From the catalogs of babes











{November 6, 2009}   heh.

I love the fact that ever since I posted an example from the table of contents from an art book listing painters and specific paintings that I thought people would look for, I’ve been getting hits to my blog from those search terms.

Dear keyword interweb searchers: thank you for helping to prove my point!

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We had another instance today of a patron searching for a title we hold that didn’t return in the search results. This time it wasn’t a student–it was the chair of the fashion design department.

She didn’t make a big deal out of it, blowing it off like it was a random typographical error, perhaps. Sometimes I wonder if it even occurs to patrons that it’s the catalog that’s broken, not them. When their catalog search doesn’t work, a lot of people walk away with the impression that they’ve done something wrong, when really it’s the fault of the catalog.

I worry about this building a cycle of poor self-esteem and confidence, especially considering that library anxiety is a documented issue. Not only might our patrons walking away without the resources they seek, but also without the belief that they are smart or skilled enough to find those resources in the first place.



{August 4, 2009}   I hate our catalog.

It’s pretty rare that I see a student searching for a specific title, but tonight a student came in looking for A Consumer’s Directory of Cosmetic Ingredients. I suggested using the catalog to see if we had the book.  I watched her type “a consumer’s dictionary of cosmetic ingredients” into the title search field, which gave the following results:

A contentious fraternity — The origins of American photography : from daguerreotype to dry-plate, 1839-1885. Davis, Keith F. Hall Family Foundation : In Association with the Nelson-Atkins Muse

A conversation with a designer and a photographer / Ted Muehling : a portrait. Freeman, Don. Rizzoli, 2008.

A crack in time / The downtown book : the New York art scene, 1974-1984. Princeton University Press, c2006.

Etc., etc. Nothing remotely close to the title she was seeking. The title was listed on a handout from her teacher, and the student said the teacher told her the book was in the library. Now I know that our teachers aren’t always the most accurate when transcribing titles or remembering where they found books, but it certainly seemed like a title we should have in our collection, since we buy just about everything in existence about cosmetic ingredients to support our beauty curriculum.

Even if we didn’t have that exact title, I thought another book with cosmetics ingredients might help the student. So I entered “cosmetics” and “ingredients” into the keyword search boxes (don’t even get me started on the rant about how it only works if each keyword is entered into a disparate box) and lo and behold, the second result in the list is

A consumer’s dictionary of cosmetic ingredients : complete information about the harmful and desirable ingredients found in cosmetics and cosmeceuticals. Winter, Ruth. Three Rivers Press, c2005.

I think maybe my eyes are crossing because it’s late so I check the title search again: entering “a consumer’s dictionary of cosmetic ingredients” gets me nothing. Entering “consumer’s dictionary of cosmetic ingredients” turns up the title. I figure maybe it’s a problem with the 245 second indicator, but I check it and it’s 2 just like it should be. So it’s not an indicator problem, but a stopword problem. A problem that’s been going on for who knows how long–probably the entire time this catalog has been in use. Which means that anyone who has ever searched for “The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion” or “A History of Interior Design” must think we are one sad & pathetic library that we don’t have two of the most popular, highly used resources in the school. And I’ll check tomorrow, but I’m not even sure anything can be done to change it.

Maybe you’re saying, why not just teach the student to drop the initial article when searching, like you and I were probably taught in school? Maybe I should have. But to be honest, I can’t see the point. A person should be able to enter the name of the book–as it appears on the resource–and return the correct result.

I know at this point, most catalogs can accommodate this, unlike our outdated software. We’re working on upgrading, but unfortunately those decisions aren’t entirely up to us. Maybe if the powers that be read this blog entry or saw this student–who did everything right and yet the library failed her–maybe they might be more inclined to help us move forward, instead of hobbling us with IT and budget issues like they have been for the past few years.

In the meantime, I find it incredibly hard to see the point in promoting the use of such a non-functional catalog at all. It makes me feel worthless, to waste my time inputting data into a tool that doesn’t even work. No wonder people don’t understand the point of my job–they can’t see the benefits of what I do if there are no benefits.



Once upon a time, late one night in the library, an instructor came in asking for “that book by Tony Duquette.”

Being the diligent reference desk staffer that I am, I dutifully type “Duquette, Tony,” into the author search field of our online catalog. The search returns one result, and so I answer affrimatively that indeed we do have a book by Tony Duquette, and write down the call number.

We walk to the section together and I pull the book for her. “No,” she says, “that’s not it. It’s a bigger book, and it’s sort of reddish, and it’s all about his life and work. It’s new. He just died, you know.”

Well, no, I didn’t know. Nor did I have any idea who Tony Duquette was, only that she asked me for a book by Tony Duquette. Since she had said it was a new book, I told her that we would of course look into ordering it and aquiring it as soon as possible.

Back at the desk, I look up Tony Duquette on Amazon. After reading the description of the first result, I learn that a) Tony Duquette died in 1999; and b) this retrospective was published in 2007; and c) despite those facts, it looks and sounds like the book the instructor was after.

The other interesting thing I learn is that the book is not in fact by Tony Duquette (not surprising, since he’s been dead for 10 years), but rather by a Wendy Goodman. It suddenly clicks, and I type “Tony Duquette” into the title search field of our OPAC, and lo and behold, there it is, it comes right up. Unfortunately, the instructor had already left the building.

So what’s the moral of this story? If our OPAC search fields were not limited to indexing specific fields like title, author, etc.–if the user didn’t know the difference between a book by Tony Duquette and about Tony Duquette (as was definitely the case here and certainly not limited to this example)–if the user could simply type in “Tony Duquette” and find books both by and about the artist–then maybe this debacle of unfulfillment wouldn’t have happened, and the instructor could have left with the book she wanted, instead of empty-handed.



et cetera