From the catalogs of babes

Dear Readers,

I’m looking for concrete examples of libraries currently using alternative classification schema (i.e., not DDC or LCC) for some reasearch I’m doing regarding our library’s reclassification project. BISAC, Bliss, Colon, locally-designed, home-grown, what-have-you are all okay. Examples of academic libraries (regardless of size and specialty) are preferred, as are corporate libraries. Not so much on the public libraries (I’ve already noted Maricopa County and the other public libraries recently featured in the press) but I’ll take whatever I can get. Beggars can’t be choosers, and all.

If any of you faithful readers out there know of any examples, please leave a comment with any info you have and you will earn my undying gratitude (at least for now, until the next project…)

With sincere thanks,

your friendly neighborhood cataloging librarian

Too bad I wasn’t hired.

Rangeview Library District is “Breaking up with Dewey”

{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?

{March 10, 2009}   your patrons, or yourself?

Last week (or was it the week before? I lose track) I attended an awesome webinar sponsored by Infopeople called “The Deweyless Library: An Innovative Approach.” Now, I’m not normally big on webinars. In my experience, they’re fairly one-sided, and often so dumbed down to a lowest-common-denominator level that I find I don’t get much out of them that I don’t already know. But heck, it was free, and I’ve been dying to hear about any follow up on Maricopa County’s migration to BISAC classification. The presenter, Marshall Shore, talked about the decisions and processes of implementing a non-Dewey classification system at a new public library branch.

Now, I’ve made a few anti-DDC posts in this blog. I won’t deny it. But, as I’ve said before: I like the Dewey Decimal System. I think it’s an example of brilliant design, with its repeating patterns and subdivisions. I admire it very much, despite its known flaws, and I fantasize about someday being smart enough to develop a classification system half as well-designed. However, I’ve been the recipent of a few comments (both on- and off-line) that seem to interpret my stance on this as being some sort of anti-DDC Nazi.

I’m not. What I am obessed about is using the right classification system for the job, whatever the job may be. And what I appreciated the most about Shore’s presentation was that he, too, was focused on finding the right system that would work for his patrons and his libraries. He wasn’t out to get rid of the DDC just to get rid of it–he was out to improve user experience in the library.

He talked a little bit about the library as a “third place,” and using that idea as a motivational factor to improve patron experience. I appreciated that he took a survey of the participants, asking them whether they thought their libraries were or should be considered “third places.” I was pleasantly surprised to see that not everyone thought they should be. The library where I work, for example, is part of a college, and rather than functioning as a community center, is designed to function more as a “second place”–where students come to get work done. Ideally, I’d love it if we could incorporate elements of the “third place,” but our first priority is to support the school’s curriculum and the information literacy of our patrons. (That’s straight out of our mission statement, btw.)

Basically, what I’m trying to say here is that there are all different types of libraries. Some are work centers, some are community centers, many are a mix of both, and more. Libraries have different missions, different needs, and different patrons, and so each library should evaluate its situation and determine how to best serve its users, classification systems included. If the DDC works for your library, great! If LCC works, awesome! If you work with the library collection of some random historical society and find that people respond best to filing the materials chronologically by date, then why not?  But if you’re using a classification system despite your patrons, then who are you really serving? Your patrons, or yourself?

I have to give props to this webinar, especially regarding attendee participation. There were about 75 people logged on to attend, and I was delighted to “see” some familar names, including some blog readers (hi Gina!), as well as co-workers.  Besides overwhelming the presenter with questions, I loved that spontaneous discussion broke out in the chat box among attendees–I’ve never had that happen in a webinar before. Another interactive survey by Shore asked people what they would do to improve patron experience at their libraries. Of course there were the standard copy-cat answers of “we’ll go Dewey-less just like you did!” which bothers me just as much as the resistance to doing away with Dewey. I mean, let’s think about it: if you’re moving away from DDC just because it’s the “hip & cool” new thing to do, it’s equally as problematic, imo. You’re still ignoring the potential needs and wants of your patrons.

