From the catalogs of babes

One of the latest hot topics of demand in our library is drag queens. I don’t know if it’s a specific class assignment or just a coincidence of interest, but in the past several weeks we have received a number of requests for books about drag queens. Since we only had one at the time, our collections librarian ordered more to supplement the demand.

3 or 4 titles arrived in the last shipment and I’ve been busily downloading records for them. However, I’ve come to a bit of a standstill as to where to class them. The records I’ve seen vary widely. So far, I’ve seen:

306.77/8 : sexual and related practices; transvestism (class here cross dressing)

305.31 : interdisciplinary works on the social groups of men

792.028 : acting and performance, including impersonation

And, our original title held, a book of drag queen paper dolls, at 391.00866 : clothing of persons by sexual orientation*

While I understand that, technically, the books should be classes based on how drag queens are treated in the work, I think it’s really better for our students if we can keep them all together as much as possible. I’d like to pick one number to lump them under, but none of these numbers seem to fit quite right. I looked up “drag queens” in the index; of course it was not there. I tried in LCSH and was redirected to

Female impersonators   (May Subd Geog)  [R S D]
Here are entered works on men who impersonate women, generally for purposes of entertainment or comic effect. Works on women who impersonate men, generally for purposes of entertainment or comic effect, are entered under Male impersonators. Works on persons, especially males, who assume the dress and manner of the opposite sex for psychological gratification are entered under Transvestites.
UF  Cross-dressers
  Drag queens
  Impersonators, Female [Former Heading]
  Impersonators of women
  Queens, Drag

The LCSH leads me to believe the most appropriate number would be 792.028. But the “UF Cross dressers” reference bothered me. I’ve known drag queens and I’ve known cross dressers and they are not the same. Wikipedia backs me up:

A drag queen is a person, usually a man, who dresses (or “drags”) in female clothes and make-up for special occasions and usually because they are performing and entertaining as a hostess, stage artist or at an event. This is in contrast to those who cross-dress for reasons other than as a source of entertainment for others or transgender people who are not necessarily drag queens or cross-dressers but sometimes fit into those labels.


Another term for a drag queen, female impersonator, is still used—though it is often regarded as inaccurate, as many contemporary drag performers are not attempting to pass as women.

Now, I try not to get too moral about my classification. I know, in the scheme of things, it’s just a number and a shelf label. Does it really matter if I class the books in the 300s , the 700s, or really, anywhere, as long as they’re together for browsing and the patrons have access to them?


*This number is a holdover built by our previous cataloger. I probably wouldn’t have built the 391s that way, but it’s not really doing any harm and we’re too deeply entrenched in it to change.


Our museum department recently received a very large donation (>500 pieces, I think) of hairwork jewelry. Of course we purchased a quite a few titles on the subject to support the museum’s new acquistions.

“Jewelry” is usually classed in 739.27; however, this falls under the larger class of 739.2, “work in precious metals.”  Hair, last I checked, is not a precious metal, so it seems a little strange to me to class these books there. Hair care (braiding, etc.) is classed in 646.724. Interdisciplinary works on jewelry are classed in 391.7.

Where should I class my books on hairwork jewelry?

Obviosuly, I want to class them where it’s easiest to find them. In our library, this would either be 739.27 or 391.7. Of those two, I’d also like a way to class all the hairwork books together, so as to keep them next to one another on the shelf. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find a standard subdivision for “products made out of hair.” (Shocking, I know.) -028 for “auxiliary techniques and procedures, apparatus, equipment and materials”? -04 for “special topics,” even though that subdivision is only supposed to be used when stipulated in the schedules?

If, for some bizarre reason, you were looking for books on hairwork jewelry, where would you look?

{December 31, 2008}   on education, standards, and guilt

One of the biggest issues I struggle with personally when discussing moving away from more traditional library classification systems is that of education. It takes a certain amount of education to teach library users how to find materials, regardless of which classification schemes is in use. No one magically appears in a library having been born with an innate knowledge of the Dewey Decimal System. They have to elarn it somewhere. When I was young, it was taught to us in elementary school, with the idea that when we went out into the big wide world and began to use the public library, we would already understand the fundamentals. And this is where I begin to have conflict with advocating for libraries (and my library in particular) to switch to a different system: are we doing a disservice to our patrons by not following the inherent consistency in standardized classification systems? Which is to say, in English: a partons learns how to find books according to the DDC at library #1, how will they be able to find books at library #2 if library #2 is using a different system?

But the more I agonized over the issue, the more flaws I began to see poking through. Yesterday drove the point home.

Yesterday, my co-workers and I were treated to a tour of the Little Tokyo branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. It is not far from our campus and would likely be a branch utilized by our students, for general work or for more specific research on Japanese art and fashion. The Little Tokyo branch, like the rest of LAPL,  and our library as well, uses the Dewey Decimal System to classify its collection.

