Friday, February 29, 2008

Like Jumping off a Cliff?

I've always known that there are multiple sources of information that a cataloger must be comfortable with in order to do their job. I use them every day. But reading through a list of them, or even better, trying to re-create my former setup of bookmarks and documentation, makes the whole thing seem quite daunting. Think about it: not only must you internalize the rules of AACRII, you must also internalize the variations that LC has decided upon over the years. Then you have to internalize how MARC functions both within and outside of those rules, and apply the metadata accordingly. And that's just for items that AACRII covers with regularity. Archival cataloging is barely mentioned, rare book cataloging (pre-1801) is literally not dealt with at all, and there are other books for almost all other formats. Don't even get me started on music. Or subject access.
Catalogers are so highly and specially trained, it's a wonder we get anything done at all. I read something once that said it takes, on average, 1.3 hours to catalog something from scratch. ON AVERAGE.
I have a friend who is thinking about applying for a job as a copy cataloger, and the sheer amount of knowledge that is implicit, even in copy cataloging, is pretty terrifying.
And yet, as I look out on this sea of standards for cataloging, and feel myself growing less and less sure of my own abilities in this job, one of the other original catalogers asks me a question today, and prefaces it with "In your vast experience with cataloging multiple formats, have you ever come across THIS before?"
Two things:

1. No. I have not come across this before.
2. Vast experience?

Then I think about it. I DO have vast experience in multiple formats, mostly because I kept getting myself into jobs where people just threw stuff at me and told me to catalog it. Maps, lithographs, books, archival collections, CDs, DVDs, lectures, speeches, photographs, postcards, I've described them all. And not to "date" myself, but I'm only 28. Surely someone here is eventually going to call me out at some point.
And really, I still don't feel comfortable cataloging all the time. Making the leap into using "cataloger's judgment" is scary as hell. Who's to say that I know what I'm doing?

And then I think about the famous words of Dr. Miksa--"God will not smite you if you make a mistake in cataloging." It's comforting, because eventually I think that all catalogers have to get over that fear of leaping. It's just information, after all.

Thursday, February 28, 2008


"The convenience of the user must be put before the ease of the cataloger."

Charles Cutter is a name that's pretty familiar to anyone who catalogs. That's his statement. I've written about users in relation to cataloging departments before, but it's always interesting to see a quote from Cutter in a book on metadata best practices. Mostly because I have this dim idea that librarians in the past weren't as user-centered as we are today.
I'm noticing, actually, that this new cataloging department I'm in isn't nearly as user-centered as I am personally. They are positively mesmerized by standards. The AACRII rules supreme here, it seems. Although I could be acting like the misguided newbie that I am...I haven't even been trained in their procedures yet. But I have this feeling that they are more involved with where colons go than I ever was. This should be good training for me, and hopefully my new supervisor means it when they say that I should review the institution's policies and procedures. I like standardization, don't get me wrong, but I also don't like to see something continued just because it's traditional practice. Users certainly don't care about my traditional practice, they just want to find their stuff.
I wish I could invite Charles Cutter to dinner sometime, and ask him what he thinks of all this practice that developed from Panizzi and from him. I like to think he'd throw down his monocle* in disgust.

*I don't know for sure that Cutter had a monocle. But that would be cool.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Workflows v. Horizon

Are you ready for this? I now have the old Unicorn version and the "new" Unicorn version on my desktop, simultaneously. The old one....I don't even know how to explain it. It's like a dinosaur version of an ILS. It has little radio buttons, but no mouse-over captions to help you understand what the little buttons do. It's one of those systems where, if you don't know what you're doing, you're not going to know what you're doing.
Ok, so fast forward to the "new" Unicorn. I put new in quotes because it's not really new; apparently this java-based platform has been around for a couple of years. But this institution just picked it up.
As a former Horizon user, I want to say, it's like Horizon's little brother or something. It just looks so much like Horizon's platform! Some differences, of course. No pretty picture when you open Unicorn, but it has drop down folders for each module, and while Unicorn (apparently) doesn't have hotkeys (although it might; I haven't been trained yet), there are "wizards" for each module that give you the shortcuts to actions for each module. It also calls Horizon's "bibs", "titles." Minor stuff, really. I am positive, of course, that the backend acts totally differently from Horizon, but it's interesting that they really ended up in similar places in terms of look and feel for the staff-end.
I think that Horizon users (like myself) would feel incredibly constrained by Unicorn, though. No SQL queries? No way to change the look and feel of each and every view? LAAMMME. But some of the views that Unicorn does provide are really neat. Like when you search in Workflows, you can get a little list of what you searched for, and you get a full view of each highlighted record underneath that list. You don't have to open a new window just to see the full record!
It's the little things, isn't it? More to come!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Crossroads of Unicorn and Horizon

I've crossed over to the dark side, you know. The Unicorn side of SirsiDynix. I am going to have so much to tell you all about the differences between old Unicorn (WorkFlows) and new Unicorn (the Java based version) and how different it is from Horizon... yep. Tomorrow I'm learning WorkFlows a little (old Unicorn look and feel), and after that I'm going to learn the Java platform of Unicorn (new look and feel). I've already talked to the Unicorn person a little, and she's from a III site in her last job, and she tells me that Unicorn is incapable of creating custom queries like III and Horizon can. I feel as if I'm at a nexus of ILSes, and sometime soon it's all going to become clear and the library universe will be laid out at my feet.

Or something.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

I Know What [Boys] Want

While reading the intrepid Cataloging and Classification Quarterly this quarter (which is an awesome one, by the way), I was intrigued by the first article, and the recapping of a report by Karen Calhoun (the recapping was done by Deanna Marcum). Two things really caught my eye.

Now, let's be fair; I didn't read Calhoun's report, because I was reading what Deanna thought of Karen's report. But it seems pretty fair, all things considered. Oh, but first, the title of the report is "The Changing Nature of the Catalog and its Integration with Other Discovery Tools."

So, moving along, I thought two things were interesting enough to make little comments in the margins.

The first thing that caught my eye was her assessment of the hurdles to expansion of library catalogs. Calhoun says that the obstacles to expansion are actually coming from the unwillingness of catalogers to change. Apparently we're resistant to simplifying cataloging procedures, and administrators have an "inability to base priorities on how users behave and what they want."

Ouch! We sound like Luddites.

The other thing that I found interesting was her analysis of Google's relation to cataloging. She sees a huge opportunity for things like Google Book to integrate catalogs with open Web discovery, but then says that "finding and obtaining items from library collections on the open Web is not a practical alternative for students and scholars."

I think this is hilarious. Now, I'm keeping firmly in mind that this report was written almost a full 2 years ago. However, I think most librarians probably still feel this way. That online search engines just couldn't possibly be good enough for users to find online books and such. But this is contradictory, because she just said up at the top that cataloging departments could really benefit from "simplifying" their cataloging. So we have to ask ourselves, do we really know what users will and will not use? Students especially will go to the ends of the digital Earth to find something online rather than physically walk into a library. It's like when I was starting college back in the late '90s, and the thought of using a paper periodical was like the most horrifying thing I could imagine. I would do anything to avoid making copies of dusty old bound periodicals.

So do we know what users want? Or do we just know what we think they want? Is this one those "father knows best" scenarios, where we deride new technology (again) while we continue to push our own ideas of what "searching" is supposed to be? It's discouraging that even the people who study the most about user behavior and organizational theory...are subject to their own biases about what constitutes "good" and "bad" and "real" search strategies. Our users will just push on without us, you know. And someday, even the Great and Powerful Google will be left in their dust.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

I'm too tired...

to think about writing. Instead, I just feel like sleeping for the next three days. I think I might have mono, but then I'm reminded of a famous quote from Wayne's World:

"One time I thought I had mono for an entire year. Turns out I was just really bored."

Well, I'm not bored....just so, so sleepy. Even reading the DCRM(B) is not making me feel more awake. I know! I thought rare books cataloging could solve all my problems, too. But apparently not.
"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.