One of the survey responses fascinated me so much that I had to inqure among the attendees who posted it. The contributor talked about designing a visual classification system for use in their library. It turns out she was the library manager of the new Home Gardens branch of the Riverside County Library System, and they are in the process of creating a classification system that relies on images rather than words. Of course I was instantly intrigued, as I think the use of a visual classification system in our arts-focused library has a great deal of potential. So I sent her an email and she was kind enough to respond with some more information about the project. I love the fact that she is actively seeking out potential ILS software that will actually display the image as the “call number” rather than substituting a word like [TRAVEL] or [FICTION]. She also pointed out that the visual symbols serve to eliminate language barriers when there is a large multi-lingual patron deomgraphic (which hadn’t even occurred to me but I think is brilliant). But my favoritest part: when they can’t decide what section a book should be classed in, they ask the patrons. That’s right. They take a survey of 3 or 4 average patrons and ask them what section they would look under if they were looking for that title. It doesn’t get much more user-centric than that! The classification system is still in the works, as they build a new branch, but I can’t wait to see it in action. I am totally trying to weasel a tour.

I talk a lot about the DDC because I know a lot about the DDC. I will always, always love it (wouldn’t get it tattooed on me otherwise) and I’d actually be pretty stoked to work on it (if I wouldn’t have to work for OCLC to make that happen…) But in the end, it doesn’t matter if that’s what I love, or what works best for me. It matters what my patrons love, and what works best for them.

{February 12, 2009}   a rainbow of possibilities

I’ve decided that I want to classify our library’s collection by color.



Stop laughing.

It’s not a joke, I’m totally serious. Classification by color has always appealed to me in an esoteric sense. In my own personal book collection, I have long classified by what I’ve always referred to as “aesthetics”: I group books by subject, then by size (I live in a small apartment) and then arrange them by how pleasing they are to me on the shelf. I only have about 900 books, and I’m pretty familiar with all of them and so I know where a given book is at any time. I like the arrangement, and it pleases me, which leads me to wonder: if this sort of arrangement pleases me, how many other people might it please?

The more reading I do about information-seeking behavior of artists and art students, the more intrigued I become with alternative classification. A literature review shows that artistic types are more inclined towards browsing and “serendipitous discovery.” Who wouldn’t be drawn to browse through aisles and rows of  rainbows?

Not to mention the continual flood of inquires regarding books by color: I’m sure we’ve all gotten the patron who is “looking for that book with the yellow cover.” I’d be willing to bet the number of such inquiries only increases with artistic and visually-oriented patrons. It leaves me wondering: could art students benefit from an arrangement such as this? Would it really be functional, or it is just the joke everyone always laughs it off as? Could this actually work, and would library users like it?

There’s only one way to find out. (If you said that one way was “research,” then you my friend are indeed a librarian and in the right place.)

I started to do some poking around the good ol’ interotubes, and lo and behold, what did I find? A most amazing discovery: in 2004, an artist named Chris Cobb took the collection of 20,000 books at San Francisco’s Adobe Bookshop and organized them all by color. Under the guise of an art installation called There Is Nothing Wrong in This Whole Wide World, Cobb and a team of 10 accomplices entered the bookstore after closing one night and arranged all the books by color, where they were left for 2 weeks for customers to browse, before rearranging them all back into their original order.

 Besides being an amazingly visual experience with a powerful artistic message, I found people’s responses fascinating. Of course some people spoke of the issue of like subjects no longer together, but there were plenty of comments from people who were intrigued and pleased with the new arrangement. Many spoke of looking for a title and then finding something new placed next to it that they never would have sought out or given a second look in previous circumstances. Can we say “serendipitous discovery?” I knew we could.

If classification by color supports serendipitous discovery, and art library patrons enjoy serendipitous discovery, shouldn’t the two be a match made in heaven?

Of course, there are some significant issues to consider. Patrons are still going to need books on particular subjects, with specific titles, by certain authors. There would need to be a way to search the collection by subject, author or title…maybe we could even computerize this list, put it in some sort of database, even put it online so people could search in the library or remotely… Hm. Sounds like we’ve got that part pretty well covered.

We’d also need a way to connect the book to the search result, something in the record that says “this book has a red cover” so you know to find it with the red books, and, in the event of a large collection, know that it can be found between the “brick red” books and the “cherry red” books (not to be confused with the “fire engine red” books or (my favorite shade of lipstick) the “shameless red” books. A “color call number,” if you will. Interestingly enough, there does happen to be an international numeric standard for colors. Fancy that! They even make these nifty devices that would allow you to scan the book’s cover and determine exactly what color and number it is. Our library happens to have two. Seems to me the “Pantone(tm) Classification System” might be in order.

