From the catalogs of babes











{December 4, 2009}   3rd time’s the charm(?)

As if the other instances of fame this week weren’t enough, this blog has also apparently been citied in the recent issue of Cataloging & Classification Quarterly (Issue 8, 2009).  It’s in a new(?) column(?) called “Cataloging Blogs.” Thanks to David of Catalogablog for pointing it out to me.

It’s under the “Research and Opinion” section, as well it should be, as the tone of the piece seems quite a bit opinionated against blogs to me. I’m not sure if that’s really there or something I’m reading into it. I almost wish it was a reviewed piece instead. I confess I’m a little disappointed to see this piece given the green light for inclusion in CCQ.

Had the piece been reviewed, maybe there wouldn’t have been typos in both the title of my blog (the article calls it “From the catalog of babes” when it is in fact “From the catalogs of babes”) and the description (“An unfashionable cataloger takes on the fashion library” vs. the correct “An unfashionable cataloger takes on a fashion library”). Not to mention the repeated references to “Technocrati”–it’s Technorati, folks. Yeah, I know, these are really minor errors. But I am, after all, a cataloger–it’s my job to notice these differences. What if this were the transcription of a book title in a bibliographic record? I’d like to think someone affiliated with cataloging would have a little more attention to detail. The typo in the title bothers me more than the description, because the URL for the blog includes the “s” in “catalogs.” (Thankfully, the URL is correct in the list provided.) I’m a little surprised (and, I admit, disappointed) that these errors slipped through the publication process, of a traditionally respectable peer-reviewed journal about cataloging, no less. These omissions and misrepresentations lend an air of misinformation and prejudice to this piece that lower the journal’s claim to preeminent scholarly publication in the field.

But it’s more than just the typos that bother me. I feel like the author (who is not listed, so I can’t tell if it’s  Mary Curran or someone else)is trying to hold me up as a young person who still chooses old technology.

One of the newest cataloging blogs on the block, From the catalog [sic] of babes, started in December 2008 by a recent MLIS graduate seems to suggest that even young catalogers continue subscribing to AUTOCAT and other cataloging listservs and read them along with cataloguing blog posts.

But if the author had read back though my blog, he or she would see that I severely dislike the listerv format utilized by AUTOCAT et. al., and that I rarely actually read or contribute. Since I published that post, I’m excited to see good use of Twitter for instantaneous cataloging q & a and I think it’s only a matter of time before a major migration to better, easier, more-user-friendly technologies occurs. The author also cites an “in your face” factor as a reason people might prefer listservs over blogs, but that’s exactly one reason why I prefer blogs. He or she only seems to describe this as a negative feature, when I actually find it useful and beneficial to read articles and writings when and where I choose, rather than be forced to constantly recon with them in my inbox. Again, as I said in my post linked above, I think it comes down to each person’s personal preference, and systems should let the user choose his or her preferred method of delivery and access, a metaphor not unanalagous to libraries at large.

The author states that “AUTOCAT and the specialist cataloging listservs have become the authoritative sites to publish cataloguing news, studies, events, etc.” I’d like to emphasize the words “have become.” They didn’t start out that way, and they didn’t get to that position overnight, and neither will blogs. The author is looking at a mere two years of blogs (since 2007) which cannot hope to compare to the years AUTOCAT and other listservs have had to evolve into the authoritative resources they are today. The author also states (sans cites or statistics) that “repetition is more notable in blogs than it is with listserv cross-postings,” which is counter to my own personal observations at least–I see much more crossposting between AUTOCAT, RADCAT, and NGC4LIB than I ever do on all the cataloging blogs I read (43, btw, and that doesn’t count more general library blogs that also include cataloging topics). In fact, I’d venture to say that blogs are inclined to be less repetitive because of the very “personal rumination and occasionally ranting and whining” that the author disparages. To me, that’s what makes blogs unique and interesting, and very different from one to the next.

The author also assumes a “generational issue” in preferring blogs over listervs, and seems to assume that because I received my MLIS recently in 2008 that I am one of those new-fangled young librarians. But at this point, I ain’t that young anymore, in terms of generations. I’m not Generation Y. I am not a millennial. Nor am I a digital native, although I did grow up with technology moreso than many of my educational peers simply becuase my parents were both heavily interested and invested in technology and computers. But I remember learning cursive handwriting and sending letters to pen pals via “snailmail” before that term even exisited. I used typewriters and even wrote some school essays on college-rule paper with black pens. I remember a time before email and cell phones, maybe not as long as some others in the profession, but I didn’t grow up exposed to them like many current youth entering the profession. I was around when listservs were first new and the best technology around for the job. But I’m also around now, for new and improved technologies. And I’m not one of those young whippersnappers who went to grad school straight after finishing my BA. While I’m certainly not “old guard,” I spent 5 years in retail books and 4 years doing graphic design before it even occurred to me to consider libraries as a place to work, much less as a career. I’m proud to say that much of the insights I gained through both those areas of employment experience color my views on libraries, cataloging, and findability. I’m new to libraries, but not to user experiences.

I respect the author’s opinions and I certainly won’t complain about the exposure. I’m not even sure why an author so seemingly set against the value of blogs would bother to write such a piece. But regardless of the author’s motivations, I am glad to see blogs starting to be taken a little more seriously as professional resources and literature. So yeah, I’m glad for the citation, but I’m also thankful it’s only an opinion piece. Because we all know what they say about opinions…everybody has one. Sometimes I’m even known to have more than my share.



