Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cataloger's Judgment Gone Awry?

While working today, a reference librarian handed me a problem. She had a patron come up to her and ask for the "Sacra Pagina." He was not talking about the Bible, but rather an 18-volume commentary, prepared by an international group of scholars, of the New Testament. When the reference librarian looked online at our catalog, she first searched by "title keyword". Eleven titles came up. And not the specific one the patron was looking for (he was looking for the Gospel of Luke). So she did a series keyword search. All eighteen records came up, including Luke.
So she sent me an email, asking if this problem was "worth fixing?".

I hate it when local practice gets tied up in OCLC. At our institution, since we are relatively small, we do not do a lot of cleanup to the MARC that comes down to us from OCLC. We check for subject headings, good call numbers, and sundry, but our copy catalogers do not typically check for the appearance of 830s when they see a 490, or check to see if it's appropriate that there be an 830. We do rely on OCLC and "good" copy to get the records we need.

In this particular case, I could see the multi-volume set being cataloged as one work, with 18 items attached, and no series entry. Or it can go the other way: 18 works, all with 490s and 830s, and one item apiece. In OCLC, both options are represented. However, whether or not there is actually an 830 depends on who created the record. DLC definitely put in the 830, but they only created three of the eighteen individual-volume records. The only reason I see for not putting in the 830 in this case is that some institutions felt that they needed 830s and others felt that they didn't need anything beyond the 490. And then OTHER institutions decided that it should be cataloged as a multi-volume set under a single title. For the record, when I did some research on when it's appropriate to use an 830, it became clear to me that this multi-volume work definitely merits an 830. As is often the case, Library of Congress was correct in its assignation of MARC fields.

"Cataloger's judgment" does not do justice here. I feel that this is has to be a case of local practice influencing the judgment of catalogers. And I get it. If you are an academic library at an institution that does not do a lot of theology, you would be much more likely to catalog this thing as a multi-volume work with a single bibliographic entry. Who needs lots of records for this one thing? However, if you are at an institution where theology is relatively important, you are more likely to make each volume its own record, since a researcher looking for the Book of John would probably search for Book of John, not Sacra Pagina, no matter how famous the Sacra Pagina is. Unless you happen to work for an institution where theology is very important, and the researchers know exactly what the Sacra Pagina is, and if you have unreliable 830-placement it means that they can't find what they're looking for when they do a title keyword search.

And other librarians here wonder why I claim to have such a very long training period for my copy catalogers.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Internet! Bah

A friend of a friend posted a link yesterday to an op-ed from 1995. I will quote:
"Try reading a book on disc. At best, it's an unpleasant chore: the myopic glow of a clunky computer replaces the friendly pages of a book. And you can't tote that laptop to the beach. Yet Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we'll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Intenet. Uh, sure."

I wrote back to my friend "That guy must feel like such a doofus."

Well, turns out he does...this is an excerpt of what he thinks of his article now:
"Most of my screwups have had limited publicity: Forgetting my lines in my 4th grade play...Wasting a week hunting for planets interior to Mercury's orbit using an infrared system with a noise level so high that it couldn't possibly detect 'em. Heck - trying to dry my sneakers in a microwave oven...
And, as I've laughed at others' foibles, I think back to some of my own cringeworthy contributions.
Now, whenever I think I know what's happening, I temper my thoughts: Might be wrong, Cliff...
Warm cheers to all,
-Cliff Stoll on a rainy Friday afternoon in Oakland"

Cliff Stoll's embarrassment is probably a message to us all. Whenever I think about the new future of cataloging, I have the tendency to think "RDA? FRBR? Bah." Mostly this is due to a fear of the unknown, and a general dislike of people who are optimists. I am not an optimist. I am more of a...raging bulldozer of pessmism. Seeing that there were 300 people at the RDA class, though, gives me pause. Maybe we'll really do this thing. Maybe someday, library catalogs will be the most usable and efficient way of finding information that the Web has to offer. And we'll all understand how metadata is generated and actually *appreciate* what it means to generate all that metadata. And I'll have my own pony.

Sorry. My optimism got away from me for a second. I mean, I'll have my own brain-implanted internet access chip.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Technology Fail

I would say something about Chris Oliver's talk yesterday on RDA and it's relationships to FRBR and our current database environments, but unfortunately, our internet went down half an hour into her presentation. Hurray, technology! Once again underscoring the fragile nature of the digital world. If I were reading a book by her, all I would need is a relatively light-filled day. So, screw you, computers.

Monday, November 08, 2010

To copyright or not to copyright

First, the FRBR blog linked to me the other day. It was not especially complimentary, but, there you are. I can't always be thought right. I agree totally that the work being done on FRBR is changing it, though. So we can all agree on that.

Also, I was reading First thus this morning. He posted some things about how copyright law is stuck in the past, and how it's not helping anyone that you can't do anything with digital versions of books except read them. You can't loan them (because such a thing does not currently exist, apparently), you can't copy them, nothing, without infringing on the copyright.

