Thursday, May 29, 2008


I'm on quite a few listservs. The bulk of my email every day comes from listservs. I like them, in fact. They're like little snippets of the world outside of my office. But I have to say, I'm getting kind of tired of the archivists' listservs.
How many times can we rehash the same old argument about how digitizing something does not count as "preservation"? I mean, come ON. It happens like every other week--someone writes something about using digitization as a preservation method, and then 10 people jump on that person and tell them that it's not a viable preservation strategy.
I have two problems with the above scenario. One, the person who still thinks that digitization is going to solve their crumbling paper problem. Sit down and read something, anything, about preservation that was written in the past 3 years and you will read that digitization is not a miracle cure. In fact, it's more like giving up the common cold in favor of getting tuberculosis. Sure, your stuffy sinuses will clear up, but you'll have a hacking cough for the next 10 years, and end up in a sanitarium in Colorado.
The other problem I have is the 10 other people. Seriously, one person's response is enough. Do we all need to jump on the bandwagon and let everyone else know that we know what we are doing? As some very smart person said, "Don't ever miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut." I don't want those 10 self-congratulatory emails in my inbox. I don't really need even one of those emails, but I suppose someone has to tell the person who is considering contracting TB that they're about to get really sick.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Where I've Been

I've been really, really sick. That's where I've been. But now I am back at my desk, with my good keyboard and dual monitors, and things are looking better. No fever! No infections! No nausea!

It's the little things.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"The Really Obvious Stuff"

The other day, I'm sitting in a conference call, and we're talking about the creation of metadata for our big metadata project. And someone says "well, of course we won't be putting brackets around the supplied titles."
This stopped me in my note-taking tracks. We're not--what? What ELSE aren't we doing and why am I just now getting this sinking feeling in my stomach?
So I kind of keep quiet and ask my boss later, thinking that I'm just a silly new person who didn't realize that we're not doing this stuff according to AACRII. My boss comes back with "what??"
Hm. A conundrum. How did we get almost 8 months into this project without anyone knowing that we're not creating metadata according to AACRII rules?**
Well, very easily, in fact. It says quite explicitly in our metadata rules for the project that we're creating content by the DACS (Describing Archives: A Content Standard), and not by AACRII. Now, this makes perfect sense, because DACS is written with an eye towards machine-readable rules, and AACRII is written for cards. So things like brackets around supplied titles are fine when you're putting it on a card, but a database can't figure out that you didn't mean to include a bracket in the title, and will sort its indexes accordingly.
What this also means, though, as I found out in the meeting, is that we're not using abbreviations, or acronyms, except in cases of, and I quote "you know, the really obvious stuff."

I'm laughing right now, just typing it out again. "really obvious stuff"? Seriously, that's our rule? Is "cm" obvious? Is "Mr." obvious? What about "NJ", or "misc."? Man, I just laughed and laughed about this rule. And then I put my head down on my desk and cried.

I'm finding, more and more, that I'm banging my head against a brick wall just trying to explain to people that there is more to cataloging than just putting some random words down to describe an object. In fact, I also had a person say "how hard can it be to do subject analysis?" Holy Jesus, apparently a lot harder than you thought.

**While we are eight months in, we're just starting to create metadata, so this was actually a very opportune time to have this particular revelation.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Newsflash: libraries aren't cool

I want to explore an idea.

I've read about four blog posts in the past week that talk about how libraries are going to manage to keep our users "interested" in libraries (of course, there was also a nay-sayer who remarked "they're already uninterested"). We want to make our catalogs more like Amazon, encourage social tagging, et cetera et cetera. But WHY?

If we've already resigned ourselves to the idea that not everyone in the world, or even most people in the world, care about libraries, why are we fighting so hard? Libraries have never ever been for everyone. They've been for scholars, for researchers, for the rich (who, subsequently, have lots of free time to be scholars and researchers). Why is this a bad thing? Is it because we're disenfranchising people? Do the people feel disenfranchised when they're denied access to a college library? They already don't want to come in, but I suppose people feel like they just need to go somewhere when they're not allowed. So keeping all these libraries open to the public is probably only keeping people away. They'd be banging down the doors if they felt like their rights were being infringed upon and we were trying to keep them out.

Anyway, that's not my point, really. My point is that we're trying to make libraries the coolest place around, where everyone will flock and love books and reading. But libraries have NEVER been that way, and the majority of people have NEVER been that keen on reading. I feel like we're trying to make people think that the library is something it isn't. At the core, libraries are about providing knowledge to a group of people (be it the public or a select group). But as the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him read.

