From the catalogs of babes

{February 18, 2010}   can a hotel have a biography?

Bib record for "Just Kids" by Patti Smith

Just wondering. Hotels seem like inanimate buildings to me, but what do I know?


There was a thread not all that long ago on the RADCAT listserv asking people how they got involved in what seems to now be called “radical cataloging,” i.e., basically, anything that questions or deviates from the proscribed traditional standards. Many people cited Sandy Berman as an influence, but I confess I hadn’t even heard of him until I was almost done with graduate school. (I may have even first learned about him on that very listserv.)

Apparently I’ve always been a radical cataloger, because I started deviating from the rules in the very first lecture of my very first cataloging class. It was my second semester in library school, but I had been working at the library where I am now for almost a year at that point, and I had already spent 5 years working for a large retail bookstore chain. The professor was introducing areas of bibliographic description with an exercise where he held up a book and asked students to suggest characteristics that might be beneficial to include in a bibliographic record. Everyone named the obvious components like title, author, etc., right away. The book was green, and I remember him asking the class if we thought that was important enough to be included. I (and several other people) answered yes, and were corrected by the instructor and told that it wasn’t.*

But all I could think about were all the years I spent helping people looking for “that book with the yellow cover” (both in the bookstore and in the arts-oriented library where I work) and how that cover color was information that people wanted to know and wanted to use to find their books, and if that information wasn’t included, we were doing a disservice to a certain percentage of searchers.

So why isn’t cover color included in bibliographic description? I can certainly see obvious reasons why it’s not: covers can vary depending on printing, covers may be multicolored and difficult to describe, books are rebound, the information in the resource and not the resource itself is what’s important, etc. I think these are all certainly valid reasons for excluding color from bibliographic description; the issues and troubles that come from documenting cover color certainly outweigh any benefits derived from including cover description, at least in most libraries.

But in some libraries, like arts-focused libraries, patrons are interested to know what covers look like. This is documented by research as well as my personal observations. So why isn’t color cover included in bibliographic description if it does, in fact, serve patrons?

Because it didn’t fit on a catalog card.
The current cataloging practices we have now evolved directly from the use of cards, specifically card catalogs. I’ve heard Diane Hillman talk about how the semantic web is going to further FRBR and move us away from our archaic self-imposed card-based standards.  I’ve watched Tim Spalding’s talk  about the limitations of standards based on physical cards. We use “main entry” and the “rule of three” because catalog cards did not have space to include every author/contributor. LC prescribes 3 subject headings because any more would tax the available space on a 3×5 card. Modern cataloging has been far too heavily influenced by what kinds of information we could cram into a two-dimensional space a little less than 15 square inches.

Once we were no longer limited to that tiny piece of cardstock, did we start including more information? Has cataloging changed significantly with the new technologies that have manifested between the typewriter and today? It certainly doesn’t seem like it. I know I’ve talked before about discarding these limitations now that we have technology that’s not held bound by these constraints: why not make the title field repeatable, so that multiple versions of a title can be included in a bib record? Why not list all the authors, instead of just the first three? But it leads me to wonder–what else we might include once we’re no longer held back by the tradition of the catalog cards? People claim that RDA will address these issues, but I see RDA as another piece atop the house of catalog cards, teetering precariously, still based on preceding rules and standards and subject to implementation challenges too.

What I would really like to do is sit down and start from scratch. Pretend like card catalogs never existed. If I walked into my library today, with its users and its collection, but without any previous cataloging, how would I organize it? Would I make a card catalog? An online database? An index? A paper list? Piles? Would the height of the book be important? The page count? Would it be enough for my patrons to simply indicate “ill.” or would I describe resources more specifically in terms of maps, sketches, charts, photographs, images, reproductions, etc.? I might include width, rather than (or in addition to) height, so as to be easily able to calculate the linear feet necessary in our increasingly cramped shelf space. I might list all the authors, not just the first three named or the “main” one. I might include categories for artists, illustrators, designers, models, and other contributors that aren’t authors but are certainly creators or co-creators of the work. I might do a lot of things differently if I was given the chance to start fresh and not required to work under the shackles of a system that not only does not serve my niche library, but cripples the evolution of other libraries as well.

Of course, we can’t start fresh—libraries already have large amounts of time, money, and inertia invested in the defunct status quo. Libraries balk at the effort to perform retrospective cataloging and reclassification projects—to throw everything out and develop new cataloging from scratch would be unthinkable. And truth be told, not only is it economically unviable and incredibly taxing to an already overworked personnel, there’s also oodles of valuable data already in catalogs that would be inefficient to simply throw away.

We can certainly harvest that data, but we need to add all the other stuff that’s missing—all the stuff that was left off in the past because it didn’t fit on that tiny little card, all the additional authors and contributors and series and width measurements and whatever else proves to be important to us and our patrons. LibraryThing already does this with some of its Common Knowledge data, which is clearly established as important information to the user group the site serves. As an arts librarian, I’d love to see development in the physical description areas, since our patrons seem to be so influenced by the physical characteristics of our resources. I wonder if this could also be crowdsourced/added socially: in the same way that LibraryThing members contribute series and character information, perhaps arts library users could describe their resources in ways that they find important to them? And if each library added the data that was important to them, imagine how fleshed out, detailed, and useful our bibliographic records could be!

Every library is different, and one tiny 3 x 5 card can’t hope to fit all the information needed by all of the different libraries out there. So now it’s my turn to hold up a book and ask which components might be important. Think about your library, its users, and its collection. Pretend catalog cards never existed. Tell me: How would you organize your library’s materials? What information would you record?

* I don’t begrudge the instructor for his answer–it was correct in context in that ‘color’ isn’t included in the traditional 8 areas of bibliographic description, which was, after all, what the lesson was about. He is actually a fantastic instructor who I would recommend to anyone, and I’m totally going to steal that exercise idea someday when I’m teaching cataloging.

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.



It’s true. In high school, I wanted to learn Russian, or maybe Chinese or Japanese. My school was progressive enough to offer a full four years of classes in each of those languages. But my parents strongly suggested* I study a more practical language, like Spanish, that I would be sure to find useful in the future, in the job market and such.

Nowadays, I see oodles of cataloging jobs for people who can read Russian, Chinese, or Japanese. Spanish, not so much…

We’ve had a pile of foreign language books sitting in our workroom, uncataloged, since I started working as the cataloger. They’re great resources with amazing images, but they’ve been stored in the very back bottom corner shelf, because no one in the library reads Chinese or Japanese or Korean.

We’ve been working on improving our techncial processing workflow due to some staffing changes, so I’ve been cleaning off bookshelves and moving things around. I decided it might finally be time to bite the bullet and tackle these materials, even if it meant tracking down people throughout the school that could read these langauges and help me write records. So I pulled out the stack and discovered that almost every single book has an ISBN, and 90% have full records in OCLC with subject headings and everything.

Which is awesome, becuase I only read Spanish, and not all that well, even after all those years of classes. It’s not so awesome that those books sat there for 3+ years, but better late than never, right?


*You know how that goes with parents. I was pretty much forced.

et cetera