From the catalogs of babes

{January 13, 2010}   missing midwinter

As I’m starting to see posts and tweets from Midwinter, I confess I’m a little sad to not be attending this time around. It sounds like there are some cool sessions, plus I’ve never been to Boston. Not to worry, though: Boston is still a viable goal for 2010… 

For those of you, like me, tuning in from home, I’m happy to share that I’ll be participating in a virtual midwinter presentation, sponsored by the arts section of ACRL

ACRL Arts Section’s *Virtual* Discussion Forum
ALA MidWinter 2010

Join ACRL Arts Section’s first *virtual* discussion forum!
Saturday, Jan. 16th @ 11am (EST) via Conference Call (and ALA Connect)

It will be an exciting first, and you won’t want to miss it!

Rachel Clarke is a Cataloger at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising Library. Her presentation entitled “Avant-Garde Cataloging: Pushing the Boundaries of Traditional Standards to Better Serve Arts Library Users” will talk about cataloging for arts and design school libraries.

Marie Botkin, an MLIS Graduate student, will discuss Medieval Manuscript Illuminations and their significance to fashion changes.

There will be a Q&A session after the presenters.

How to join the discussion:
1. Dial into the conference call: 218.844.0850. When prompted, enter the access code: 713404*.
2. During (or before) the conference call, log into ALA connect (, find the ACRL Arts Section community, click on the Discussion tab, then click on ACRL Arts Section Virtual Discussion Forum. Download the documents, and now you’re ready to follow along with the presenter!

Have technical questions or questions about the discussion forum? Please email Yen Tran at Hope you’ll join us for this exciting discussion! 


Yes, I am doing a virtual presentation on cataloging and classification for arts libraries. I do hope you’ll join in! Personally, I’ve found ALA Connect somewhat awkward in terms of navigation and login, so you might want to go in ahead of time and poke around to make sure you’re hunky-dory with your username/login and navigation. But just in case,  here’s a link to the exact page within ALA Connect. There’s no need to be an ALA member to use ALA Connect or attend the presentation, so come on!

Dear Congressperson,

I am writing you today regarding the state of our nation’s libraries; specifically the Library of Congress, which, as I’m sure you know, is our nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world. The mission of the Library of Congress is to make its resources available and useful to the Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations.

One of the resources provided by the Library of Congress to assist with the sustaining and preserving of knowledge is Classification Web, a paid subscription service for libraries and librarians offering online and searchable access to Library of Congress Subject Headings, Classification schedules, correlations, and more.

Like many other libraries across the nation, my library has a subscription to this service. As I have previously mentioned, ours expires every year in October. Every year, in October, we send a payment to renew our subscription. And every year in October, they cut off our access, telling us that our subscription has expired. They are nice enough to cut off our access with no warnings or reminders. So every year we make numerous phone calls to the Library of Congress, playing lots of phone tag and wasting our time and theirs. After several weeks, when we finally get a hold of a live person at the LOC, they tell us, yes, we did pay (which we obviously already knew) and that it will take a few weeks to reinstate our service. (And in this day and age, I’m agog at any web subscription that takes 2 hours to reinstate, much less 2 weeks.)

This year, I had the opportunity to attend the ALA Midwinter meeting, where I chanced upon the LOC booth in the exhibit hall. I stopped to speak to a representative from the LOC about this problem and possible solutions. After I explained the situation to her, I asked her what we might volunteer to do on our end that would help expedite this annual snafu?

And that, my honorable Senators and Representatives, is what brings me to you. I’m sure by now you are wondering why I am writing a letter to you about ClassificationWeb and not, say, lobbying for public library stimulus funding (you should be receiving those letters shortly, if you haven’t already). I am writing to you about my library’s ClassWeb subscription because that was the exact and sole solution supplied to me by the LOC representative at the ALA Midwinter booth.When I asked, “What can we at our library do to help expedite this process and eliminate this problem,” she told me (and this is a direct quote), “Write your Congressperson.”

She babbled on to say that the LOC is short-staffed and under-funded, facing budget cuts and layoffs, and that writing my Congressperson would help them solve those problems. And here I thought it was just a simple customer service issue: I have a problem with my service, I contact the service rep, we work it out. But apparently this is a problem of national proportions requiring a letter to you, my Congressional advocates, to stop everything you are doing and address my small customer service problem, that might have easily been solved by a reasonable customer service rep by saying, “Gee, I’m really sorry about that, why don’t we prorate you for the 3 months lost service, and I will put your name down on the top of my list to investigate why you don’t receive warnings and reminders about upcoming expiration dates.”

I am really sad about the budget cuts and layoffs at our nation’s cultural repository. But really, if this is the standard acceptable level of behavior and functionality from the world’s largest library, perhaps the cutbacks are for the best. I found it interesting that they apparently still have money to set up a booth at ALA and attempt to sell services for which they cannot seem to provide adequate support.

