Monday, July 21, 2008


This is just a short post, to give us all something to think about. I don't know if this is true, but when Joel Hahn tells me something over Autocat, I believe him. Silly of me, I know. Anyway, there's this huge discussion going on about how they're getting rid of the 440 series field, and Joel says (and I quote):

"...given the programming headaches using the 440 for both transcription and tracing
was causing with OCLC's controlling headings functionality (as, when the
authorized form changes, 440s can't just be automatically updated like
every other traced field can, whereas if every series were a 490/830
combo, then this field would work like every other entry field does when
it comes to applying authority control and changed headings), the
benefits to programming and the ease of teaching new catalogers how to
handle what currently is an exceptional case make this worth the
duplication (which won't be true duplication as far as some ILSs are
concerned, as they never did index the 490 and often don't display the

Um, I'm sorry, are we changing the way we catalog because it doesn't work with OCLC? If we were changing it because it doesn't work intellectually, that's one thing. But we're going to change everything because this "private" company's database isn't built correctly? ARE YOU KIDDING ME, JOEL?

Ahem. Sorry. Food for thought. Incidentally, I'm not blaming Joel Hahn. He seems very nice.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Information literacy

I read The Impact of Digitizing Special Collections on Teaching and Scholarship by Merrilee Proffitt and Jennifer Schaffner.

It was good, I recommend anyone interested in the connections between special collections and users check it out. But it has this fatal flaw that made me, at the end of the article, just sigh. Why is it always the librarian's fault that faculty don't care about teaching their students to be researchers? Why do we have to make sure that we "don't embarrass" the faculty? I've never seen a faculty member go out of their way to keep from embarrassing a librarian (or anyone else, for that matter). I suppose I'm jaded, but it always gets me that we're supposed to treat PhDs like they're made of glass. Yes, I understand that we are a service industry, but in reality, so are teachers of all kinds. The quote from the faculty member at Temple, at the beginning of the article, was what really got me thinking--they said that it's a waste of time to teach information literacy. Really? What if I called it "research skills"? Would that make a difference?

The article didn't talk at all about how librarians might get faculty to start learning about research strategies to pass on to their own students. Maybe this is like the medical profession's problem: experienced doctors are unwilling to allow new doctors to have normal hours, because the experienced doctors didn't get any breaks when they were new, so why should these young whippersnappers. I feel like many faculty members are perfectly willing to let their students flounder about in a sea of information, without teaching them a thing about doing research. All the while, the students are floundering way more than their teachers ever did, because we are, at present, drowning in information.

In my last job, the information literacy librarian was starting to tackle this problem, by training the faculty in new research strategies and how to teach others how to use the technologies that now exist. She realized that she couldn't get to every student, and that having one hour per semester with one class to talk about library resources wasn't helping anyone. You can't teach that many students when you have a small staff. But you CAN teach the faculty, which represents a much smaller population. She also embedded herself in one class, but that took probably 10 hours of her weekly work, which is not really viable for most libraries. Her work with the faculty was by far the most promising, but I'm sure that somehow she "embarrassed" some of them. Quel horreur.

Anyway, it's an interesting article, and I guess since it got me thinking about all of this information literacy stuff, it did its job.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Research project!

The University of Texas got a cool grant to give scholarships to four people who want to do a doctoral program in digital librarianship. That isn't particularly up my alley, but it sounds really cool, nonetheless. It got me thinking about where were the best programs for learning about the theory of organization as it's applied to libraries, and metadata more generally. This is shockingly hard to find out. Does such a beast even exist, or do people have to carve out their own niches within their PhD programs in order to learn about it? I honestly don't know. More research on my part is obviously required.
It's times like this that I wonder if I am just too dumb to find the information that's out there, because I think that different PhD programs should be easy to find, rather than taking up a lot of my time.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Catalogers are not the enemy

One of my colleagues was at ALA, and sat in on a session sponsored by LITA called "There's no catalog like no catalog," or something like that. She said that she was in a minority by being a cataloger at this session, but that it was the attitude of the presenters that made her the most uncomfortable. She said that catalogers were portrayed as being inflexible, reactionary, and backward-thinking. She also said that she wanted to stand up and say "the real problem is that the library systems we use have never caught up to what catalogers actually need to do their jobs." That made me laugh. True.