As we toured through the stacks, I noticed a large section on origami, entirely appropriate for the branch’s subject focus. I also noticed the origami books classed in 747. According to DDC22, the most current edition, origami is classed at 736.982, under the broader discipline of sculpture. 747 is currently used for interior decoration. I have known for quite a while that LAPL does not use the current edition of the DDC. Librarians who work there have informed me they use DDC14 or 16, always with the excuse that the system-wide collection is far too large to reclassify and bring up to date, which is understandable to a certain extent, what with “over 6 million books, audiobooks, videos and CDs to check out.” However: what happens when a patron from our library, who has learned to find origami at 736.982, goes to look for origami books in Little Tokyo, or any one of the other 70 branches?

In my opinion, this is worse than the libraries using differnt classification systems. A different system is recognizable to a patron right away. They may not know yet how to use it, but they can recognize it as a different system than the one they know and act accordingly. If, for example, you are used to DDC, and you walk into a library using Library of Congress Classification (LCC), the alphabetic characters used in LCC clearly demonstrate that a different system is in use, and if you don’t recognize the system, you can ask for assistance.

But, if you are used to DDC and you walk into a library using a different edition, or another modified version, you see the numbers and think you have your bearings. You think you know the system. You head to 736.982 and stand there scratching your head wodnering why there are absolutely no books on origami in the Little Tokyo library, of all places. Now maybe you ask for help or look up the books in the online catalog or find them some other way, but my point is this: the so-called standarized classification system isn’t.

So I no longer feel guilt about alternate classification systems interfering with library education. The education provided currently is already interfering with itself. Adopting a classification system that works for the collection is not just a benefit in terms of ease of use, but it doesn’t subtley and underhandedly reduce the effect of any prior classification education a patron may have already experienced. Elementary school students taught to use DDC eventually grow up and attend college, where they must learn to use an entirely new system more suited to the collection at a academic library. I don’t see how any other alternative classification system is any different.

{December 24, 2008}   Why such a storm against Storms?

As some of my co-workers know, I’m an avid reader of American Libraries Direct, delivered straight to my inbox every Wednesday (or maybe Thursday, or sometimes not at all, depending on whether or not Verizon is on the fritz). Mainly I read it for the sheer laughable entertainment value–much of the information is trite and nearly useless, and of the links that are actually functional and accessible, most are touting how great librarians  are so we can all feel good about ourselves. Each issue is generally good for a few laughs, but this week’s had a real gem: a link to a Tampa Tribune article about a state Senator who suggested eliminating the Dewey Decimal System. The comments on the newspaper site alone went on for 11 pages, and the paper has also posted several editorial responses, all in disagreement with Sen. Storms’ ideas.

And I agree that there is much there to disagree with. For instance: “Secretary of State Kurt Browning, who oversees state support of libraries, told the committee that Dewey Decimal is the national standard, set by the Library of Congress.” Secretary Browning might benefit from a tiny bit of research before telling lies to the committee–the DDC is owned by OCLC, not the Library of Congress, and with OCLC’s history, I’m a little surprised that they didn’t sue Secretary Browning for attributing DDC to the LOC (which, by the way, has its own classification scheme, quite appropriated entitled “Library of Congress Classification,” or LCC for short). It’s scary to think that such an ignorant individual is responsible for overseeing the state’s libraries.

However, the one thing I most definitely do not disagree with is Storms’ call to cease using DDC in the state’s public libraries. Her reasons? The system is costly, anachronistic, and frustrating for patrons to use. She admires the simplicity of bookstores like Barnes & Noble and wonders why libraries do not follow suit. Opponents against her suggestion are mainly motivated by cost–they say it would cost too much money and time to convert to something else. They also say that the focus and purpose of libraries is not the same as retail and so need a different system.

A lot of responders are calling Storms ignorant and incompetent, but I’m with her on this one. I’ve gone on record in the past as loving the DDC, and I still do. I think it is a brilliant classification system, though not without it’s flaws–you can read about prejudice in the DDC in plenty of other blogs and articles, so I don’t feel the need to go into detail here. It’s certainly not the best classification system ever invented, but it’s good points, I think, are really good–the mnemonic use of the number system is one of my favorite things about it. No matter what section you are in “92” will always mean personal treatment, whether it’s 920 (collected biography), 746.92092 (fashion designers), or 779.2 (photographs of people). The United States is always represented by 973, where books on history of the US are classified, or 747.0973 (interior design of the United States). The manipulation of subdivisions for geography, time periods, and other special topics are outstanding, allowing catalogers to build numbers rather than fit each material into a pre-established narrow box which may not actually be appropriate for the work. DDC has a lot of good things going for it, and its design revolutionized libraries and opened up stacks for patron browseability. I love the DDC and probably always will.

So why am I railing so hard to have it removed from public libraries? Someone who touts the merits of the DDC surely should encourage its use, no? Because it doesn’t serve our users.  Gone are the days of elementary library education–while I can remember weekly trips in second grade to the public school library, where we were taught the Dewey Decimal System and how to properly remove books from the shelf by placing a paper bookmark in between the books on either side so we would return the book to its proper place, most patrons these day did not have the luxury. I mean, I can also remember being instructed in how to use the card catalog (yes, the actual paper one) and the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature(the old bound print editions). These things don’t even exist anymore, having been replaced by the OPAC and subscription service databases. We would no longer think to include card catalog searches and print Reader’s Guide instruction in our bibliographic instruction classes of today. These things have changed with the times, and so too should our libraries’ classification systems.

