From the catalogs of babes











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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Well, it’s been a busy (and therefore blog-post-less month) due to our former head librarian heading off for a new start in a new state. Despite the exciting possibilities of change, I was truly sad to see her leave, so I’ve been a bit lax to post.

But the other day I found not one, but TWO awesome records that totally brightened my day and cheered me right up!

The first was for Discovering the Great Masters: The Art Lover’s Guide to Understanding Symbols in Paintings. Not only is this an amazing book, with quality large-scale reproductions of some of western art’s most famous paintings, check out the table of contents in the bib record:

505 00 $t The last judgement / $r Giotto di Bondone — $t Secrets of the animal world — $t The adoration of the Magi / $r Gentile da Fabriano — $t The Arnolfini portrait / $r Jan van Eyck — $t The Ghent altarpiece / $r Jan van Eyck — $t The Chancellor Rolin Madonna / $r Jan van Eyck — $t The annunciaton / $r Rogier van der Weyden — $t The deposition from the cross / $r Rogier van der Weyden — $t Christ mocked / $r Fran Angelico — $t The triumph of Federico da Montefeltro / $r Piero Della Francesca — $t Portinari altarpiece / $r Hugo van der Goes — $t St. Jerome in his stuidy / $r Domenico Ghirlandaio — $t The adoration of the Magi / $r Leonardo da Vinci — $t La primavera (spring) / $r Sandro Botticelli — $t Marriage of the virgin / $r Pietro Perugino — $t Virgin and child enthroned with Saints / $r Giovanni Bellini — $t The birth of Venus / $r Sandro Botticelli — $t Madonna della Vittoria / $r Andrea Mantegna — $t Pallas Athena expelling the vices / $r Andrea Mantegna — $t The last supper / $r Leonardo da Vinci — $t Mona Lisa / $r Leonardo da Vinci — $t Doni tondo / $r Michelangelo — $t The garden of earthly delights / $r Hieronymus Bosch — $t The Madonna of the meadow / $r Raphael — $t The school of Athens / $r Raphael — $t Mars and Venus / $r Piero di Cosimo — $t The three philosophers / $r Giorgione — $t The adoration of the trinity / $r Albrecht Durer — $t The Isenheim altarpiece / $r Matthias Grünewald — $t A banker and his wife / $r Quinten Metsys — $t Bacchanal of the andrians / $r Titian — $t The last judgment / $r Michelangelo — $t The enigmas of architecture — $t Madonna and child / $r Joos van Cleve — $t The French ambassadors / $r Hans Holbein the younger — $t A Christian Allegory / $r Jan Provost — $t Decoding flowers and fruit — $t Allegory of immortality / $r Giulio Romano — $t St. Luke painting the virgin / $r Maerten van Heemskerck — $t Fight between carnival and lent / $r Pieter Bruegel the elder — $t Allegory of vanity / $r Jan van der Straet (Johannes Stradanus) — $t Burial of the Count of Orgaz / $r El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) — $t Feast in the house of Levi / $r Paolo Caliari called Veronese — $t The calling of St. Matthew / $r Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi) — $t Apelles paints campaspe / $r Joos van Winghe — $t Allegory of sight / $r Jan Breughel the elder and Peter Paul Rubens — $t Minerva’s victory over ignorance / $r Bartholomaeus Spranger — $t The education of Marie de’ Medici / $r Peter Paul Rubens — $t The artist’s studio / $r Jan Miense Molenaer — $t Time vanquished by hope and beauty / $r Simon Vouet — $t Fortitude brings peace and plenty / $r Eustache le Suerur — $t The consequences of war / $r Peter Paul Rubens — $t Eucharist in fruit wreath / $r Jan Davidsz. de Heem — $t Vanitas (self portrait) / $r David Bailly — $t The banquet of the bean king / $r Jacob Jordaens — $t The spinners (the fable of Arachne) / $r Diego Velázquez — $t In luxury, look out / $r Jan Steen — $t The gathering of manna / $r Nicolas Poussin — $t In Ictu Oculi (in the twinkling of and eye) / $r Juan de Valdés Leal — $t Las Meninas / $r Diego Velázquez — $t The art of painting / $r Johannes Vermeer — $t The secret language of myth — $t The spell / $r Francisco de Goya — $t Liberty leading the people / $r Eugene Delacroix — $t The apotheosis of Homer / $r Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres — $t Jupiter and Semele / $r Gustave Moreau. 

