From the catalogs of babes

Sing it with me: one of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t belong…

  • Bronze jewelry
  • Ceramic jewelry
  • Coral jewelry
  • Cut steel jewelry
  • Diamond jewelry
  • Garnet jewelry
  • Glass jewelry
  • Gold jewelry
  • Hairwork jewelry
  • Jade jewelry
  • Jadite jewelry
  • Paper jewelry
  • Paste jewelry
  • Pearl jewelry
  • Platinum jewelry
  • Shell jewelry
  • Silver jewelry
  • Textile jewelry
  • Turquoise jewelry
  • Wire jewelry
  • Wooden jewelry

Did you guess Paper jewelry? if so, you’re right!

Paper Jewellery

Why? Because paper jewelry is not an authorized Library of Congress subject heading.

It seems like it should be, right? I mean, there’s a clear pattern established for jewelry of different media types. So it seems like adding “Paper jewelry” should be a no-brainer. There’s plenty of literary warrant and everything.

So why isn’t it? Because suggesting and creating new subject headings is an involved, arduous process open to only certain members of the cataloging community. I don’t mean to be harsh, but I’m not sure how else to put it.

See, one needs to be a SACO member to submit a proposal for a new subject heading, or, if not a member, needs to “funnel” their proposals through an authorized member.  So it seems to me what it ends up boiling down to is not really what you know (either about a subject or about LCSH), but rather who you know, and what clubs you belong to.

A cataloger from a non-PCC participating institution who needs a subject heading not available in LCSH or an LC classification number not found in the LC schedules now has the following options available for sending forward a proposal to SACO. 1) Contact a nearby institution that is currently a PCC member and request to submit your new proposal through their contribution mechanism. The second alternative is for your institution to 2) explore entering into a SACO funnel cooperative project and make contributions through an active subject funnel.

I understand that SACO libraries and librarians undergo training in how to properly formulate subject headings, what constitutes literary warrant, and how to submit a proposed subject heading and guide it through the process of research and approval. And that’s great, and valuable and useful. And, imo, almost a complete waste of time and a shot in the foot for subject headings (and by extension, catalogers and library catalog users everywhere).

We’re not a SACO library, and I doubt we ever will be. I don’t currently know anyone or have connections with any library that could funnel suggested headings for us. Yet we’re one of only a few highly specialized fashion libraries in the country, which means we have an intimate and thorough knowledge of that subject area. Who better to create and modify new subject headings for fashion-related subjects? I know of other small, specialized libraries with significant subject knowledge to contribute that are in the same boat we are. Yet, rather than harnessing the specialty subject knowledge from these libraries, subject headings are created for these topics by libraries and librarians that may only have vague (and sometimes inaccurate) ideas about these topics, and not understand the depth of headings needed in some of some these collections.

Now, I’m not advocating that we do away with SACO and start creating headings all willy-nilly. Again, I think the standardization and coordination offered by SACO is a highly beneficial service for libraries. What I would like, however, is a more open process for proposing headings. (While I’m wishing, let’s make it less complicated and easier for the layperson to understand, too.) Let’s let libraries and librarians who might have the best backgrounds in specific areas propose headings like “Paper jewelry” and “Fashion styling” and let the trained SACO professionals approve or disapprove and adjust the headings to comply with standards if necessary. Lots more libraries could then contribute, and lots more needed headings would be added and in areas of specific subject need, which in turn would make more materials accessible to patrons.

ps> Any readers want to funnel “Paper jewelry” and/or “Fashion styling” for me? I even have the paperwork done on the latter, as I didn’t know you had to be a SACO member to submit until after I’d already done all the research…

As some of you know, I’ve been lobbying for quite a while for new ILS/catalog software for our  library. Lobbying hard, considering our current state. I feel like we’ve made some successful progress: we had a great library staff committee to evaluate potential commercial software packages, and once we decided on our top choice and presented it to the director and the administration, the response was positive. However, at approximately the same time, the world decided to have some sort of Giant Economic Crisis, and despite the fact that it may truly be an unnecessary precaution for our institution, all software budgets were frozen until the beginning of FY2010. Not to worry though—I’ve been assured it’s our #1 top priority the minute the 2010 budget opens up. But I’m not exactly holding my breath here. What can I say? I’m frustrated that this project—in the works for several years now, since shortly after I first began working here—might be put off yet again, not just because I’m annoyed by delays or buget frustrations, but because I can’t understand why something so intrinsic to improving patron experience and access success seems to be so inconsequential to the powers that be. So it goes.

