Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bibliographic Control: a myth or a reality?

One of my library friends today asked the question: Did you read the Final Report of the Bibliographic Control Working Group?
Well, yes, of course, I answer. It's quite similar to what they said on November 13. Then we started talking about RDA. Gulp.

There is so much cynicism related to RDA, its appalling. Awhile ago I was thinking about how we adapt technology to "traditional" cataloging practice. The webcast from this committee had just gone up a week before, so EVERYONE was clamoring about how RDA is going to die, blah blah. But the people in blog-o-land are saying that there's no way RDA is going to be shelved, because ALA and LC are dying for the revenues that will be generated by selling it to every cataloger from here to Bangkok. So people are speculating that it will continue forward, even though there's very little practice to back up FRBR. I think it's a straight-up mess. I also think that the powers-that-be are underestimating the ability of catalogers to totally ignore new standards. I think that if RDA sucks, people will just ignore it. Which I think is TERRIBLE, by the way, because it just entrenches AACRII even more, and AACR is horrible (cataloging based on CARDS?! Are you kidding me?).

One of our other library friends jumped into the mix, as well. She's a librarian, and she's in library school. Obviously, talking about the Working Group leads to talking about the state of cataloging education in the graduate schools. If you're wondering, the state is abysmal. While cataloging practice might be taught, cataloging theory is really not. As one of them pointed out, the Working Group says that we need more bibliographic control classes, but where are you going to find the faculty that will teach such a class?

In short, we all agreed we need to go get our PhDs and change the world.

Friday, January 25, 2008


For anyone who isn't a Horizon customer who might read this blog, I feel like it's my duty to keep you informed on what's happening in SirsiDynix Land. And there are a couple new things to report.
First, SirsiDynix is having a SuperConference! This SuperConference! will have both Unicorn users and Horizon users. I assume they're doing this because the two groups have already been meeting together for some time, and SD must feel as least a little left out. Here's the skinny on the SuperConference!:

"SirsiDynix SuperConference 2008 will offer many unique opportunities for learning about current and future technologies, including SirsiDynix Unicorn and Symphony and a range of add-on solutions. There will be high-quality, informative user presentations, SirsiDynix presentations, and vendor exhibits.

Don't miss your chance to connect during meals, no-conflict breaks, and after hours with nearly 900 of your colleagues and the SirsiDynix team members you regularly interact with."

See? I think they want to get on the joint-meeting bandwagon.

Of course, meanwhile, at ALA midwinter, the two groups got together. They've been doing this for awhile now. Nothing too shocking came out of the ALA joint meeting, but I always think its good when people can subvert the "system" and make change on their own. One interesting thing is that the CODI group (the Horizon user group) will probably take over the hosting of the new Symphoney listserv in 2008.
And they want to start a mentoring program for people who want to move over to Symphony. I wonder if this will entail pairing people from Unicorn (mentor) with people from Horizon (mentee).
There was also a push to see if the products which worked with Horizon will continue to work with Symphony. There's apparently going to be a survey taken of users to see which products we use.
It's interesting, isn't it, that SD hasn't already told us which ones will work? I kind of wonder if none of them work--Horizon and Symphony seem to be very different products.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Cataloging Service Bulletin

I got the Cataloging Service Bulletin today. And I just have to ask, does anyone really read that thing? I get it, look at the table of contents on the front page, grow disheartened that there are 58 pages of LC rule interpretations and four pages of revised LCSH, and I just want to kind of hide myself and then hide this bulletin in a binder and never look at it again. It's as if the bulletin were made specifically to make me feel like a lax cataloger.

God, I bet there's a moral in here somewhere, isn't there? About putting off today what you can put into a basket with eggs in it tomorrow or something.

Although it is nice to see that rule 2.12-2.18 (early printed monographs) is going away, and LC is passing all the rules to the new Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Materials (which is on order).