Is that not the coolest thing you’ve ever seen? (Well, if you’re a cataloging librarian at an art school where students are looking for particular works, like, say, the Mona Lisa, rather than having to flip through multitudes of art books about Leonardo da Vinci to see if they might include an image?) Now granted, this wasn’t benevolent on the part of the British Library or a helpful arts library cataloger adding this in–this is a direct transcription from the table of contents, as the 505 should be. But still! It’s amazingly helpful in our library environment, and I would love to see this sort of enhancement done for more art books, regardless of whether it’s a direct TOC transcription or not.

And if I wasn’t swoony enough over discovering that record, a few books down the pile later I encountered Ad Boy: Vintage Advertising With Character, which had the following 505:

505 0_ Ad boys — Ad girls — Ad kids — Alphabet — Anthropomorphism — Bees — Birds — Bugs — Burgers — Candy — Casinos — Cats & dogs — Cereal — Cleansers — Coffee shops — Cookies county fairs — Cowboys — Cows — Crate labels — Dairy — Desserts — Devils — Donuts — Elephants — Energy — Farm — Flower power — Frosty treats — Happy hour — Holidays — Home — Hot dogs — Indian maidens — Mechanical men — Monsters — Misters — Motoring — Muscle cars — Nasties — Nemesis — Not-so-super heroes — Orange drinks — Pigs & pork — Pop corn — Potatoes — Potato chips — Power — Public service — Puppets — Restaurants — Royalty — Scottish plaid — Sea creatures — Slogans — Snacks — Snowmen — Soft drinks — Space adventure — Supermarket savings stamps — Toys — Travel — Travel (across the U.S.A.) — Vote. 

Again, transcribed directly from the book’s table of contents by LC, but so helpful for our students, who are more inclined to search for items by these sorts of concepts and keywords. Props to the book’s editors for organizing, arranging and describing the book in such a fashion–it seems to me like they truly know their audience and readers.

I would love to see more enhancements like this in records for arts libraries. I can see where non-arts libraries might not want such keyword clutter in their records, as it might provide false or incorrect retrieval leads for their patrons. But the enhanced data could easily be included in a field that needn’t be displayed or indexed by other libraries, but could still be shared with any library that wanted to utilize it.

Just when I was getting down about something, here came these great records that cheered me up and made me smile. A big thanks to the diligent and kind souls out there at the British Library and the Library of Congress who created them, even if they were just following proscribed standards. You guys made my day, whoever you are.

 

 



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.



{September 24, 2009}   an OPAC by any other name

So it’s quarter break here in our library. We usually have 2-3 weeks between each quarter when the library is closed to patrons, but we still come in to work. We’re actually pretty lucky in this regard, as we get a lot of tasks done that we couldn’t ordinarily accomplish with the library full of students. I’m grateful for this opportunity; I know most other libraries don’t have a time like this.

One of the many things we do over quarter break is to change out all the library displays. I’m not involved much with this process, being on the tech services side of things, but a while back when asked for ideas, I suggested using one of the displays to highlight “how to” aspects of the library: how to find a book, how to search the catalog, etc. I’m pleased to say that the idea was well-recieved and one of our bulletin boards is now dedicated to that topic.

I am, however, slightly less than pleased with the actual manifestation of the concept. I know that I can’t have my finger in everything, and goodness knows I don’t want to be saddled with yat another task each quarter on top of all the work I already do. But it was my idea and I do have graphic design and retail merchandising experience. I confess I’ve been counting the hours waiting for this display to come down:

opacdisplay3

 opacdisplay1

 What’s so bad about it, you ask? Well, I’ll skip the diatribe about the design and get straight to my point. Pretend you’re an 18-yearold design student in your first quarter of college with little-to-no library experience. You see this display entitled “how to find a library book” and step one is some fingers pointing at a computer that says “opac.” What does that mean? What do I do? What the heck is opac? It sounds like some sort of air-conditioning duct system, or a rodent-type animal from Peru.

I hate the term “OPAC.” Hate it hate it hate it. It’s probably one of my biggest pet peeves and it pushes all my buttons. No one but librarians knows what an OPAC is or what it stands for, and at this point an acronym for “Online Public Access Catalog”  is outdated anyway. But most of all, our patrons have no idea what it is, and so the image included in the wall display is prohibitively unhelpful.

I personally make it point to say “OPAC” as rarely as possible, and never around patrons. (It’s even driving me nuts just to keep typing it in this entry.) I know a lot of people equally as appalled as I am about the term “OPAC” who now just say “the catalog.” Which is fine, to a certain extent, and I do it too. But it got me thinking–the word “catalog” (as a noun) implies a list. Traditionally, a library catalog is a list of all the materials a library holds.

But what we have now is not a list. An OPAC is not even a list. We have long surpassed tallying our holdings as simple lists, and believe me, I’m grateful for that. So if we don’t have a list or a catalog, what do we have? We have a database. We have a collection. Those are the words I choose to use during reference interviews and instruction. I’m not sure they’re the ideal choices, but I think they’re miles better than “OPAC.”

We’re a profession not just steeped in terminology, but based in it. Vocabularies are some of the underlying tools of our trade, especially cataloging. We lobby to change and update vocabulary terms to be more current and patron-accessible, why shouldn’t we do the same for our services? Catalogers complain that “no one understands what we do”–maybe that’s becuase we’re using outdated terms and descriptions that those people don’t understand and can’t relate to. I’m left wondering about the marketability and “rebranding” opportunities that might be possible–might reach more of our patrons–if we stopped using outdated, unfamiliar terminology not only in our job titles and subject headings, but in our services as well.



{September 9, 2009}   proposal

I went on vacation for a week last week. Before I left, I submitted a proposal  to our library director about researching and implementing a new classification system, one more in line with our students’ needs and behaviors. I suspect from his response–no comments but passing it on to some of the other librarians for review– that he doesn’t really understand what I’m talking about (despite my attempts to use small words).

It was easy to not think about it while I was away, but now that I’m back, I’m kinda nervous. I think that most of the librarians will support it–two of them looked it over and supported the idea before I even submitted it, and I’ve been talking to another about this on and off since the spring. And if it doesn’t move forward, I know it’s not the end of the world–I’d be disappointed, but it’s not like I don’t have plenty of other projects I could work on. I’m just not a big fan of the not-knowing.



{August 21, 2009}   some things never change…

I stumbled upon this ALA Catalog Use Study from 1958(!) today.

Interesting how some of the exact same issues still plague us today…



This morning I happened upon a job posting from the Toledo Museum of Art that included the following as one of the “essential dutites and responsibilities” of a catalog librarian position:

• Enhance the usefulness of the library catalog by assisting users in applying cataloging principles to retrieve materials more efficiently.

I have to say, I’m a little disappointed. I can see what they’re getting at–basically, help users use the catalog–but they way they’ve written it sounds like they feel that the catalog librarian should be responsible for teaching patrons the inner detailed workings of AACR2r in order to successfully use the catalog, when I think it should be the other way around–the catalog librarian should be responsible for making it so the users don’t have to know a lick about AACR2r in order to find what they’re looking for.

It’s hard enough to teach librarians and library students the inner working of cataloging rules and standards, and here we’re talking about teaching them to patrons? That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve read all day. (The fact that it’s from an arts library to boot is even more disappointing. They don’t seem to have done much reaserch about their user base.) Teaching cataloging standards to patrons would not only be an immense challenge, but it emphasizes the idea that patrons need to adapt to the catalog instead of the other way around. The catalog is a tool. The patron is not. If your tool doesn’t work for the purpose you need, you get another one that’s more appropriate to the task at hand. If your saw is dull and doesn’t cut, you replace it with a new, sharp blade. If you have a wall of screws, driving them in with a hammer will not be successful. We need to change the tools we’re using to suit patrons’ needs–not the other way around.



{July 22, 2009}   giving them what they want

One of the “best” sessions I saw at ALA was the Sunday afternoon session on Catalog Use and Usability Studies. I put “best” in quotation marks because it wasn’t an over-the-top amazing delivery or anything. I thought about saying “interesting,” and it certainly was, but while the topic was of interest, the actual information wasn’t novel. Perhaps “most applicable” would be, well…most applicable in this case.

There were other speakers on evaluating usability, but the meat of the session was Karen Calhoun’s presentation of OCLC’s latest research report, Online Catalogs: What Users and Librarians Want. If you haven’t read it, stop what you’re doing and go right now. It’s not long and it has lots of pretty charts and graphs. Every cataloger and anyone remotely involved with cataloging or catalog systems and interfaces needs to read this. You can come back to this post later, when you’re done. I can wait. It’ll still be here.

I love and hate this report at the same time. I love that someone finally did some research about what end users want from an online catalog. I hate that someone had to spend time and money to discover that “end users want to be able to do a simple Google-like search and get results that exactly match what they expect to find.” Ya think? Pardon my French, but no sh*t, Sherlock. On the other hand, I love that hard data now exists that validates that exact point–a point I’ve been making ever since I started down the cataloging path.

We’ve suspected this for a long time. Now we have data to back it up. Maybe now we can finally start moving away from clunky, cluttered online interfaces with strict, unfamiliar terms and irrelevant metadata and move towards something more user-friendly that contains information that patrons actually use.



Too bad I wasn’t hired.

Rangeview Library District is “Breaking up with Dewey”



et cetera