I like the fact that reference service is but one of the many tools offered in the catalog room; that the room offers many different ways to help people with their quest.

3. The fact that it’s not just called the “catalog room,” but the “public catalog room.” I love that such a title expresses and encourages availability and access to all.

I know most libraries don’t have the dedicated space it would take for a catalog room; such a cordoning off at most places might likely actually have the opposite effect and deter public use, especially if the size were very small, or if it were off in some obscure location. And I still advocate for catalog access everywhere–in the stacks, at desks, on mobile phones and other interfaces–rather than containing and limiting it to one central space. But I still can’t help but appreciate the value accorded to the catalog through NYPL’s strategy. Thumbs up to that.

{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‘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.

I have a little bit more I want to say about reference, and then I’ll get back to cataloging, I swear. Really.

To me, reference and cataloging go hand in hand. Like peanut butter and jelly (or peanut butter and bananas or peanut butter and potato chips, if that’s how you roll). Like oil and vinegar, treble and bass, salt and pepper. They’re the heads and tails of the coin of library service. Sure, reference can be done without the catalog (and by extension, cataloging)–if you’re one of those intense know-it-all reference librarians with the answer to everything at your fingertips (less and less likely these days as more and more information is created, published and distributed). And sure, cataloging, at its very most basic data-entry skill level, can be done without reference. But really, what good is one without the other?

Cataloging and reference are two halves of the same whole. I know from my personal experience (which includes 8-10 hours/week working reference out of the 40 I spend in the library) that my direct reference interactions have made me a better cataloger. Where else could I see first-hand exactly how our patrons look for materials? Where else could I hear exactly what words they used for search terms? Sure, I could get that kind of information from others who work the reference desk, or from reports or surveys or OPAC search logs.* And I would use all of that, too. But it’s so much more immediate and makes such a stronger impact to hear people tell you in person, to your face, how they search in their own words. It’s interacting directly with our students and faculty that led me to investigate library reclassification, develop alternative subject vocabularies, and brainstorm improved catalog software interfaces.

Not only that, but once I take these gleaned insights and incorporate them into the catalog, I then know a new trick or two about how to use it, which in turn helps me help patrons. Understanding how the catalog works from the back end leads to easier use of the front end interface. Many of the reference librarians I know speak highly of their cataloging classes in graduate school–even if they detested them at the time, they almost all acknowledge how beneficial those classes turned out to be when using catalogs to help people on a daily basis. Knowing about LCSH and how headings are structured helps them find more (and more precise and appropriate) materials for patron. Knowing where to look for a language note, illustrations, or editions can make or break matching the right resource to the right person.

I firmly believe all catalogers should work reference. I also believe that all reference staff should do some sort of cataloging. Now, I know that’s not feasible in some libraries, like large institutions with entire cataloging departments and teams of specialty reference staff. That’s okay–every library should, first and foremost, do what works best for that environment, for those users. But I think a lot of libraries could benefit from doing away with the whole reference vs. cataloging,  “public services/tech services” divide. Libraries are about user service, period. Reference is a user service. Cataloging is a user service. Circulation is a user service. Instruction is a user service. Everything we do should be a user service–if not, why are we doing it?

I’m sorry for all those catalogers who got into the job because they weren’t ‘people persons’ and didn’t want to interact with the public. That’s a very narrow (and selfish) mindset, imo, and a sorry excuse for pursuing a career, especially one in a service profession. I think the time has come for catalogers to integrate further into other library areas. We can work better together than we can apart. Catalogers cannot see themselves or be seen by others as the solitary data wrangler in the back corner of the basement. How do you know if your catalog is helping provide reference service if you’re never out there at the reference desk?

*Well, some people can. We don’t have access to that kind of high-falutin’ technology here.

{May 4, 2010}   these are not new ideas.

You know, these things I talk about in my blog, they’re not new ideas. They’re not even always my ideas. Sometimes I think they’re my ideas, when I’m thinking about them and writing them, but then later I stumble across an old blog post or an article in a back issue of a journal, I realize that, no, I’m not the first person to think of things like online catalogs as reference interfaces or using user-supplied tags as literary warrant for new subject headings. These aren’t revolutionary ideas. These concepts are not new to the library world; in fact, people have been suggesting and talking about them for years.

So what? I’m not bothered that my ideas aren’t new or original. I’m not trying to tout these things as my own. Mostly I’m using this blog as a way of sharing ideas and “thinking aloud.”  Heck, sometimes I’m excited to think that I thought of the same things in the same way as great famous names in the cataloging world.

What does bother me is that we’ve been talking about these things in the library world for years–decades, even–and we’re still talking about the same things. I remember a time in graduate school in 2007 when I thought of an idea where hierarchical record structures might be beneficial in reducing excessive record duplication and also assisting patrons in identifying, selecting, and disambiguating records and resources. Then earlier this week I sat down and read an article by Martha Yee  from almost 15 years ago proposing a near-identical concept. I have to wonder: why haven’t we done it yet? Perhaps the idea was tried and failed, but then wouldn’t we have heard about it? The fact that we’re still coming up with the same ideas over and over again yet never seeming to implement them is, I think, a troubling sign. I know progress doesn’t happen overnight, but it can’t really be this slow, can it? What’s stopping us from trying these ideas? Budget limitations? Lack of administrative support? Complicated processes? Inertia? I’m sure it’s a combination of all of the above, and more. But I’m tired of those reasons, and these excuses. I’m ready to try these new things. Some of them will fail, and that’s okay. Some of them will work, but only locally, and that’s okay, too, so long as they don’t break or otherwise interfere with others’ systems. Some of them will work, and catch on, and other libraries will start to implement them because they’re easier, more efficient, and work better. Maybe we can’t get to the latter without the former, but after all this time suggesting and talking about it, isn’t it time we started to try?

So what if libraries did take a page post from the Illinois Poison Control Center and chronicle every single reference query in a day, or a week?

Now, I’m not a reference librarian (although 20-25% of my job is, in fact, reference). But  I do feel like from my personal experience, discussions with other reference and non-reference librarians and staff, and reading articles and blogs, I can make some general assumptions about what types of inquiries might be included in such a list.

You’d get some “where are the bathrooms?” questions and requests for tech support. You’d get questions like “do you have this book…?” and “Where are your books about…?” You’d get some weird questions you’d never thought people would ask. You’d also get more informational-needs questions: the Internet Public Library has compiled a list of some examples here. There are lots of different types of reference questions.

It then occurred to me that every catalog query is a reference question. Asking for books by title or subject is certainly a reference inquiry. Catalogs are designed for holdings inquiries. The purpose of the catalog is to enable a user to find what materials a library holds by  title, author, and/or subject :

Charles Ammi Cutter, Rules for a Dictionary Catalog, 1904

But aren’t holdings questions reference questions? And–more importantly– does a patron know the difference? Do they know that a catalog only retrieves holdings, and not the answers to all of their different types of reference questions? And can they be expected to, in this day and age of Google, which does not return holdings, but rather information and data, the kind that reference questions are built on?

All of a sudden it hit me. I’d thought about it for a long time, but hadn’t yet be able to articulate the idea in words: the catalog has always been a holdings interface.Yet, many people expect it to be a reference interface. Patrons sit down at (or log in to) the catalog expecting it to be like a reference librarian or like Google and provide information to help answer all their questions. But it’s not. It returns bibliographic records, which are barebones representations of resources that may or may not contain the information that will help answer their question.

Should the catalog become more of a reference interface? Is that even possible? Evolving the catalog into a such a design would certain help move the catalog beyond the “find” and into the  “identify,” “select”  and “obtain” aspects called for by IFLA. As evolution of the catalog progressed, it might even lead into AI interfaces (anyone remember Ms. Dewey?) that could react and respond to each patron’s personal search queries and information needs. I can see a more interactive interface like this especially important/applicable to arts users, who generally tend to prefer human interaction over self-guided traditional catalog navigation.

If these lofty ideas are not possible (or should I say “feasible”, because I have no doubts that such things are possible, but perhaps not for libraries) then how can we bridge that gap? If catalogs truly aren’t designed to work like reference librarians or Google information searches, then it’s not fair to patrons who have that impression and expectation. It should be on us to make it clear that the catalog is a list of what the library holds and nothing more. Maybe we need to start referring to it as an “inventory” rather than a catalog? I don’t know. What I do know is that as long as patrons continue to expect reference answers from their catalog queries, they will continue to be disappointed.

Once upon a time, about 2 weeks ago, a friend of mine posted an interesting link on Facebook to a post from the Illinois Poison Control Center blog. It’s called “A Day in the Life of a Poison Center,” and the entry is simply a chronicle of every single call and inquiry the center received on a given day: February 10, 2010. The center received 282 calls and abbreviated each one to a 1-2 sentence anonymized summary which was listed in the blog as it occurred.

The day-in-the-life blogathon was motivated by state funding cuts to the poison control center (surprise, surprise). By listing tangible, concrete examples of the services they provide, the poison control center effectively demonstrates value and return on investment to the community–I mean, isn’t saving a life worth a little bit of state financial aid?

But whether or not they intended to, the poison control bloggers demonstrated more that just why the center needs funding–they also clearly demonstrated exactly what their staff do all day and why it’s important to have trained, specialty professionals handling those tasks.

Let’s say your child just drank some drain cleaner. Who do you want answering your questions: a professionally certified poison specialist with training in toxicology, or some random, minimum-wage worker hired off of Craig’s List?* Sure, we can save money by hiring less qualified staff–and we might need to after being subjected to drastic funding cuts. But is it worth it?

Reading through the summaries, I learned lots of things I never knew or realized about poison control centers before. I had no idea that EMTs and ER doctors and nurses consulted poison control centers for information and advice–or that such a high percentage of calls to the poison control center were from those sources. I guess I always just assumed poison control centers were designed for end-consumer, average individual use. It certainly makes sense, though–I can’t expect an EMT or ER staff or general physician to be familiar with highly detailed, in-depth specialty knowledge about the immense amounts and varieties of poisonous substances that exist in the world. It’s critical that they call someone with specialty knowledge of the subject–people’s lives depend on it.

Now, I might be biased and it might be a stretch to say that librarians save lives,** especially in the same direct ways and methods as poison control specialists. But the two situations seem to me to have much more similarities than differences: they both fulfill information needs from reliable sources.They both require specialized knowledge and training to perform this task. Their job duties are both often misunderstood by the general public and they both suffer from funding cuts–from tax money that comes from that same public. The Illinois Poison Control Center publically documented every single question they received in a given day in a direct attempt to  change the former in order to change the latter. What if we did the same thing with library reference questions? Could it help show exactly how we help unite people with the critical information they need and answer that annoying age-old question: “why do you need a master’s degree to be a librarian?”

*(Now, I realize that’s a bit blunter and more cut-and-dried than the real world, where often times people without degrees and certifications can still hold expert knowledge, and people who hold those qualification can still be ignorant. But in general, there’s a reason such degrees and qualifications and standards exist, and the poison control center is an excellent example.)

**Just for the record, I totally and utterly do believe that librarians save lives. It’s not as hands-on direct as doctors and EMTs, but getting the right information to people is just as critical and often has the power to affect life decisions of all levels of significance. If I didn’t truly believe that, I probably wouldn’t be a librarian.

{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?

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

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

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

Needlelane Silos by jhritz

Needlelane Silos by jhritz


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

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

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

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

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

{August 4, 2009}   I hate our catalog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{July 29, 2009}   a day in the life

I don’t do much in the way of memes, but I remember seeing a Library Day in the Life going around last year and made a mental note to myself to keep an eye out to participate this year. Which means, of course, I missed it–it was Monday, July 27. But the thing is–I don’t work Mondays. Librarianship isn’t a M-F, 9-5 job. Most of the time, I work Tuesday-Saturday, and I work the night shift.  So a typical day for me might go something like this:

circa 8:15 a.m.: Wake up after bizarre dream about children and pigs. Lay in bed for a bit while checking email on the iPhone.

8:30: Get out of bed, throw on a t-shirt and some comfy pants, brush teeth, poke at interwebs on real computer, respond to emails.

9:00: Look at whiteboard list of things to do. Decide which things to tackle today. Today will be laundry.

9:05: Poke at interwebs more.

9:52: Gather laundry this time. Take laundry to laundry room.

10:00: More interweb poking. Keyword some images for my freelance gig with Veer. Ponder the best keywords for an image of a woman in a public restroom stall with her panties around her ankles. Yes, I get paid to do that. It’s a good gig if you can get it.

10:45: Throw the laundry in the dryer.

10:55: Time for a breakfast snack and some juice. Decide to watch an episode of Mad Men before going to work. However, I have a personal rule that I can’t let myself watch TV unless I’m doing something else at the same time, so I work on knitting a sleeve for an upcoming pattern submission to Knitty.

11:30: Retrieve laundry. Fold while watching another episode of Mad Men.

12:00 p.m.: The episode isn’t over but I start to think about what to wear to work. It’s hot, so I want to wear something breathable and comfortable.

12:15: Episode ends; I decide to wear a cotton blue-green dress I made a while back from a 1947 pattern.

12:18: Stare at shoes in closet, trying to decide which pair to wear. The white open-toed ones match best, but gave me blisters when I wore them last week. red doesn’t match. Black is too stark and too high of a heel. Boots are too hot for this weather. I have cute black flats with embroidery but I have to wear socks or they rub my feet raw. Finally settle on a pair of cute brown pumps a co-worker gave to me. They match best, but feel tight, so I throw a pair of sandals into my bag just in case.

12:42: Crap. I’m running late.

12:45: Get stuck at train crossing waiting for the Metrolink to go by.

1:02: Pull into parking garage at work. (Still very happy about recently moving so much closer to work.)

1:06: Walk into library and head for the workroom.

1:10: Turn on computer and log in to email. Notice a voicemail on the phone from the San Diego campus librarian. She’s having problems with downloading some DVD records. Look at to-do list. I write one every day the night before on old book pocket cards.

1:15: Check email; skim listservs, then delete. Delete strange and bizarre emails from library director that have nothing to do with me and probably shouldn’t have been sent to me in the first place.

1:25: Process two trend reports left on my desk by a co-worker. One is a subscription we already have, so I add it to the collection. The other is a new acquisition for which we don’t have a record, so I put it in a pile for original cataloging.

1:35: Check my mailbox. There’s my reimbursement check for ALA! Woot! That’s the fastest turnaround I’ve ever had for a reimbursement. This makes me very happy.

1:40: Copy-catalog about 25 new books.

2:10: Try to return call from SD librarian, leave voicemail.

2:15: Pastry time. My boss and I go to the new Danish bakery for a treat. I change my shoes. On our way, we decide to check out the new exhibit in the museum downstairs.

2:45: Back to the workroom. Begin to tackle the pile of “problem books” stacked on my cart. Some need original cataloging. Some are in foreign languages. A lot of problem books are “in-between” copy- and original cataloging; maybe there’s a record but it’s not quite correct or sufficient enough for our library’s needs. Sometimes they are books attached to the incorrect record (we have a lot of problems with different editions of textbooks). Some are incorrect call numbers, some are books with accompanying materials (CDs, DVDs, patterns, etc.). Stuff like that. Basically anything cataloging-related that needs to be done.

3:15: Interrupted by the collections librarian who asks for advice of the librarians in the workroom about a reference question she recieved earlier in the day about tracking the influence of magazine advertising on fashion sales.

3:23: Conversation segways into discussion of the upcoming Open House, a quarterly event for prospective students which includes large numbers of tours coming through the library. We bandy about suggestions and decide we might pitch the idea of displaying  highlighted resources in the library conference room. We like this idea becuase it’s less of a disruptive impact on the current students working in the library, and it also has the added bonus of being able to display some of our online services on the large projection screen. It might also reduce the number of extra staff needed to come in on their day off for the event.

3:30 Back to cataloging.

3:55: Co-worker on reference shift comes into the workroom asking if anyone can do a last minute presentation for a class that’s supposed to start at 4 p.m., because the staff memeber assigned to it seems to be MIA. We all look down at the floor and try to avoid volunteering. The special collections librarian volunteers, but the missing staff member ends up showing up in time.

4:05: More cataloging.

4:30: Coffee time.*

5:00 Time for my reference shift. Check the library’s email inbox. Empty.

5:20: I get an interesting question from a student looking for the average life expectancy of garments. The catalog’s got zilch, but teh almighty Google turns up some good results, including one originally from the Drycleaning and Laundry Institute. I also refer her to the textile specialist on staff, in the textile workroom, for information about life expectancy of specific textiles.

6:02: I get a student asking me for trend forecasting books for “daywear.” Ask for clarification and more specifics, since “daywear” pretty much means anything worn during the day. Students responds, “you know, daywear.” Try again, a few different ways. Get nowhere. Start to lose patience and just pull out 9 or 10 books and let her flip through them until she finds one she’s happy with. She works with the book for about 15 minutes, comes back, and the whole cycle begins again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

7:00: End of reference shift. Time for lunch/dinner break. Realize that I got so caught up in TV and laundry that I forgot to make myself the sandwich I’d planned. Doh. Crave a cheeseburger but try to resist. Debate for a while with a co-worker about suggestions for what to eat.

7:15: End up walking over to the Ralph’s across the street for a deli meal.

7:30: Eat. Work on some knitting. Log into Google reader and read the posts that catch my interest. Skim the library ones.

8:30: More cataloging. Work a little bit on chapter about cataloging for upcoming book about for art and design school libraries.

9:15: Short attention span syndrome strikes and I go hang out in the Media Lounge for a few minutes. A former student and library regular is in there watching a movie and we chat for a bit.

9:30: Go back to desk. Write up to-do list for the next day. Move things not completed today to tomorrow’s list, making sure to include reference shifts and meetings and their times.

9:45: Pack up bag, including brown shoes that I never put back on after Pastry Time. Head out to the reading room to help shut down computers and clean up library.

9:55: Give evil looks to remining student working on computer in Cyber Room.

10:00: Close the library and head home.

10:15: Pull into parking lot, annoyed that the shady spaces are all taken. Make sure to put up windshield shade in car. Check mailbox. One junk mail, one bill.

10:18: Check email. Poke internets.

10:25: Decide it would be a good idea to write up a ‘day in the life’ blog entry before I forgot what all I did today and when.

11:43: Get to end of blog entry and reflect that, of all days in the past week or so that were full of meetings with vendors, presentations, discussion groups, research, writing, and reviewing, this was probably the most boring one to write about and the one that makes me look the least accomplished.

11:47: Decide ‘to hell with it,’ post it anyway, and go to bed.



*This is unusually late for us. Usually we have coffee time around 2:30.

et cetera