From the catalogs of babes

Once upon a time, about 2 weeks ago, a friend of mine posted an interesting link on Facebook to a post from the Illinois Poison Control Center blog. It’s called “A Day in the Life of a Poison Center,” and the entry is simply a chronicle of every single call and inquiry the center received on a given day: February 10, 2010. The center received 282 calls and abbreviated each one to a 1-2 sentence anonymized summary which was listed in the blog as it occurred.

The day-in-the-life blogathon was motivated by state funding cuts to the poison control center (surprise, surprise). By listing tangible, concrete examples of the services they provide, the poison control center effectively demonstrates value and return on investment to the community–I mean, isn’t saving a life worth a little bit of state financial aid?

But whether or not they intended to, the poison control bloggers demonstrated more that just why the center needs funding–they also clearly demonstrated exactly what their staff do all day and why it’s important to have trained, specialty professionals handling those tasks.

Let’s say your child just drank some drain cleaner. Who do you want answering your questions: a professionally certified poison specialist with training in toxicology, or some random, minimum-wage worker hired off of Craig’s List?* Sure, we can save money by hiring less qualified staff–and we might need to after being subjected to drastic funding cuts. But is it worth it?

Reading through the summaries, I learned lots of things I never knew or realized about poison control centers before. I had no idea that EMTs and ER doctors and nurses consulted poison control centers for information and advice–or that such a high percentage of calls to the poison control center were from those sources. I guess I always just assumed poison control centers were designed for end-consumer, average individual use. It certainly makes sense, though–I can’t expect an EMT or ER staff or general physician to be familiar with highly detailed, in-depth specialty knowledge about the immense amounts and varieties of poisonous substances that exist in the world. It’s critical that they call someone with specialty knowledge of the subject–people’s lives depend on it.

Now, I might be biased and it might be a stretch to say that librarians save lives,** especially in the same direct ways and methods as poison control specialists. But the two situations seem to me to have much more similarities than differences: they both fulfill information needs from reliable sources.They both require specialized knowledge and training to perform this task. Their job duties are both often misunderstood by the general public and they both suffer from funding cuts–from tax money that comes from that same public. The Illinois Poison Control Center publically documented every single question they received in a given day in a direct attempt to  change the former in order to change the latter. What if we did the same thing with library reference questions? Could it help show exactly how we help unite people with the critical information they need and answer that annoying age-old question: “why do you need a master’s degree to be a librarian?”

*(Now, I realize that’s a bit blunter and more cut-and-dried than the real world, where often times people without degrees and certifications can still hold expert knowledge, and people who hold those qualification can still be ignorant. But in general, there’s a reason such degrees and qualifications and standards exist, and the poison control center is an excellent example.)

**Just for the record, I totally and utterly do believe that librarians save lives. It’s not as hands-on direct as doctors and EMTs, but getting the right information to people is just as critical and often has the power to affect life decisions of all levels of significance. If I didn’t truly believe that, I probably wouldn’t be a librarian.

{April 10, 2010}   season 2

It’s no secret that the wind has gone out of my sails lately, and I haven’t been posting much because of it.

I tend to think of blogging along the lines of a TV show: there are individual episodes (posts), and there are many episodes in a season. Some of those episodes are one-offs, just meant to express one idea or one night of entertainment, unrelated to the overall direction of the show. Other episodes speak to a story arc, an episodic plot that creates an ongoing  storyline for the entire season. Good TV shows, imo, often have both types of episodes, to varying degrees, and I feel similarly about blogs. The good ones that I like to read have both one-off posts but also an ongoing story, whether it’s the day-to-day happenings or a certain library or person, or the chronicle of a project over time. I think such an ongoing story approach adds depth and context to the posts, and also makes the blogger more accessible to the reader, as they follow along through triumphs and failures.

I didn’t set out with any particular story arc in mind when I started this blog. I meant it to be simply observations and ideas about my experiences in the library cataloging world. But ongoing themes emerged, and plots developed anyway. But now, many of those arcs have ended. Both of the major projects I’ve been working on (and blogging about) have been stonewalled. I’m as much at a loss for what to do with myself during the workday as I am what to write here.

But it’s the nature of stories to end, and new ones to begin. So what happens when you have the same cast of characters, the same setting, the same overall themes and ideas, but a new story? In television, that sounds like a new season.

I think it’s time for a new season here. As with before, I don’t have any particular plot in mind (although I do have some ideas bubbling…) I’ll start off season 2 with some random thoughts and observations, and see where it goes from there.