{April 21, 2009}   easy to be hard

Lately there’s been a resurgence on RADCAT, the “radical catalogers” mailing list. It’s good, as that list is generally pretty quiet, and the encouragement of introductions and discussions has stimulated conversation and participation. It’s bad, though, too, as that list is generally pretty quiet, and the encouragement of introductions and discussions has stimulated conversation and participation.

What I meant to say by that: I subscribe to a number of library listservs and mailing lists, as well as blogs, message boards, project wikis, etc. My inbox, my Google Reader, my bookmarks, my LiveJournal friends page, are all full of stuff I want to not only read but comment on and participate in every single day. There’s a wealth of good information, help, and support there, but sometimes I honestly fear opening my inbox after being sick for a day or two. The amount of information overload (a recurring theme in today’s world) makes me wonder which is worse–spending hours and hours sifting through it all, or just simply hitting the delete key and chance missing out on something important?

In an attempt to be more organized and efficient, I choose to subscribe to listservs such as RADCAT, AUTOCAT, etc., in digest form. I’ve had some suggestions on how to read the list on the web, which does seem to satisfy some users, but I personally don’t care for it.  So I get all the day’s messages delivered in one (supposedly) convenient email.  However, it’s not so much that I find it convenient, but rather it’s the least inconvenientof the current options available to me.  It’s long; and repetitive where people don’t delete the entirely of the messages to which they are replying; discussions aren’t threaded; and formatting from all sorts of email clients literally makes reading the emails difficult, as many of them come across garbled with code. There is a vast chasm between “convenient” and “least inconvenient,” between “easy” and “less hard.” I really wish I had a better way of filtering and organizing this information. As part of the recent RADCAT discussion, I mused that I would probably participate more if my participation interface was more user-friendly, even going so far as to say “let me know when I can subscribe to the list in Google Reader.”

Which made me think: why isn’tit? Is there any reason, besides continuity’s sake, that these groups have not moved on to harness a more current–and, in my opinion, a potentially more flexible and powerful–technology?

 For instance, AUTOCAT is peppered with posts containing cataloging questions: questions about using AACR2r, LCSH, MARC, etc. A couple of my previous posts about LCSH subdivisions would not be out of place on AUTOCAT. So why didn’t I post them there? Because to get an answer, I would have had to wade through unorganized and unstructured replies–some to me, some to the list itself, some replies to responses on the list itself…it’s just physically hard for me to read and follow. All I wanted was a quick answer to a quick question–‘can I subdivide “Trade shows” by industry?’ A simple “yes” or “no” was all I wanted. It struck me that a brief, direct question requiring a short, immediate answer, might be better served by a technology that was designed for short bursts of immediate communication. Now, I confess, I haven’t been much of a Twitter fan since it’s inception, but that’s because I never saw much practical use for it. Now I think I might. How great would it be to Tweet “anyone know the 040 for Italian?” and receive a real-time reply, without having to log in to email and scroll through numerous messages to find the answer. I know when I am sitting there with the book in my hand, in the middle of cataloging, I don’t want to put it aside and wait to finish when I might get an answer the next day (if I get one at all). How much more efficient might our cataloging be if we could receive quicker responses like this? Of course, Twitter doesn’t supply the ability for longer, more complex conversations, which are inherently necessary when talking about cataloging, but there are other technologies for that.

Like the recent flurry of activity on RADCAT: all these introductions are nice, but after a week or so, they’ve been archived in the depth of the list with no easy, instant way to refer back to them. What happens when I’m reading a message several months from now and want to revisit the author’s introduction to learn more about where they’re coming from? Gee, wouldn’t it be great if there was some technology out there where a person could have a page about him- or herself, and I could easily click on that person’s name and be taken to a profile, a page that told more about them, their introduction and background, what kinds of libraries they worked in, what other interests they might have? And Facebook has the capability for group pages and discussions, potentially allow people who wanted to participate in a 9/11 conspiracy debate to do so while others could talk about authority control on Ravelry.

The key word here is “easy.” The listservs, in my opinion, are not easy. I almost hate to say it, but Facebook and Twitter are. (Even my 70+ year-old aunt is on Facebook, and she is far from what I would call tech-savvy.) They are designed to be easy to use, because that gets them more users, and therefore more eyes viewing ads, and therefore more $$.  And it works–Facebook has 200 million active users. It’s not that this technology is “new” or “shiny” or “buzzworthy” or “cool.”  It’s that it’s easy to use for what people want to use it for, so they use it. It’s using the right tool for the right job. Technology too succumbs to the survival of the fittest. People will use what they find easy and pass on what they don’t: is anyone out there still running DOS? No, because something better, more powerful, and more user-friendly came along.

Now, everyone’s idea of easy will differ. Some people are not only content with listservs but prefer them. And that’s fine. What’s not fine is the inability for users to choose through which interface they prefer to interact. Wasn’t that part of the whole glory of Web 2.0? That we could make content independent of formatting, so that the user could view it in whatever format they preferred?

Whatever it is, we need to stop locking our content away in these outdated technology platforms. As technology evolves, we need to evolve as well. These listservs are a great concrete example. But I think they’re also a great analogy for libraries in general, and especially for cataloging. Whay are we still using the same difficult tools, rules, workflows, and softwares? Continuity can only carry us so far. Why are we fighting against technology and evolution, instead of using it to improve not only our jobs but our patrons’ experiences? And why do we continue to insist on making cataloging hard?



et cetera