Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Best (Worst?) Meeting Ever

I just came back from a meeting about how to implement PREMIS in our institutional repository. We've been working on how to implement PREMIS for months. The result of this meeting was: we don't need PREMIS.

So was this the best or worst meeting in history?

The case for "best meeting":
We came to the conclusion that while PREMIS is probably very good for some things, in this case it wouldn't be capturing anything that we aren't already capturing in some other way. Thus, we don't need to add work for ourselves just for the sake of a standard. Verdict: SUPER productive meeting where we didn't make unnecessary work.

The case for "worst meeting":
We started out the meeting not using PREMIS, and we ended the same meeting, 1.5 hours later, still not using PREMIS. It took us 90 minutes to decide that we should keep doing what we're doing. Verdict: Ridiculous that we took that long to hash this out.

Monday, August 18, 2008

S56 is Singh

I have been cataloging a lot of books by Indian authors lately. So many in fact that I now know the cutter code for the last name Singh by heart. BY HEART, PEOPLE.

Luckily I am in the home stretch, the last two books of the 40-odd that I have been set to original-catalog.

It says something about the things I get assigned to catalog that I do not know the cutter code for Smith or Johnson or Baker. Nope. No idea. However, I now know Singh and I also know Werner (W47). There are a lot of German authors named Werner.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Card Catalogs

Have you ever noticed how the paper card catalog has become a kind of badge of honor among librarians? "When I worked with paper card catalogs" is like a golden stamp that means you are intellectually untouchable. You know All.

When I was in library school, all the professors assumed none of us had ever worked with paper catalogs. Sure, we'd used them until we were 15 or so, but we'd never really WORKED with them. We were but babes in the metaphorical woods of TRUE library work.

Of course, I had worked with paper card catalogs, in college of all places. I worked in an archive, and we weren't part of the ILS, so we used paper. I learned how to type out main entry cards, and what spacing, punctuation, etc. to use, and how far to scroll down on the card before putting the other terms on the back, and how to file cards (those metal rods really threw me for a loop for about 15 minutes until I figured out how to pop them out).

But I think that working with the paper shouldn't be such a badge of honor anymore. Working with the paper sucked, yes, but was it really such back-breaking work that we all should wish we could repeat it so that we can all "know" the hardship of working with typewriters and small index cards that inspire paper cuts just by being within 50 feet of a human being? I say no, and thank Goodness that we now have computers and databases to help us avoid such atrocities.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Finnish archives

Sometimes I come across books that make me very painfully aware of how little I know about archival theory. Today, that lesson was hit home when I had a book called "Records, Rules, and Speech Acts" come across my desk. It's by a Finnish archivist, Pekka Henttonen (a guy, by the way, for all of you Indo-European speakers who think that girls' names end in A).

The introduction was worth my reading (even though I'm really just cataloging the thing) because Hentonnen raised an interesting question: how do we define records, both positively (records are x) and negatively (records are NOT y). I have no idea how we define records, although I bet Hentonnen tells me by the end of this book, and somehow ties it into speech act theory, which he references in the summary, and is a linguistic theory about how saying something is doing something (example: I now pronounce you man and wife). How he connects the two, I have no idea, but I bet it's interesting. I hope that I can check this book out soon and try to plow through it.

Of course, the novelty of this archival theory book is that it's written by a Finn. Hello? Finnish people are exotic. He kindly includes some translations of terms like "records management" (asiakirjahallinto) and "archives formation plan" (arkistonmuodostussuunnitelma), which of course I just find fascinating because I'm three years old and different languages are weird and cool.

The descriptions of Finnish archival practice are really the best part, though, because they seem so modern and advanced to my North American archivally-trained brain: records management and archives are ONE profession, and these people take control of the documents throughout the life cycle. Hentonnen quotes J. Kilkki (another Finn, I believe) :"in Finland, archival fonds are not viewed from present to past, as something that is, they are viewed from present to future, as something that becomes. The accumulation of records into files, files into series, series in sub-fonds and sub-fonds into the archival fond of a records creator are all determined in advance, before the records are even created."

Does that sound like Archival Utopia to anyone else? Is Finland a magic land where archives make sense? I want to visit.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Power of Naivete

A person (who is very nice, I'm sure) just posted on Autocat asking what skills one must possess so that one might be proficient in "installing, developing, customizing, adding records, and maintaining" Greenstone or Dspace.
I just sat here for about 20 seconds, staring at her request. Um....the skill of Knowing Perl? The skill of being able to work around the 1,000 minute details that each of these programs will require you to know and fear in order to do anything at all?
I almost don't want to say anything at all, for fear of turning her off to digital repositories (I almost typed "digital repopsicles" there). Who am I to judge someone who wants to learn about these programs? Well, I'm one who came to digital library software much in the way that this gentle soul did:
"I'm fluent in HTML and I've digitized things into image or PDF formats; I've also used optical character recognition software with scanners. I've attended metadata workshops (but need to work on getting up to speed with XML)."
Little does she know. Granted, I used Greenstone back in 2004, when it was probably a lot more of a nightmare. I had all of the same skills as above, and it prepared me not even a little for Greenstone. We use Dspace here, now, and I know that our Dspace programmer is literally backed into a corner with all the customizing work that's thrown at him (in fact, I think we're hiring a new programmer soon because of it). So my experience with both programs has been....mediocre at best.
I guess this is the problem with the digital world generally--you have to just jump into the pool and fail a lot in order to eventually succeed in getting your digital stuff organized and available. I'm sure the trying will make this person a better computer person, and a better librarian. I know that working with Greenstone helped me see what a lot of effort goes on to create a "pretty" and "useable" search interface/database.
But man, it sucks to get there.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Another new thing

I'm mostly a cataloger, and sometimes I'm an archivist, and I'm always into structuring organization. And now, let's add to the list: marketing/training.


Yes. I've been put on a team to write manuals, set up trainings on new search tools, and set up usability testing. We're getting one of those new-fangled research discovery tools and I'm apparently going to be part of the implementation, because my "skills" would be useful. I know I shouldn't deride myself, but honestly and truly, even though I'm excited as hell to be included on this, I know nothing about usability testing or training.
I do know something about writing procedures and manuals, though (I've rewritten the procedures and policies at every job I've ever done)....maybe they'll let me take a stab at that. Subtext: please don't make me do statistical analyses. That will end in heartache for everyone.
"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.