From the catalogs of babes

{July 15, 2009}   report from ALA

I’m here to report that librarians still like cardigans. Which is good because despite the fantastic Chicago weather, the meeting rooms were, as always, over-air-conditioned.

I’m also here to report that librarians also apparently like shirtdresses, especially ones from Target, as I saw no less than 3 conference attendees wearing this (I know we’re in a recession with budget cutbacks and all, but it’s still a little tacky to show up in the same dress…):



Oh, wait, you wanted a report about cataloging? My bad. It’s probably saying something that I seemed to be paying more attention to style than sessions. Some good stuff here and there, but many of the sessions seemed redundant to me, and mostly I felt like I was hearing things I’d already heard multiple times before and had already written about right here in this very blog. I guess that’s good in some ways–the ideas are picking up momentum and spreading–but personally I’m more interested in seeing what’s on the horizon than the water we’re in now, much less what’s already rushed under the bridge.

I talk so much about the DDC, you’d probably think this blog was about it. But I have lots of other fun* stuff that I tackle on a daily basis to share with all y’all. For instance:

Videofashion DVDs

Videofashion DVDs

Yep, that’s the current state of my desk, with about 150 DVDs on it (keyboard included for some semblance of scale). For some reason we decided that right now would be a good time to buy everything currently available on DVD from Videofashion that we didn’t already have. Now, they’ve got some great stuff and it’s been quite popular with our patrons, so I got no problems with that.

However, a lot of these DVDs are series, sets, serials, and all sorts of other interesting formats that lead to some…interesting…records available for download from places like OCLC. A lot of times, other libraries that maybe aren’t as “fashion-forward” as we are simply create a single record for the serial or set, and I can certainly see how that is sufficient for them. I would probably do the same thing in their situation.

But I find we get a much better response from patron searches if we create a separate record in the OPAC for each disc, episode, or issue. It’s a pain in the butt up front, but it really seems to help our students. For instance: we have had a long-standing subscription to Videofashion News. If all we had was an overall serial record, it might have the subject heading “Fashion–Periodicals” with no notes, contents, etc. And with a specialized subject library like ours, you can imagine how much stuff might get lost under such a general heading. But if we have a record for each issue, we can include subjects and/or notes for the specific content of that issue/disc, so when a patron searches the catalog for, say, Alexander McQueen, the issues of Videofashion News which include him will be returned with the search results.**

It does get a little repetitively mind-numbing after a while, making all those records. So imagine how stoked I was to find an almost entirely complete set (44 out of 52) of well-done, detailed records for Designer Marathon. I was so impressed by the consistency and quality of the records that I looked up the organization’s MARC Code  to see who they were.

Now either I did something wrong, or the code is an international code, or it’s been retired and then assigned to some new organization, or something, because I find it pretty far-fetched to believe that the Barlow Sanatorium Elks Tuberculosis Library has  thoroughly cataloged a bunch of fashion DVDs. It leads me to construct some elaborate fantasy in my head where suffering sanatorium patients only make it through the day because of the comfort and distraction found in videos about fashion designers. But heck, I shouldn’t discriminate: who says TB patients can’t be fashionable?


*Definition of “fun” being entirely subjective.

**Yes, yes, I know: FRBR, hierarchical records, work relationships, blah blah blah. Believe me, I’d do it if I could. Unfortunately, our current software doesn’t support it, so I’m stuck with this strategy, for now.

{January 15, 2009}   the power of fashion

Tim Spalding makes a t-shirt and the next thing you know, OCLC creates a Review Board of Shared Data Collection and Stewardship to “discuss the Policy for Use and Transfer of WorldCat Records with the OCLC membership and library community.” While I can’t say for sure that it was the t-shirt that caused OCLC to finally make an effort to engage its members in a discussion about its controversial policy and its even more controversial application, it does reinforce the idea that fashion can be more than a simple visual statement–it can be a political one as well.

Sometimes, I feel like I find myself discriminated against because I work for an institution devoted fashion. Other librarians and professionals perhaps think we’re not as serious or scholarly as libraries that serve the sciences or literature or ‘capital-A’ Art. It’s true–we’re not often about the in-depth historical or theoretical research, although, to our credit, we do serve those needs to a few of our patrons. But what we are about moreso than scholarly research is inspiration and practical, hands-on knowledge. Our students aren’t looking to write theses, they’re looking to start fashion lines.

My recent reading on the information-seeking behavior of visual artists and art students shows that our patrons are not an anomaly: arts-oriented people are looking for inspiration. They browse the library for “serendipitous discovery.” They prefer to ask a human being where to find something rather than search the catalog themselves.

This seems like it should make librarians’ lives easier, no? If they’re interested in random discovery, could we not then just put all the books in acquisition order and let them have their serendipity? If they prefer human interaction over online searching, could we not just do away with the catalog?

But I think it’s the opposite. I think this type of behavior makes the librarian’s job even more difficult. Because we can’t just do away with our catalog–even if it’s not made available to assist our users directly, it serves serves the function of assisting librarians, both in retrieval and also in inventory management and collection analysis. While patrons prefer browsing, they also have legitimate needs for specific information, especially specific images (“I need to see Marc Jacobs’ collection for Spring/Summer 2008” or “I need a photo of the Chrysler Building”) or practical business or construction information (“Who is the CEO of Nordstrom?” “How do I sew a French seam?”). So, unlike some other libraries, we have an equal need to support both browsing and searching, which is exactly why we need to look at our catalogs and evaluate how they might better serve both. I also think that by making our catalog interfaces more browse-friendly, we might just channel some of that browsing behavior into use of the catalog itself, perhaps assisting in library and research education as well as helping to support the increasing number of distance and online students who also need library resources but may have information-seeking behaviors not currently supported by traditional online catalogs and interfaces.

People think fashion is easy and frivolous. I think math is easy. I think fashion, and supporting a fashion library to truly best serve its patrons, is hard.

et cetera