From the catalogs of babes

{July 29, 2010}   SkyRiver vs. OCLC?

The library cataloging world is all a-buzz today since the press release(PDF) announcing that SkyRiver plans to sue OCLC for anti-trust violations.

I think anyone who’s been following any sort of cataloging news saw this coming miles away. I confess: I always suspected that the creation of SkyRiver wasn’t simply only to provide an alternative to OCLC, but rather an ulterior-motive vehicle for exactly this type of legal action. I know plenty of catalogers who have long felt similarly about OCLC’s apparent monopolistic behavior, but if I recall correctly from my 7th grade government class (and I likely don’t, but still), no legal action can be taken until there’s some sort of victim, some other company or organization that is directly hurt by the alleged violations. When OCLC had no direct competitors, there were no victims to file suit. Now SkyRiver provides exactly that. Now some kind of action can be taken.

I have no idea what will happen, but I’d sure love ringside seats.

{October 8, 2009}   a busy week

Lots of crazy stuff going on in cataloging this week, from the Library of Congress finally coming to the table regarding the subject heading “Cookery” [pdf] to a new bibliographic utility in the market to compete with OCLC. Plus I’ve been finishing up a 4-part series of blog posts in response to reader commentary talking about how I started cataloging and directions from there.

But all of those things pale compared to the official announcement today that our Head Librarian is resigning. She’s moving on to new & better things, but I confess I’m anxious about what will happen now–especially since the library director already has some “ideas.” That’s probably the part that scares me the most.

{September 30, 2009}   today’s message



I have no doubt that OCLC provides many ways to stay current in this fast-paced world of cataloging. Many OCLC ways.

As for me, I’d rather get my information from a variety of sources, preferably ones not put out by the cataloging monopoly. It’s part of this little thing we like to call “information literacy.”

I’m not saying, I’m just saying…

{July 22, 2009}   giving them what they want

One of the “best” sessions I saw at ALA was the Sunday afternoon session on Catalog Use and Usability Studies. I put “best” in quotation marks because it wasn’t an over-the-top amazing delivery or anything. I thought about saying “interesting,” and it certainly was, but while the topic was of interest, the actual information wasn’t novel. Perhaps “most applicable” would be, well…most applicable in this case.

There were other speakers on evaluating usability, but the meat of the session was Karen Calhoun’s presentation of OCLC’s latest research report, Online Catalogs: What Users and Librarians Want. If you haven’t read it, stop what you’re doing and go right now. It’s not long and it has lots of pretty charts and graphs. Every cataloger and anyone remotely involved with cataloging or catalog systems and interfaces needs to read this. You can come back to this post later, when you’re done. I can wait. It’ll still be here.

I love and hate this report at the same time. I love that someone finally did some research about what end users want from an online catalog. I hate that someone had to spend time and money to discover that “end users want to be able to do a simple Google-like search and get results that exactly match what they expect to find.” Ya think? Pardon my French, but no sh*t, Sherlock. On the other hand, I love that hard data now exists that validates that exact point–a point I’ve been making ever since I started down the cataloging path.

We’ve suspected this for a long time. Now we have data to back it up. Maybe now we can finally start moving away from clunky, cluttered online interfaces with strict, unfamiliar terms and irrelevant metadata and move towards something more user-friendly that contains information that patrons actually use.

{July 6, 2009}   First, do no harm



Wow. You want your paying customers to do your work for you, and then you imply that they are possibly too ignorant or too malicious to do the work? Go OCLC. That’s some nice customer relations there. I’m sure they “meant no harm,” but reading that warning message upon login day after day really puts a negative taste in my mouth. If OCLC wants it done their way, then they should do it themselves, or hire people to do it for them. If they are truly interested in supporting the evolution of cataloging through community efforts (as they claim), then they need to be open to the idea that evolution will require some change, and that some deviation from the traditional methods might actually not “harm,” but improve.

BTW, OCLC: it never in a million years would have occurred to me to do any harm, until I read that message. Thanks for putting the idea in my head.


And as an aside, I doubly hate seeing that message since (as you can see from the screenshot) we’re only CatExpress users, and therefore couldn’t participate even if we wanted to. Seems like the software should be able to determine my level upon login and only show me messages that apply to me or my institution. Just another chink in OCLC’s technological advancement armor–personally, I’d be skeptical to invest faith in technological advancement in any company that apparently can’t manipulate something like user accounts and login creditionals. Just saying.

{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…

{February 19, 2009}   Facebook or OCLC? Perhaps both.

I was going to write up a little ditty about how Facebook’s recent change to the Terms of Service seemed to eerily parallel the changes in OCLC’s Record Use Policy, but it seems like Steve Lawson has already done it for me. I don’t think I could say it any better.

s1525700367_30196467_9281What’s interesting to me is how fast the Facebook retaliation started, and how quickly it was addressed (to the extent it was addressed, anyway). In less than 24 hours, everyone on Facebook heard the news about the TOS changes, and everyone was all hot & bothered by them, posting status updates and alerts, removing content, joining protest groups and even uploading blank profile photos with the message “This is in protest of Facebook’s Terms of Service.” In contrast, when OCLC announced their policy changes, I saw some blog posts and listserv messages, but I didn’t see anyone remove records from OCLC.

Facebook is in the public spotlight. Almost everyone in my demographic is a member. Heck, even my sixtysomething aunts and uncles are on Facebook, connecting with their families. Or, if not, they’ve at least heard about it and know what it is. I can’t say the same for OCLC. Some librariansI know don’t even know what OCLC is.

But here’s what I’m thinking, and what I wanted to write: everyone I can think of on Facebook has, at some point or another, used a library. School, public, academic, it doesn’t matter. Sometime in their studies or career or family life, they’ve checked out a book. So each and every one of those people on Facebook who were so up in arms about the TOS change has been touched by OCLC (where do you think the bibliographic records for those library books came from)? This isn’t something that only affects a few select catalogers. OCLC’s policy changes affect every library user, everywhere. If we can make those Facebook users see the parallels, and raise as much of a stink about OCLC as they did two days ago for Facebook, we might just have a chance.

{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.

{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