But something about that post irks me. Yes, there are lots of rules with regards to copying digital files and distributing them. Yes, the system seems to be broken in many respects. But what can we actually DO about it? Saying that librarians will be sitting on the sidelines doesn't seem like a very productive way to start effecting change. Maybe as a whole, yes, librarians may end up on the sidelines of the policy debate, but as individual citizens, no one is wholly without the means to make change in this world. Especially librarians.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010


I was posting yesterday about public libraries, and I've been reading about the Patron Driven Acquisitions (PDA) model. Apparently this model is kind of a huge and headachey success, and so it's sort of a problem to figure out how exactly libraries want to proceed with it. It's expensive on the one hand, and also so wildly successful that it sort of defies any attempts to get rid of it once it's in place.
For the project I'm working on, we're talking about building libraries in third world countries, in places where there is not a book culture already present. Or at least not for many people. In this kind of scenario, I think that the PDA model will actually work very nicely. You don't have thousands of undergrads, or even hundreds of public library patrons, banging down the door for their chance to print out their own books. I imagine that the acquisitions would happen more slowly, as people get used to the idea that it's even possible to have on-demand books streaming to you on the web.
I'm not an acquisitions librarian, nor a reference librarian, and so I'm not really very knowledgeable about this aspect of libraries. Catalogers usually just take what we're given, and we make it available and hope for the best. This is definitely a new adventure.

Friday, October 29, 2010

That's So 1998

"...cracking our brains to force everything into this 19th century view of the world of information called FRBR is a lot like forcing a square peg into a round hole. It just doesn't fit. So, instead of whittling the peg down, or boring out the hole, we should open our minds to new horizons because it's a big world out there."

James at First Thus posted this little snippet the other day. It made me laugh and laugh, because: TRUE.

And it got me to thinking about something I put in my notes at the Karen Coyle webinar. Namely, that FRBR's structure doesn't jive with how we see the "future" of information relationships. Everyone is talking about how information should be a 'web', with everything having the same importance and availability. FRBR doesn't do that, though. From the models I've seen of FRBR, it seems that the relationships only flow one way. Instead of subjects having potentially the same importance as a book itself, subjects are always subservient to bibliographic data. Afterthoughts, add-ons. I know that it's been said that people are working on this aspect of FRBR, presumably to change it, but to me that seems to be a basic building block of how FRBR treats information.

FRBR *is* kind of 19th century. Or 20th century even. I mean, it's a really recent concept that information can reside outside a physical object. When FRBR was published (and let's keep in mind that FRBR was in the works for several years before 1998), the idea that you would put information on the web and nowhere more "permanent" was still nascent. Why would anyone do such a thing? If you had a big idea, why would you just put it out into the ether and not try to get it published, recorded, or printed? Today, that doesn't sound ludicrous at all. But it was only twelve years ago.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

New Models of Metadata Throwdown

I don't usually start writings with this, but: OMG.

I (virtually) attended the first of three webinars yesterday on RDA and the new directions in metadata creation. It was entitled New Models of Metadata and Karen Coyle was the speaker. She was great, of course. I like her writing; she was also a very good speaker.
Anyways, you were probably there, too. There were 300 participants at this thing. At first, things were pretty quiet. Webex offers a chat window in their interface so you can have side conversations or ask questions or whatever. I left at the stroke of 3, when the thing ended, and people were still going on and on about the logistics of changing over from MARC to whatever we may end up with. It was insane. To me, it seemed like everyone was asking Karen herself to explain how SirsiDynix is going to implement RDA. What a ridiculous and useless thing to ask. How could she possibly have any idea?

Also, best moment, which I will recreate here in a vignette:

Attendee: So, are you saying that MARC is dead??
Karen: Yep.


So, I left the webinar feeling very angsty about my fellow attendees, because I thought we got way off track with asking questions about logistics, when Karen was there to talk about new models of metadata. I really wanted to hear her talk about the web structures and how metadata theory is changing. She did get to talk about that, but I feel like the conversation devolved a little.

Now, with the distance of a day, I get it. People are scared. Change is hard emotionally and intellectually, and we're looking at a real sea change in how we create and manage information. MARC has been the only format going for a long time, and AACRII has been the only standard going for a long time, and Karen said yesterday that we're looking at getting rid of BOTH. For many catalogers, who have never dealt with anything else (like, say, EAD and DACS), they can't really even imagine what a different standard and different format would look like. Some of the attendees were having trouble even dissociating the two, often confusing MARC for a standard. There's a lot of education to be done in order to help everyone move forward.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What my reference librarian found this morning

So this morning I come walking into the library, coffee in one hand, prepared to walk right back to my desk and commence the wonderful and magical work of fixing something in the ILS. The reference librarian on duty (and in fact, the head reference librarian) yells at me. Yes, she yelled. Yes, I went over and said "Ma'am, we are in a LIBRARY." We both laugh.
Anyway, she directs my attention to this subject heading, and asks "what the heck is this? It's just a number. And there's a whole bunch of them."

651 $7 $a7.150.$2gtt

Yeah. There it was. The dreaded $2gtt marking on that 651. "Gemeenschappelijke Trefwoordenthe-saurus (GTT)" (Joint Subject Headings Thesaurus). In other words: the Dutch.

I'll admit it: I badmouth the GTT like nobody's business. Mostly because I find it to be horrible. What kind of subject heading is "History"? I know that you catalogers out there are with me. It's ridiculous. This is the Dutch National System, not Jan's World of Paperbacks. Surely they can do better? I mean, this is the country that built the dykes, that produced the Dutch Masters, held England and Spain at bay while they built one of the greatest international corporations in the world. Subject headings should be a breeze, am I right?
Anyway, this was a new one, but I wasn't surprised. A number for a subject heading? Why not? Why not just move on to pictograms, GTT?

But really, I am just poking fun at what is really a system that is not designed to be the LCSH. