From the catalogs of babes











{March 18, 2010}   to add insult to injury

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

I think I will go home and cry.

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 And who can blame someone for not following these outdated standards because technology makes them no longer applicable or necessary?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 But that’s no longer the case–many of these outdated standards can be automated, and in turn, more consistent than applications prone to human error.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



The other day I heard and ad on the radio that caught my ear: apparently Emergen-C “makes you feel so good you’ll want to reinvent the Dewey Decimal System.” Wanna hear it, too?

  1. Go here: http://www.emergenc.com/
  2. Scratch your head and wonder why people still love to use Flash.
  3. Click on “Good Ads” in the left side column.
  4. Under where it says “Radio Spots,” click on “Librarians.”
  5. Laugh!
  6. Ponder a bit about how designing this site with Flash has all but eliminated any chances Emergen-C might have had for that ad to go viral because of the inability to access a direct link.
  7. Laugh some more!

Can I get a round of Emergen-C for all the catalogers out there? It’s on me.



{December 4, 2009}   3rd time’s the charm(?)

As if the other instances of fame this week weren’t enough, this blog has also apparently been citied in the recent issue of Cataloging & Classification Quarterly (Issue 8, 2009).  It’s in a new(?) column(?) called “Cataloging Blogs.” Thanks to David of Catalogablog for pointing it out to me.

It’s under the “Research and Opinion” section, as well it should be, as the tone of the piece seems quite a bit opinionated against blogs to me. I’m not sure if that’s really there or something I’m reading into it. I almost wish it was a reviewed piece instead. I confess I’m a little disappointed to see this piece given the green light for inclusion in CCQ.

Had the piece been reviewed, maybe there wouldn’t have been typos in both the title of my blog (the article calls it “From the catalog of babes” when it is in fact “From the catalogs of babes”) and the description (“An unfashionable cataloger takes on the fashion library” vs. the correct “An unfashionable cataloger takes on a fashion library”). Not to mention the repeated references to “Technocrati”–it’s Technorati, folks. Yeah, I know, these are really minor errors. But I am, after all, a cataloger–it’s my job to notice these differences. What if this were the transcription of a book title in a bibliographic record? I’d like to think someone affiliated with cataloging would have a little more attention to detail. The typo in the title bothers me more than the description, because the URL for the blog includes the “s” in “catalogs.” (Thankfully, the URL is correct in the list provided.) I’m a little surprised (and, I admit, disappointed) that these errors slipped through the publication process, of a traditionally respectable peer-reviewed journal about cataloging, no less. These omissions and misrepresentations lend an air of misinformation and prejudice to this piece that lower the journal’s claim to preeminent scholarly publication in the field.

But it’s more than just the typos that bother me. I feel like the author (who is not listed, so I can’t tell if it’s  Mary Curran or someone else)is trying to hold me up as a young person who still chooses old technology.

One of the newest cataloging blogs on the block, From the catalog [sic] of babes, started in December 2008 by a recent MLIS graduate seems to suggest that even young catalogers continue subscribing to AUTOCAT and other cataloging listservs and read them along with cataloguing blog posts.

But if the author had read back though my blog, he or she would see that I severely dislike the listerv format utilized by AUTOCAT et. al., and that I rarely actually read or contribute. Since I published that post, I’m excited to see good use of Twitter for instantaneous cataloging q & a and I think it’s only a matter of time before a major migration to better, easier, more-user-friendly technologies occurs. The author also cites an “in your face” factor as a reason people might prefer listservs over blogs, but that’s exactly one reason why I prefer blogs. He or she only seems to describe this as a negative feature, when I actually find it useful and beneficial to read articles and writings when and where I choose, rather than be forced to constantly recon with them in my inbox. Again, as I said in my post linked above, I think it comes down to each person’s personal preference, and systems should let the user choose his or her preferred method of delivery and access, a metaphor not unanalagous to libraries at large.

The author states that “AUTOCAT and the specialist cataloging listservs have become the authoritative sites to publish cataloguing news, studies, events, etc.” I’d like to emphasize the words “have become.” They didn’t start out that way, and they didn’t get to that position overnight, and neither will blogs. The author is looking at a mere two years of blogs (since 2007) which cannot hope to compare to the years AUTOCAT and other listservs have had to evolve into the authoritative resources they are today. The author also states (sans cites or statistics) that “repetition is more notable in blogs than it is with listserv cross-postings,” which is counter to my own personal observations at least–I see much more crossposting between AUTOCAT, RADCAT, and NGC4LIB than I ever do on all the cataloging blogs I read (43, btw, and that doesn’t count more general library blogs that also include cataloging topics). In fact, I’d venture to say that blogs are inclined to be less repetitive because of the very “personal rumination and occasionally ranting and whining” that the author disparages. To me, that’s what makes blogs unique and interesting, and very different from one to the next.