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Client Care for SirsiDynix

I haven't talked about this, mostly because I hadn't visited the site yet, but the old Dynix "customer care" website is in the process of switching over to the Client Care Portal. This is a joint client care website for both Unicorn and Horizon. I assume it's in place to get ready for Symphony. But it has this great added benefit to any Horizon customer (and Unicorn customer, too, I imagine), which is that you get to see how Unicorn works (and thus how Horizon works). Unicorn uses "patch clusters" instead of what we just called "updates" in Horizon, and I can get overviews of various Unicorn modules and such. I can see known issues with Unicorn, read white papers about the modules, etc.
I mean, granted, its all basically marketing nonsense, or things that I could find out very easily if I solicited some brochures and whatnot, but since traditionally, Horizon and Unicorn users weren't allowed to connect at all through the company, its very nice to see the other side. I know, I know: I'm saying something nice about SirsiDynix! It feels weird to me, too.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Thank you, Carnegie Mellon

One of my friends showed this to me on another website, where it was called "The Worst Game Ever. Seriously." I, however, LOVE this game!

Carnegie Mellon Library Shelving Game

The "serious" researcher

"...All books are written to express man's ideas and libraries are formed because other men wish to read and study those ideas. The cataloger's main business to make the collection of books and materials accessible to all who have a legitimate claim on its resources."--ALA Cataloging rules, 1949.

One of the old cataloging manuals here at the university has that quote on the very front page; a reminder of the goals of a cataloger. Considering that even in the 1950s, the department used students to do the cataloging work, its very interesting what this quote represents. The cataloger who put that in there wanted to give his workers a sense of the purpose of cataloging, not just the drudgery of filing catalog cards. "men wish to read and study": yes, that's why we're here. To serve them.

Ah, but now the tricky part comes in! The cataloger is supposed to serve "all who have a legitimate claim on its resources."
In the research I've been doing on early-20th century libraries, this idea of legitimacy comes up all the time. In 1930s statistics for one special library, the librarian only reports the statistics of "serious" researchers. He never defines what that means, of course, so I am left to speculate wildly on what that might mean. What constitutes serious research? Is an undergraduate student "serious"? In other words, does this 20-year-old have a "legitimate" claim on resources?
While I suppose that when I was 18, I was hardly worth any librarian's time, I do like to snuggle myself to sleep at night thinking that librarians are no longer like this. We no longer assign value judgments to our users' intentions or skill level. But guess what? I totally did that JUST YESTERDAY.
To set the stage: one of our reference librarians called me up, and asked me to come out to the desk. She asked me to put on my "archivist" hat. So out I come, and she shows me what she's been working on. It's a "currency" progression (currency as in whether or not something is out-of-date, not whether you can spend it), and archives of course falls to the back of the pack. Then she shows me a "reliability" progression, and archives are just one step up from gossip! I am taken aback. We discuss this for some time, and it becomes clear that all she's trying to do is help the students understand how subjective archival materials can be, especially when they are manuscripts. But what about business records! I want to shout. Anyway, I think over the problem, and we talk some more, and we decide to remove archives entirely from both of her progressions. Why? Because these students that she will talk to, because they are not as advanced as we great librarians, will be confused and will make bad value judgments on archives if we leave it in the list.
Who am I to say that all of these students are idiots? Or worse, uncaring of their ignorance? Surely they would like to learn all about archives? Or am I just superimposing my own love of archives onto them?
I don't know where I meant to be going with this, but it troubles me that while I talk about how "backwards" librarians used to be, with their notions of the serious or un-serious researcher, I myself make value judgments on our users all the time.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Clash of the Titans

We had a meeting the other day. It was me, my boss, and 4 people from the IT department. We had come together to talk about the library system, and where we are going from here. We talked for about 15 minutes about where Horizon was going, since the IT department is generally out of the loop on that, and about the update (7.4.1), and about Aquabrowser, and then we got into the list of ILSes I had emailed to them.
And then wham!
No, didn't get hit by a bus. Rather, one of the IT guys says "ok, I just have to ask--what does 'acquisitions' mean?"
So I metaphorically took him by the hand and explained how a book moves through the library. I've always thought that was the easiest way to explain how an ILS works. He gets all that; most people get library workflow pretty quickly, because hey, we've all used libraries since we were knee-high to a grasshopper. But then I said "and there's one other module--serials."
Looks of total vapidity took over their faces. It didn't take over my boss's face, of course, since he is a librarian and knows all about such things.
And I have a moment of small panic: how do I explain the chaos that is serials? The name changes, the embargoes, the missed invoices, the backlog, the missing issues, the theft? Luckily my boss saved me, in a way, by saying that most serials modules for ILSes have never worked adequately enough for a serials department to completely forego their old paper-based systems. That seemed to appease the IT people.
The things that people don't know about libraries.....I never really thought that we had a seedy underbelly, but trying to explain the workings of even our own well-oiled and well-run library makes my head hurt.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Horizon v. Evergreen