So, my senators, here I am, as directed, writing you for solutions to my issue. Clearly, there is nothing the LOC can or will do for me.  Can you solve my ClassWeb subscription problems?

Your respectful constituent,

the catalog librarian


(Afterward: I did bully the rep into starting our subscription year from Janaury 2009 rather than the original renewal date of October 2008. At my suggestion, not hers, btw. But I still have no way of knowing what will happen with our renewal until next January.)

So I am finally returned from the land of the Midwinter, where it was in fact pretty mid-winter-y when I left it.

I started early on the conference circuit, with my parents would taking me to CUE or COMDEX as a child. From a early age I was familiar with the Session Break Stampede and the Exhibit Hall Swag Bingo. I’ve been to CLA, SAA, SLA, ALA, pretty much any of the “-LA”s you can name. But this was my first Midwinter.

And I loved it.

I did feel out-of-place at first at many of the sessions: between not holding any real authority at my place of work, coming from a for-profit education institution, a trade school for fashion, no less (not an art school, not really an academic library but not really a special library either), using software that’s essentially outdated and isn’t interoperable with anything most libraries are doing/using–I often don’t feel like I have much to contribute or much to gain. I constantly have the feeling of the little girl playing dress-up in mom’s clothing–shuffling along in shoes six sizes too big, drowning in a floppy hat and boa with lipstick smeared across my face. At any time, some worldly adult could turn around and catch me red-handed, making a mess of all their stuff. I mean, who am I to be on a task force on competencies and education for a career in cataloging, or participating in a Heads of Cataloging discussion group?

But I am, and I did, and no one shunned me or laughed at me or asked me to leave. Just going by the schedule guide, I somehow kept ending up walking into sessions that I probably shouldn’t.  ALA, if you’re listening: the serious lack of session descriptions drives me nuts–I’m not even sure what all the group names mean to begin with, and even if I know I want to be there for that particular group, during that particular session they are having a speaker or disucssion on a topic that may or may not interest me, and when there are 5 things I’ve marked as potentially interesting all in the same time slot and I have to decide which to attend, a 1 or 2 sentence blurb about what exactly is being discussed at the session might be helpful, and I’m kinda surprised that a group of librarians can’t be bothered to do so. Although I suppose that if I don’t know enough to to dechipher the mysterious acronyms describing a session, it’s probably not targeted at me… I thankfully figured out some of the acronyms about halfway through, like government documents and African-American materials, so I didn’t end up at either of those cataloging sessions, whew (no offense to either of those groups, just not my cuppa).

But I have to say, no one seemed to care that I joined their groups. One of the sessions I somehow ended up in was a RUSA Catalog Use meeting: “Cool,” I thought, “A discussion group on how reference librarians use the catalog.” But it was a committee rather than a discussion group (who can keep track of the difference between “committee,” “task force,” “interest group,” “discussion group,” etc.?), and they were planning their program presentation for the Annual conference. While it wasn’t what I’d expected, it was pretty neat to see a group of people walk through all the tasks and details necessary to plan a conference session, from start to finish. And it turns out I even got to help–they needed to someone who subscribes to Autocat to post their session announcement, and none of the committee members were on that list. I ended up in some other great sessions: the FRBR interest group, How Libraries are Using Web 2.0 Tools, the RDA update forum, the Open Shelves Classification… It was a tough decision to decide between a session on shared and open community data vs. one on librarianship in for-profit institutions, but I went with the latter, because I see the topic mentioned so rarely. I was not disappointed. Finally, meeting people who understand you and your library and why you just can’t do things the same way other libraries do! Unlike Annual, where I mark a session (or two, or three, or…) for each time slot and then end up only attending about half of them, I ended up attending every session I had marked except one (the exception being the OCLC update breakfast, which I now halfway suspect they hold purposely at 7 a.m. just to deter people from coming and commenting on their proposals…).

I liked this conference so much better than Annual. I knew beforehand, with its committees and its task forces, Midwinter is more of a “business-y” meeting, but I have to say, that’s one of the things I actually ended up liking about it–so much more opportunity to sit around the table and interact and discuss, rather than being spoken/PowerPointed at from the front of the room. Plus, I liked the people who were there–I kept telling people that it felt more personal, and they would reply, “that’s because it’s half the size of Annual.” But I’ve been to a lot of smaller conferences and didn’t feel as personal. I think it’s less about the numeric amount of people and more because the people who are there are THE people, the ones who are the ones who are passionate about their profession, involved, and on the committees and making the decisions and shaping the future. And those are the type of people I want to meet, want to be around, want to be.

{January 20, 2009}   hello from Denver

I’m in Denver a few days early to visit friends before ALA Midwinter begins. If anyone else is in town early and wants to meet up, drop me a note. I know a really great martini bar…

et cetera