The author also assumes a “generational issue” in preferring blogs over listervs, and seems to assume that because I received my MLIS recently in 2008 that I am one of those new-fangled young librarians. But at this point, I ain’t that young anymore, in terms of generations. I’m not Generation Y. I am not a millennial. Nor am I a digital native, although I did grow up with technology moreso than many of my educational peers simply becuase my parents were both heavily interested and invested in technology and computers. But I remember learning cursive handwriting and sending letters to pen pals via “snailmail” before that term even exisited. I used typewriters and even wrote some school essays on college-rule paper with black pens. I remember a time before email and cell phones, maybe not as long as some others in the profession, but I didn’t grow up exposed to them like many current youth entering the profession. I was around when listservs were first new and the best technology around for the job. But I’m also around now, for new and improved technologies. And I’m not one of those young whippersnappers who went to grad school straight after finishing my BA. While I’m certainly not “old guard,” I spent 5 years in retail books and 4 years doing graphic design before it even occurred to me to consider libraries as a place to work, much less as a career. I’m proud to say that much of the insights I gained through both those areas of employment experience color my views on libraries, cataloging, and findability. I’m new to libraries, but not to user experiences.

I respect the author’s opinions and I certainly won’t complain about the exposure. I’m not even sure why an author so seemingly set against the value of blogs would bother to write such a piece. But regardless of the author’s motivations, I am glad to see blogs starting to be taken a little more seriously as professional resources and literature. So yeah, I’m glad for the citation, but I’m also thankful it’s only an opinion piece. Because we all know what they say about opinions…everybody has one. Sometimes I’m even known to have more than my share.



Today I received the following email from the Long Beach Public Library. It’s a “pre-overdue notice,” which is apparently supposed to remind me that my materials are due soon.

preoverduenotice

For the love of Pete, can anyone tell me when my book is due, or are you really going to make me dig out my library card and log into my online account to look up the due date myself? I can’t even think of a remotely good reason not to include the actual due date in an automated “pre-overdue notice” reminder. I don’t know whether LBPL or Innovative are the ones to blame in this case, but it’s a serious FAIL.



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

Silos.

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 6, 2009}   First, do no harm

oclcdonoharm

 

Wow. You want your paying customers to do your work for you, and then you imply that they are possibly too ignorant or too malicious to do the work? Go OCLC. That’s some nice customer relations there. I’m sure they “meant no harm,” but reading that warning message upon login day after day really puts a negative taste in my mouth. If OCLC wants it done their way, then they should do it themselves, or hire people to do it for them. If they are truly interested in supporting the evolution of cataloging through community efforts (as they claim), then they need to be open to the idea that evolution will require some change, and that some deviation from the traditional methods might actually not “harm,” but improve.

BTW, OCLC: it never in a million years would have occurred to me to do any harm, until I read that message. Thanks for putting the idea in my head.

 

And as an aside, I doubly hate seeing that message since (as you can see from the screenshot) we’re only CatExpress users, and therefore couldn’t participate even if we wanted to. Seems like the software should be able to determine my level upon login and only show me messages that apply to me or my institution. Just another chink in OCLC’s technological advancement armor–personally, I’d be skeptical to invest faith in technological advancement in any company that apparently can’t manipulate something like user accounts and login creditionals. Just saying.



{April 21, 2009}   easy to be hard

Lately there’s been a resurgence on RADCAT, the “radical catalogers” mailing list. It’s good, as that list is generally pretty quiet, and the encouragement of introductions and discussions has stimulated conversation and participation. It’s bad, though, too, as that list is generally pretty quiet, and the encouragement of introductions and discussions has stimulated conversation and participation.

What I meant to say by that: I subscribe to a number of library listservs and mailing lists, as well as blogs, message boards, project wikis, etc. My inbox, my Google Reader, my bookmarks, my LiveJournal friends page, are all full of stuff I want to not only read but comment on and participate in every single day. There’s a wealth of good information, help, and support there, but sometimes I honestly fear opening my inbox after being sick for a day or two. The amount of information overload (a recurring theme in today’s world) makes me wonder which is worse–spending hours and hours sifting through it all, or just simply hitting the delete key and chance missing out on something important?