I cannot wait to hear what this guy is going to say:


The "sundry"

The subtitle of my blog says that it is about books, technology and sundry. Well, consider this the sundry. I am trying to publish an article. I am an historian by training and inclination, and my article is historical, and it is about libraries. I have had a horrible issue with my "peers" in the peer-review process, and when I have talked about this problem with other scholars, they have all, without exception said, "yes, I had a problem like that once, too."
What is the deal, then? Why do we continue with this peer-review nonsense, if everyone agrees that it has some serious flaws? In my case, one of my readers turned out to be a person who has a very vested interest in seeing that I do not get published. I know this because the comments that this reader had about my paper were factually incorrect, bizarre, and very insulting. The editor of the journal apparently thought this was the case as well, since he personally called me to tell me that the article would now go to a third party, because one of my first readers was so off the charts with his comments.
But think, what if you were publishing some piece that was absolutely devastating to several scholars in your field, and they, being the "experts", were the one to review you? Your work is now essentially lost because everyone fears to be called out for mistakes or poor research or just oversight.
The thought that my own work could be shelved because of one person is terrifying; I can't imagine if my work was actually important.

This reminds me of Lemaitre. For those who do not know who Lemaitre was, he was a Catholic priest who was also a physicist, and who was the one to think of the Big Bang. He was a mathematician at heart, so most of his physics work was based on what the math would prove, as opposed to what he imagined. He and Einstein were pretty much on the opposite ends of the spectrum of physics research in this regard. Incidentally, Einstein believed that the universe was infinite, and static. And Lemaitre, because he kept insisting on something that Einstein said was not possible (ie, an expanding universe), was basically blackballed for a long time. Until Hubble made his discovery of the red-shift, in fact. Then all of the sudden, Lemaitre's work was validated and he was an overnight celebrity.
But he worked in isolation and without a lot of support for too long, just because someone who was supposedly the expert insisted he was wrong. To end the story on a high note, it is gratifying to know that eventually Einstein went up to Lemaitre and told him that he had been wrong, and that Lemaitre had always been right.

Monday, January 14, 2008


I didn't want to say anything, but users from both the Sirsi and Dynix servers have come to my page on several occassions. I think they're interested in the same arguments that interested Panlibus and DaveyP. Still, it freaks me out a little. I don't like seeing them pop up in my stat counter all the time.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Perceptions 2007

New survey out! I saw it on Dave Pattern's blog this morning. It's a survey on ILS customer satisfaction. Pretty relevant, right? You can find the survey here, as well as at DaveyP.
Well, the most interesting thing to me was the question about open source ILS. I think that they're coming up strong, and I think I've probably mentioned that before, although the time is rapidly approaching that I stop thinking about writing about the open source stuff and actually write about it. Anyway, the question was this:
How likely is it that this library would consider implementing an open source ILS?

I would answer: "OMG! It's TOTALLY likely!!" (if I were thirteen years old again, which thankfully I am not)

However, the responses from most of the people who responded to the survey were decidedly....lukewarm. Even among Horizon users, those most disgruntled species of ILS user, this received a 4.12 out of 9. Now, to be clear, Horizon people weren't the most interested in open source. Voyager users were. So....Voyager must be on a bad road, as well.