We’d need a way to physically convert the books and rearrange the collection. This where where a lot of librarians at catalogers often balk, but I tell you, I eat collection shifts for breakfast. I’m the one who spends 50% of my time reclassifying Dewey, so I don’t find spending time on an alternative classification to be a stretch. I’m also the go-to girl for all of our collection shifts, the one who does the alegbraic calculations to determine just how little space we can leave on each and every shelf when we move all the books. I somehow almost always end up being one of the few people doing the actual book moving, for some reason. Cobb did 20,000 books overnight with a crew of 10. We have two weeks between quarters and 20-odd staff members. With the right preparation beforehand, it’s easily achievable.

Then there’s the little hitch of selling the whole idea to the administration. And here’s where my heart will always be with this library, because I think if there’s any one library in the word this could ever possibly happen, it’s here. We’ve actually had color-based organization suggested to us before from higher-ups who don’t quite understand libraries. It’s rumored that the architect who designed our Orange County library wanted to rebind every single book in pink to match the campus-wide color scheme. Plus, there’s nothing that this school loves more than marketing and publicity, and this would bring it in droves: every library journal, magazine, and blog would eat this up, this crazy controversial idea of classification by color, as well as loads of other design channels. Not to mention the photo ops! This would put our library on the map (and I’d probably be invited to talk about this whole hair-brained scheme at all kinds of fun events…not that I have a big ego or anything). Really, it’s a win-win situation all around.

The worst that can happen is that it doesn’t work. Perhaps it will turn out to be significantly non-functional and all the patrons will hate it. So what? All the books have DDC labels, and we’ll just put the collection back the way it was. Maybe we just do the whole thing for a quarter, like Cobb’s transitory art installation.

But I really want to make this happen. Just to see. I think it could work.

{January 20, 2009}   OSC debut

So the first draft of the Open Shelves Classification has just been posted (OSC 1.0?). I have followed the development of the OSC since its inception last summer, though I ended up not participating for a variety of reasons.

One thing I like is that this first “version,” if you will, has been posted not just for review, but for actual attempted application. On every LibraryThing book page there is a box at the bottom where you can choose in which of the top-level OSC classifications you would class the title. You can classify your own personal collection, or you can classify a random work. Try it–it’s actually quite addicting, especially when you start seeing how your personal choices correlate (or not) with others.’ It reminds me a bit of the Google Image Labeler, a “game” where you work online with a partner to earn points for keywording images: if you both tag the image with the same keywords, you earn more points. (I always found Google’s attempts at this very interesting, as some of us in the real world get paid actual cold hard cash for this sort of thing, but I digress…) I actually had to force myself away from classifying random works with OSC so as to get some actual cash-earning image keywording done.

I did notice that attempting to classify my own personal collection was exponentially more difficult than classifying the random works.

At least half of the random works I was assigned were clearly fiction, and so easy to classify in the “Fiction and Poetry”*category. I also got a number of cookbooks, which were equally clear and easy to classify, despite not being personally familiar with the titles. From the public library statistics gathered, it seems that fiction is indeed one of the (if not the) largest categories in public library collections. If that’s true, then I wonder if the top-tier categories could use some tweaking–I’d want my classifications to reflect my collection, so if more than 50% of the collection is fiction, then possibly 50% or more of the top-tier categories should reflect that.  It seems like the top-tier categories would simply be fiction and non-fiction, with everything else becoming second-tier levels like “science fiction,” “historical fiction,” under fiction and “art,” “science,” etc. under non-fiction. Hard for me to say, as my collection experience is not in public libraries or even fiction, although I have a background in literature and worked for a number of years at a bookstore where–you guessed it–fiction made up a large percentage of desired reading material.

And I’ll admit up front that I’m biased, and when I hold the OSC up to my personal and professional collections (neither of which would represent a more generalized public library collection, I admit) I don’t think it holds up (I know, I know, it’s not supposed to, but a girl can dream, can’t she?). My biggest issue: where do I class books on fashion? “Art”? “Biography/Autobiography”? “Crafts and Hobbies”? “History”? “House and Home”? “Performing Arts”? “Social Science/Sociology”? “Technology and Engineering”? Because I can find examples of fashion books from our library collection that would fit under any of those categories–books on fashion can be about artistic aspects and visual impact, the story of the life of a fashion designer, how-to books for both amateurs and professionals (which run the gamut from home sewing by hand to industrial manufacturing, a huge range of its own), the history of clothing, fashion shows and collections, the sociological implications of fashion and clothing, and more. And what’s worse is that many of these subjects are often included within he same books. So the way the OSC is currently designed, books about fashion would be scattered throughout the library, which doesn’t support browseability for those titles, and browseability has been shown to be a higher priority for artistically-minded patrons, even more so than the general public. Plus, I’m still not sure how to best handle the books on multiple topics. Scope notes could possibly clarify, but at that point, with the scope notes and directions and multiple categories, we’re no better off than DDC for fashion, where history of costume is 391, fashion design is 746.92, clothing construction is in 646, and apparel manufacturing is in 687, spreading topics apart that I would prefer be in close proximity for our patrons.