While I’m perfectly satisfied with the out-of-the-box product we’ve chosen and I have no doubts it will more than fulfill our current needs, some part of my mind can’t help wonder what a catalog for our patrons might be like if we could design it ourselves, from scratch, to specifically meet our patrons’ unique needs, rather than settling for the best pre-made system that addresses most of them in a traditional library way. Because I’ve never quite been sold on the idea that a traditional “library catalog” interface would be the best discovery tool for our students.

I’ve thought about this on and off ever since the RFP was but a twinkle in my eye, but Karen Schneider’s post about the shift from the “librarian-centric” to “developer-centric” model brought it back to mind:

Librarians do bring terrific skills to the table. We have a strong service orientation. We are practical. We understand what these products must do, and we have a firm grasp on timelines and calendars. We also have an appreciation for order, governance, and transparency. But we simply don’t (yet) have the core competencies to do what we did one hundred years ago — design, build, and manage our own tools.  We lost our way several decades ago, and we need to acknowledge that we can’t get out of this forest on our own.

If I could sit down today and start from scratch, and not base the design on previous library catalogs, I have an idea for how I’d like our catalog to function. Instead of title/author/subject based searches and entries, I imagine a browseable subject hierarchy. The opening screen displays visual representations (i.e. images instead of and/or in addition to text) of maybe the top ten or so popular research subjects that hour, day, etc. There might be a Google-esque search box, not the focus of the screen but certainly available for those with more specific needs or interest in topics not readily apparent. But overall, a simple, clean, un-cluttered, uncomplicated design.

pencil sketch of an idea of a new catalog interface

Please excuse the poor quality of my sketches—just because I work at an arts-related library doesn’t make me an artist. :) My original plan was to jerryrig some screenshots and do some fancy Photoshop work, but I kept running out of time and putting if off, and finally decided that my crappy sketches got the idea across and were better than nothing. Sorry about the bleed-through, but I'm a proponent of recycled paper.

Clicking on a subject (either from the home screen or after a search) does not take the user directly to a list of materials, but rather an authority page for the subject. Not a library-jargoned authority file like an LC authority record, but more like a Wikipedia-esque page with some basic info about the subject. A basic biography, birth/death dates, what they are famous or known for if a personal subject (like, say, Christian Dior);  a brief definition or explanatory information for a topical subject, such as Art Deco. Beneath this brief info, the screen would offer materials results: books, articles, DVDs, images, and other references (links to designers’ websites, contact information for design companies, etc.).

sketch of new catalog interface--second level screen

I think the subject focus would appeal to our students, and a page design reminiscent of a familiar site like Wikipedia would ease use. I think it would be more in touch with our patron demographic, both in their information-seeking behavior and their technology literacy.

Apparently other people agree with me, too, because while I was spending time writing this entry and putting off sketching, I happened across this fantastic blog post about concept-oriented catalogs which shares some of the same ideas (right down to the Wikipedia analogy) as this post I’m writing now.

So why isn’t our library’s catalog like this?

Because I can’t build it. I’m a librarian, not a computer programmer. As many of us are, and, as Karen Schneider notes, to our own disadvantage. I can understand my patrons’ information needs and behavior, and I can figure out how to organize and present that information to them in a findable way. I know what to do, I just don’t know how to manifest it. How, then, can we take the next step, from concept to creation?

{February 18, 2010}   can a hotel have a biography?

Bib record for "Just Kids" by Patti Smith

Just wondering. Hotels seem like inanimate buildings to me, but what do I know?


{September 16, 2009}   technical topics

What, exactly, is a “technical topic”?  Such as in the following:

–Drawings [R S D]
Use as a form subdivision under technical topics for collections of drawings, plans, etc., on those topics.
Use as a topical subdivision under technical topics for the technique of making technical drawings on those topics, unless a separate heading for the technique has been provided.
NT –Designs and plans [R]

This subdivision is apparently only for use under “technical topics,” but nowhere can I find a definition or explanation of what LSCH thinks a “technical” topic is or which topics are considered “techncial”  and why.

I have a book of couture drawings by Yves Saint Laurent. From these instructions, I assume I can’t use “Yves Saint Laurent–Drawings.” I thought about “Fashion drawing–Drawings,” but a) the book really isn’t about drawing, and b) “Fashion drawing–Drawings” just sounds stupid. “Fashion design–Drawings” seems to be the best, but is “Fashion design” a technical topic? I mean, we would certainly say so here, but I’d sure be interested to know what the Library of Congress thinks.

et cetera