But that's not really the point of my story. I think the point is that people are still relatively afraid of open source, wary of its effectiveness. But really, what's there to fear? The bugs? That can't be it, since I run across bugs in Horizon all the time, and its been a system for what? 10 years now? Maybe its the support issue, but it takes very little research into open source systems to see that there are companies coming in to fill that need.
I don't know. But the overwhelmingly lukewarm response to open source ILS is sad to me, because it shows very clearly that libraries still aren't comfortable with making sweeping changes. Maybe this is just typical director-of-the-library-wariness, but it reflects to other people in the community when our library directors (or ILS administrators) show distrust of open source systems. And it doesn't reflect in a good way.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Francis Miksa

The FRBR Blog just posted up a thing on Fran Miksa. Follow the links and listen to him speak! I listened to him for quite awhile as my cataloging professor. Miksa is still the most coherent organizational theoritician I've ever heard (or read). For those who do not know, his father was an amateur mathematician, who worked for the phone company during the day and worked on magic squares at night (sounds very super-heroey, doesn't it?). Incidentally, his name was also Francis. Makes for some confusion at UT Austin, where the elder Miksa's papers are housed at the Center for American History.
Anyway, Fran Miksa's daughter Shawne is also a cataloging professor, at the University of North Texas. You can see the progression here? A family of like-minded people.
Miksa takes organizational theory to places that few catalogers dare to tread. I remember him talking about FRBR, not understanding half of what he said, but his passion for reform was palpable. It was one of the only times I've ever been excited about FRBR. He was also the first person I knew to condone subjective cataloging. One student in particular in my class would constantly ask "is this right?" whenever she made a decision about her cataloging. Finally Miksa told her that she should stop comparing herself to Job; God wouldn't strike her down just for making a call how whether to put in an added author or not. I believe that Miksa was also a seminarian.
Anyway, go listen to him. It's nice to see that Miksa is still getting the recognition that he truly deserves.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Medieval manuscripts and born-digital

Do you read Cataloging and Classification Quarterly? Well, I do. Sometimes there are really interesting articles like Joy Humphrey's this quarter--"Manuscripts and Metadata: Descriptive metadata in three manuscript catalogs: DigCIM, MALVINE, and Digital Scriptorium." (whew! long title, eh?)
Anyway, Humphrey makes an interesting point at the very beginning of the article about how difficult it is to digitize medieval manuscripts, and not just because they're old. Handwritten manuscripts are as valuable to researchers for their physical elements as for their content. Did the creator use different fonts, are there different authors within the manuscript, what kind of paper did they use, etc. etc. But when you digitize the manuscript and put it online, some or all of that data can get lost. There is simply no substitute for looking at the manuscript in person, if you're not as interested in content as you are in the item itself.
Which made me think a lot about born-digital materials, and how we may never see this kind of interest in the "who, what, where and why" of digital objects as we do in antiquities. I mean, most of the interest is in the content of born-digital objects, not their construction. We really care about construction when we're trying to access or migrate or emulate it. There aren't a lot of historians yet who say "remember when we were using LISP codes? Man, who were those guys? What kind of computers did they use?" There are some, but not a lot. Who will that breed of historian be? The ones who do digital archaeology and write papers about the look and feel of php databases, and who the creator was and what we can glean about them from their personal stamp on the information contained in the database. As databases and other born-digital objects become more and more the product of a community action, will the creator fall by the wayside? Will this type of diplomatics even be possible anymore?


Hey, I got cited. And not in a bad way, either.


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Horizon 7.4.1

"SirsiDynix would like our Horizon customers to know that we are committed to supporting our Horizon, Horizon Information Portal and Web Reporter products well into the future. We will continue to provide maintenance releases for these products for the next 4-6 years."

Yes, 7.4.1 is officially released. I guess that in October they started beta testing, which I think I heard about, and since all problems were resolved without incident, it's time to go full-bore with the update. And that's all it is; an update. Nothing fancy, just bug fixes, mostly. Although in addition to 7.4.1, there's a new portal, too. HIP 3.09/4.13. Which needs Java webstart. Have I ever talked about how much I dislike java? And yet here we go, using MORE of it. I know it's not Java's fault, and it used to be good, but seriously, it's not that reliable now and I always have one computer here that needs environmental variables manually changed in order to run Horizon successfully with Java. Lame. Of course, since Horizon uses Java 1.4.2, I suppose it's not like you have to use the newest version of Java or anything.
This post is a little ramble-y, but since there's literally no feedback from the listserv right now, I don't know what other people think about it. Only myself. I assume this update will fix some things and leave a lot of other things unfixed. Par for the course with most software companies.
"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.