Thanks for watching reading! Be sure to stay tuned, because while I don’t always know where things will end up, I already anticipate some cliffhangers!

{January 7, 2010}   disappointing start

What, no one has any cataloging resolutions??  Not a single comment. How disappointing. So much for getting 2010 off to a good start…

Also a little disappointing: I didn’t end up making the LISNews 10 Librarian Blogs to Read in 2010 list. I’m not overly disappointed that my blog, personally, didn’t make the list, but I confess that I’m more than a little disturbed that not a single one of the 10 blogs is a cataloging/cataloger’s blog. There’s one with a technology focus, and there’s one that I particularly enjoy reading that has had some great cataloging-related posts with a very user-centric perspective, but the rest are the usual gamut of academic, public and humorous library topics. Come on, really–Awful Library Books made the 2010 must-read list, but not a single blog about cataloging? And this is the Year of Cataloging Research, for heaven’s sake. That’s not just sad, but also, imo, another example of just how misunderstood and passed-over cataloging is in the library world.

I suppose I should be used to such short shrift by now, yet somehow I continue to plug forward with some strange sort of optimism that things will change.

{January 1, 2010}   Welcome to 2010!

Welcome to a new year! I think it’s gonna be a good one. Not only has 2010 been designated the Year of Cataloging Research, but this blog has also been listed by Cataloging Futures as one of the top ten cataloging blogs to read in 2010 and also nominated by both the former and some kind anonymous readers as one of the top ten library-related blogs to follow in 2010 by LISNews. I sure hope I can live up to all of that!

 I know I’ve got lots of big plans in store for this year, lots of things to talk about, and, of course, lots of strong opinions. Let’s make some resolutions to do some research, assessment, evaluation, and improvement in our services, big or small, to make 2010 a better year for our patrons as well! If anyone out there has plans regarding cataloging, classification, or any other collection organization for this year, I would sure love to hear about them. Please leave a comment and let me know: what’s your cataloging resolution?

2010 is going to be a good year. I know that together we can all investigate and make changes that truly make a difference in people’s library experiences and lives!

{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.

{December 2, 2009}   even more (in)famous

This blog also apparently just got picked up for syndication on Planet Cataloging.

No pressure, though!

(Thanks to Gina for the tip-off!)

{December 1, 2009}   15 minutes of fame

I like to keep an eye on my blog stats, especially where people come from and what terms they use to search. What can I say? I’m interested in how people look for and find things; that’s one of the reasons I became a librarian.

This post has always been at the top of my hit list, holding steady at a few hits per week, but today I noticed an unusual amount of recent hits and a new referring link.

That’s right: my post is required reading for a graduate-level class in information organization (taught by Candy Schwartz, no less!).  I think the course outline is well-rounded and addresses many of the issues I’ve described in that post and others since. I have no idea if my post is useful or used as some sort of discussion springboard for rebuttal, but if it’s helping students think about things in a new way, I’m glad.

I gotta say, though, it is a bit weird to see one of your blog posts cited formally, especially alongside Chan, Taylor, and the DDC itself! That’s some seriously intimidating company!

{July 9, 2009}   on my way

I’m on my way to Chicago for the ALA Annual Conference. I’m very excited for some of the sessions, and I’m very, very excited because I’ve never been to Chicago before!

I hope to run into some fellow blog readers and writers there. If you see me, feel free to say hi. I’ll be the one attempting to be fashionable in the humidity of Chicago in July (and failing miserably).

{May 12, 2009}   blink for just a second…

So last week I moved into a new place. What does this have to do with a blog about cataloging? Nothing. But I did find it interesting that in the few days I was jonesing for my internet crack fix, several very interesting things popped up:

It never fails that all the good, juicy stuff happens while I’m gone. I haven’t had much time yet to investigate details on any of these, but I’m pretty sure I’ll have some strong opinions once I do…

{January 12, 2009}   oh, hai

So apparently, this blog was linked to from Cataloging Futures. I always figured something like this would happen someday, I guess I just wasn’t anticipating it happening so soon. Darned librarians, always finding stuff.

Akin to the saying “dance like nobody’s watching,” I still subscribe to a motto of “write like nobody’s reading.” So I hope the confirmation of an audience won’t affect my writing style, tone & topics too terribly much.


ps> I did  have a comment eaten by the spam filter that I couldn’t retrieve. I apologize if it was a legitimate comment–it wasn’t an act of censorship but a struggle with technology.

et cetera