Why are we trying to be like Amazon? Because people like Amazon better than they like libraries? Is this a popularity contest? I've never really found Amazon's search interface any more efficient than anyone else's--but people like Amazon because it allows them to buy lots of useless junk for themselves. A library will never offer that kind of service. A library, even with a cool interface and lots of gadgets, will still just offer you books and multimedia, for 2 weeks. Sure it's free, but you still go to a library to LEARN. No one goes to Amazon to learn, they go there to shop.

I know that public libraries were started as a means of "educating" the people of the nation who were not "privileged" enough to get education on their own. But no one asked the people if they wanted it. And since all things are self-selecting, libraries will continue to have problems with attracting patrons because people self-select themselves out of going to the library, or learning, or being engaged in their world, or doing research. Knowing what's best for people isn't always enough to get them to come to the library. And I'm sorry to say, adding folksonomies and social tagging and bright lights and chat windows isn't really enough to get them to come to the library, either, because you can't play video games, shop, or eat food at the library.

Don't get me wrong, I know that libraries serve a very unique and important role in our world--the preservation of knowledge is one of the most needful things, especially in today's society where we throw everything away. And if we're going after new search strategies and technology for the pursuit of that knowledge, then I'm all for it. But...if we're pursuing this new technology just so that we can feel like we're "cool", then I think we're doing it for the wrong reasons, and in any case, that technology will probably fail to do what we want it to. I hate to break it to everyone, but libraries just aren't cool. Important, yes; cool, no.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

RDA and the Mystery of the Old Clock

So. RDA.

In case you didn't already know (and for my own memory later), there has been a lot of activity in the past week or so regarding RDA. Let's see, first LC, NLM, and NAL issued their statement about the Final Report from the Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control (you can read it here if you haven't read it yet; it's the only place I can find it all written out fully. Which is odd.). It's been a long time coming, but it was good to see it, I suppose. They're basically saying that RDA should get published first, so that a "systematic review" can be attempted. Ok. Yawn. Apparently the implementation of RDA into the Big Three won't happen before the end of 2009, and that's assuming that all the usability testing and whatnot go smoothly.

Also, a lot of vocabulary from RDA has been coming out. I have to be honest, I've doing a lot of actual work lately, and so haven't been paying much attention to the vocabulary lists. But you should go look at them if you have the desire and/or time.

(Sometimes I wonder if the reason that these new schemas and things come out at all is because librarians are far too busy with their actual jobs to be bothered with this kind of stuff. I think I wrote a long time ago about this. I don't see how anyone gets a job where their only responsibility is to go out and make up policy for other librarians. I can't imagine any job being like that. It sounds cool, though.)

Friday, May 02, 2008

If you read yesterday's post....

You should also read the comments from the Devil's Advocate post, because they are actually about the post on Unicorn. In fact, it's a comment from someone at SD, and my reply. FYI.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

More Talk about Unicorn

I hadn't been hearing much from the SirsiDynix world lately, but today, I heard a whole lot. My boss is on a committee to investigate new search portals to lay over top of our existing GL 3.1 (Unicorn) ILS, and just attended the Sirsi SuperConference. Here's what I learned today:

From my boss: Aquabrowser and Primo and even Encore are much better developed than Sirsi's search portal (which is called EPS, I believe). Although my boss thought that Sirsi doesn't have federated searching, from looking at their website I think that they do, it's just not bundled in with their portal. Which I think is really stupid. Although, in an effort to keep their customers from running to open source or other options, I think that people at SD are trying to scare their customers--my boss has it in their head that open source software usually has no support attached to it. When actually, lots of third-party vendors are starting to support open source. Seems like a scare tactic to me.

The other interesting thing is that we talked a lot about how SD is going to stop supporting the C client version of Unicorn at the end of 2009, and that means everyone needs to either get onto Unicorn Java client, or face the fact that they are going to be left without support. Makes sense. C client SUCKS.

And while listening to all this, my boss also said "They're changing the name of Unicorn to Symphony. But it's just a name change."
Finally, real confirmation that Symphony is not the "blended model" that SD claimed it was to the Horizon users. I'm sure this is no surprise to any Horizon user anymore, but I do think it's interesting that Sirsi customers are getting all this comforting talk about how it's not changing at all, and Horizon customers were getting all this comforting talk about how Symphony is going to be great for them and how it ISN'T Unicorn (when many Horizon customers didn't get Unicorn for very specific reasons).

So anyway, thought I'd put all this information out into the interwebs. Fly free, little information!
"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.