In an attempt to be more organized and efficient, I choose to subscribe to listservs such as RADCAT, AUTOCAT, etc., in digest form. I’ve had some suggestions on how to read the list on the web, which does seem to satisfy some users, but I personally don’t care for it.  So I get all the day’s messages delivered in one (supposedly) convenient email.  However, it’s not so much that I find it convenient, but rather it’s the least inconvenientof the current options available to me.  It’s long; and repetitive where people don’t delete the entirely of the messages to which they are replying; discussions aren’t threaded; and formatting from all sorts of email clients literally makes reading the emails difficult, as many of them come across garbled with code. There is a vast chasm between “convenient” and “least inconvenient,” between “easy” and “less hard.” I really wish I had a better way of filtering and organizing this information. As part of the recent RADCAT discussion, I mused that I would probably participate more if my participation interface was more user-friendly, even going so far as to say “let me know when I can subscribe to the list in Google Reader.”

Which made me think: why isn’tit? Is there any reason, besides continuity’s sake, that these groups have not moved on to harness a more current–and, in my opinion, a potentially more flexible and powerful–technology?

 For instance, AUTOCAT is peppered with posts containing cataloging questions: questions about using AACR2r, LCSH, MARC, etc. A couple of my previous posts about LCSH subdivisions would not be out of place on AUTOCAT. So why didn’t I post them there? Because to get an answer, I would have had to wade through unorganized and unstructured replies–some to me, some to the list itself, some replies to responses on the list itself…it’s just physically hard for me to read and follow. All I wanted was a quick answer to a quick question–‘can I subdivide “Trade shows” by industry?’ A simple “yes” or “no” was all I wanted. It struck me that a brief, direct question requiring a short, immediate answer, might be better served by a technology that was designed for short bursts of immediate communication. Now, I confess, I haven’t been much of a Twitter fan since it’s inception, but that’s because I never saw much practical use for it. Now I think I might. How great would it be to Tweet “anyone know the 040 for Italian?” and receive a real-time reply, without having to log in to email and scroll through numerous messages to find the answer. I know when I am sitting there with the book in my hand, in the middle of cataloging, I don’t want to put it aside and wait to finish when I might get an answer the next day (if I get one at all). How much more efficient might our cataloging be if we could receive quicker responses like this? Of course, Twitter doesn’t supply the ability for longer, more complex conversations, which are inherently necessary when talking about cataloging, but there are other technologies for that.

Like the recent flurry of activity on RADCAT: all these introductions are nice, but after a week or so, they’ve been archived in the depth of the list with no easy, instant way to refer back to them. What happens when I’m reading a message several months from now and want to revisit the author’s introduction to learn more about where they’re coming from? Gee, wouldn’t it be great if there was some technology out there where a person could have a page about him- or herself, and I could easily click on that person’s name and be taken to a profile, a page that told more about them, their introduction and background, what kinds of libraries they worked in, what other interests they might have? And Facebook has the capability for group pages and discussions, potentially allow people who wanted to participate in a 9/11 conspiracy debate to do so while others could talk about authority control on Ravelry.

The key word here is “easy.” The listservs, in my opinion, are not easy. I almost hate to say it, but Facebook and Twitter are. (Even my 70+ year-old aunt is on Facebook, and she is far from what I would call tech-savvy.) They are designed to be easy to use, because that gets them more users, and therefore more eyes viewing ads, and therefore more $$.  And it works–Facebook has 200 million active users. It’s not that this technology is “new” or “shiny” or “buzzworthy” or “cool.”  It’s that it’s easy to use for what people want to use it for, so they use it. It’s using the right tool for the right job. Technology too succumbs to the survival of the fittest. People will use what they find easy and pass on what they don’t: is anyone out there still running DOS? No, because something better, more powerful, and more user-friendly came along.

Now, everyone’s idea of easy will differ. Some people are not only content with listservs but prefer them. And that’s fine. What’s not fine is the inability for users to choose through which interface they prefer to interact. Wasn’t that part of the whole glory of Web 2.0? That we could make content independent of formatting, so that the user could view it in whatever format they preferred?

Whatever it is, we need to stop locking our content away in these outdated technology platforms. As technology evolves, we need to evolve as well. These listservs are a great concrete example. But I think they’re also a great analogy for libraries in general, and especially for cataloging. Whay are we still using the same difficult tools, rules, workflows, and softwares? Continuity can only carry us so far. Why are we fighting against technology and evolution, instead of using it to improve not only our jobs but our patrons’ experiences? And why do we continue to insist on making cataloging hard?



et cetera