A part of me struggles with this, I confess. By eliminating instruction on the Dewey Decimal System, is it just one more nail in the coffin of library instruction? I sometimes think so, and worry that not trying to push for further DDC instruction as opposed to elimination, only contributes to what I see as a downward spiral of ignorance and ineducation in our American society. But then another part of me feels stubbornly that if we’re not getting through anyway, we shouldn’t be trying whatever it takes. Why would we purposefully continue to make libraries more difficult to use, rather than easier? Restricting access though classification is not doing anyone’s education any good. Shouldn’t we be trying any means necessary to connect our patrons with the information they seek? And if that means migrating from the DDC to something more simple, so be it.

BISAC (the word-based classification system used by most major retail bookstores) was designed to be easy to use. Why? Because the easier it is for a bookstore customer to find something, the more likely they are to buy it. People can’t buy what they can’t find. (I worked for Barnes & Noble for 5 years, so believe me, I know.) The same goes for libraries: people can’t access what they can’t find. The bookstore and the library are not so different as some people like to think. Am I advocating for the use of BISAC in libraries? Not particularly. BISAC, like all classification schemes, has its flaws, too. I know Maricopa County Library (AZ)’s Perry brach switched to BISAC, and I’ve been anxiously awaiting word on its results before I start tooting the BISAC flag.  I’m also anxious to see what comes of the Open Shelves Classification, but I’m not necessarily pushing for that either (disclaimer: I originally intended to contribute to the OSC, but both my lack of public library cataloging background as well as some other personal issues made me back out). The thing is, I’m not advocating for any particular classification scheme at all. What I am advocating for is for libraries to find a classification scheme that best serves its user base, whatever it may be. Maybe it uses numbers, maybe it uses words. Maybe it’s by subject, or maybe it uses some sort of color-and-shape system (something I always wanted to experiment with for our collection, since our patrons are so visually inclined). Whatever it turns out to be is fine, as long as it’s what works best for your patrons.

But all that money it will cost and time it will takes to change! That’s pretty much the argument against changing any already-established classification system. And I can see that–to a point. I doubt the Library of Congress would have much success reclassifying its 32 million books and print materials, even with all of its staff. However, most public libraries don’t even come near that total: the tour guide from my recent visit to Seattle’s infamous new main public library branch quoted their holdings at 1 million books.* Yes, it’s a lot, and it sounds daunting. Heck, I’m daunted by the prospect of reclassifying our ~27,000 books. But what’s more important: our lack of desire to do reclassification work, or the patrons’ abilities to find the materials they seek? Sounds like we’re being pretty selfish and lazy when we put it that way. Yes, reclassification would be a lot of work. But aren’t our patrons worth it? And if we’re not taking on such tasks, then what are we being paid for? As a service profession, our first duty is to our library users. We’re paid to make otherwise inaccessible materials accessible to all. This is not just our job, but our professional duty. It can be done.


*I’m not sure if that included branches as well; I think not, but still.

{December 18, 2008}   Re/Blogging

Starting a blog is like recataloging a collection. You have to do it while the collection is still small, otherwise it becomes so large that it would be impossible to ever cover every piece of material.

I’ve had things to write about for a while. First, it was just one or two ideas for blog posts, but I didn’t have the time that day and thought I’d do it later. Then it became three or four, and I started writing a list of topics for when I would find the time to sit down and write. Then the list become six things, then ten, and it was so daunting to sit down and deal with them all. As time passed, some topics became outdated or changed. I spent a lot of time debating whether I should include these professional topics in my personal blog. I thought about setting up a new, professional blog on my website and futzed around with that for a while before deciding it wasn’t the route I wanted to go. And of course, there were always pesky things like work and family and travel getting in the way, until my collection of ideas just became too overwhelming to address.

I spend a lot of time reclassifying the collection at the library where I work. It’s a combination of migrating to DDC22, which had some changes that affected historical/geographical treatment of some of the arts, which is the significant majority of our collection, and correcting mis-classification errors instituteed by non-catalogers in the past. It’s not a huge collection–some 50,000 items, about half of which are books. Yet, since the time I started working there, it’s almsot doubled in size, and I feel like it’s already getting too big to efficiently reclassify. I try to take it one section at a time. So far I’ve covered fashion design (746.92), knitting (746.432), painters and painting (750s) and photography (770s). Yesterday I started architecture (720s). I’ve been putting off industrial/applied design (745) and interior design (747) becuase they’re some of the largest sections in the library and need a lot of work. But I’ll have to do them eventually, and the more I put it off, the larger the sections become. The only way I get through it is to break them down into chunks, and, as our book processor always says, work “one book at a time.”

Blogging is the same way. I can’t beat myself up over the dozens of post ideas I never wrote. But I do need a place ready and waiting for when I have something to say. I don’t guarantee it will be good. My ideas won’t always work. But I’m tired of not having any reasonable means of putting them out there. One idea at a time.

et cetera