Do I think the OSC should be edited to fix this problem? No. Our library collection is specialized and unique, and so creating specific classifications for our materials isn’t really germane to the OSC’s purpose. But I still think it’s a good question–where  exactly would one classify books on fashion in a public library using the OSC? Because they might not have as many, but public libraries have books on fashion, too.


Come talk about the OSC at ALA Midwinter: Saturday, January 24, 2009, 1-3 p.m. @ Courtyard Marriott conference room.


*a category that I don’t really understand, in the context of the additional top-level category of “Literary Collections”–would a collection of poetry not be literary? Would short stories be under fiction or collections? Because if an author writes both novels and short stores, and the former is classed in fiction and the latter in collections, then the author’s fiction won’t be shelved together, which would make browsing for, say, F. Scott Fitzgerald, rather annoying. But I digress…

{January 15, 2009}   more about OCLC and nipples

I’ve been meaning to rant about the proposed new OCLC policy for Use and Transfer for WorldCat(R) Recordsfor a while. In fact, it’s actually one of the (many) motivating factors for starting this blog in the first place, since people kept telling me the best action I could take against the policy was to blog about it.

It took me a long time, and I won’t lie–it’s mainly because I’ve been pretty pessimistic and hopeless about the whole situation. I didn’t see much chance for impacting or changing the policy or its implementation at all, and I didn’t know what could be done to change that. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but adding one more tiny little random blog voice didn’t seem like it would do much good.

But then I saw OCLC’s announcement Tuesday of a Review Board of Shared Data Creation and Stewardship, seemingly on the heels of Tim Spalding’s nipples (coincidence? I think not). And I’ve been listening to the discussion on last night’s episode of Uncontrolled Vocabulary (#67)and having a small bit of hope. All those little random blog posts did make a difference, to a certain extent.

It’s still very small, though, and I’ll tell you why. I have two main reasons why I think, at this point, OCLC’s attempt at implementing this policy will remain unchecked.

1. Catalogers are not managers.

No offense.  We’re the people who are passionate about data management, not people management. As much as we all decry the stereotype of the antisocial cataloger in the back corner of the basement surrounded by dusty books and covered with ink smudges, never interacting with the public, stereotypes do have distant origins in truth. Catalogers, despite whether it’s true on any individual level, are perceived as distant, secret, loners, with their alien MARC tags and their uncanny ability to recite obscure rules. Like I said, no offense–heck, I’m a cataloger, too. But how many catalogers are managers? How many are in charge of a branch, or a library system, or administer at the level of management it would take to make a substantive decision about implementing or rejecting the OCLC policy?

Of course there are some out there (and I would love to meet them and talk to them about their paths and philosophies!), and some catalogers, if not managers themselves, have enough clout that they can advocate for what’s best for their libraries in terms of cataloging and policies. But I think there’s a major issue when library management has little to no cataloging background or practice. My boss, the head librarian, had not even heard of the new OCLC policy when I first brought it up to her, much less our library director, who I’m not even sure knows what cataloging is. Until upper management and administration understand the impact of such policy implementations, there will be no support for change.

2. There are no other choices.

OCLC is a monopoly. Okay, not “techncially,” but they are the only organization providing the type of service they do, especially since they assumed RLG. Where else can libraries go? OCLC has no competition, and in a market where we vote with our dollars, where is our dark horse third-party candidate to patronize? I of course support Open Library, but because OCLC intends its policy to be retroactive and Open Library has records contributed from OCLC member libraries, who knows what will happen? My understanding is the same for Z39.50, if those records originated with or passed through OCLC. But no one can move away from OCLC until there’s a legitimate, comparable option to move to.

So it would seem hopeless. So what do we do?

We get catalogers into management positions and we create a new union database for bibliographic records.

Hey, I didn’t say it was going to be easy. If I thought nipples would solve the problem, believe me, mine would be out there. In fashion, that sort of thing works. But in this case, that’s not going to be enough. So we’d better get to work.

et cetera