But here's the thing: my colleague wasn't witnessing some small, misguided group of people who think of catalogers as Luddites and reactionaries. She was witnessing a microcosm of the thought of most of the information technology people out there today. I feel bad for all the catalogers when I hear talk like this (so I guess, really, I just feel bad for myself). Catalogers aren't backwards, they just want to create metadata for their objects, like anyone who has an object that they want other people to see. We use MARC for that. And let's face it, there isn't another metadata format out there that can rival the completeness of MARC. Most of the new metadata standards are still working out problems that this standard figured out 20 years ago.

I don't like the idea that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. MARC is not the greatest, I realize that. Neither is AACRII, or LCSH. But they're not terrible, either. Speaking strictly from metadata schemas, MARC is still pretty awesome. It still does things that DC has never even dreamed of (and which we've been trying to squeeze into qualified DC with mixed results).

The need to create metadata is not going to go away just because someone decides that catalogers are obsolete. I don't know how some people think that we will get our information about information in the future, but one great example of the need for metadata comes from images. An image doesn't actually tell you anything about itself without you looking at it. So how do you search a database of images? You search the metadata that was created by someone who cared about creating metadata--ie, someone from the family of catalogers. You can call them something else if you want; data analysts or metadata-creation experts or whatever, but it's the same thing.

Anyway. This is my soapbox. I sigh a lot when I think about how abused catalogers have become at the hands of the techies. It's not like catalogers have created the downfall of civilization or the corruption of technology. In fact, we often wish that the search-mechanism creators would find a way to use the information we give them more profitably. Does that make us reactionary?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The career question

I think the hardest thing about having a career is not letting it define your life. I'm pretty young, but have had a good career so far. I like where my career is going. But. If I were to have a child, I think I would leave my career to "take care of the kids." I know that this sounds crazy to at least some people (judging from the looks of thinly-veiled horror on their faces), but for me it makes a lot of sense. I just know that I would rather raise my kids myself than hand them over to anyone else (no matter how awesome they are).

But this puts me at an odd crossroads as to my career. If I define myself by the work I do, then leaving my career is basically to put my entire life on hold for a child. I think I need to tweak that mentality, though. My life isn't on hold. It's still happening, whether it's being recognized in the workplace or not.

I don't like the idea that the only way to live a meaningful life is to have a career and become well-known in my field. I don't like the idea for men anymore than I do for women; I think both are wrongheaded. Why is someone like Ronald Reagan considered more successful than my grandfather, who ran his own farm for 50 years?

The problem, of course, is taking all that societal training and throwing it away. Finding a way to define myself without the need to have a "career" or something else that puts me on the map as a "successful" person. It's just a hard thing to do. But really, if I were to still be a busy person, who has a garden and takes care of children and is happy and productive and can still find time to learn and participate in society, isn't that enough for the world to recognize that I'm contributing to society?

These questions are tough to answer.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

JHOVE again

So luckily, we have an awesome IT guy here who can work Java magic, and who installed JHOVE for me. Of course, the user interface is, well, not that great, but it does the job if you can work around the fact that it's not intuitive at all and gives you no instruction or prompting. But I digress.
I ran a tiff file through JHOVE, and it pulled out all kinds of preservation metadata. Like, it pulled out the number of pixels per line of the image, and listed it all for me in the xml document. EVERY LINE. Sound crazy? I thought so too. However, I will say: Job well done, JHOVE people. This program is the most thorough I've ever seen for extracting preservation metadata. It just takes an expert to install.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


Okay, I have to say this...we're looking at preservation tools here, to automatically identify formats and spit out metadata about the size of the files, etc. And one of the tools we're looking at is JHOVE. And I quote: "JHOVE provides functions to perform format-specific identification, validation, and characterization of digital objects."
Which is right up our alley in terms of what we need. So I download it, and start to read the installation instructions when I click on the file and nothing happens. And guess what? JHOVE doesn't have an automatic installer?! You have to go into the config file, and the home directory, and change lines to get it to work.
Um....hello? It's 2008. I don't mind doing this to set up a piece of software, but if you want people to use your system (especially in libraries), you might want to make it just a TAD easier to use.
Did I mention that you can use the command line to use this product? They have a GUI, too, but come on...any system that says "you can use command line!" is not going to have a great GUI. It's just a gut feeling. This reminds me of early Greenstone software, where you had to know PERL just to make it work at all. The GUI was a joke.
"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.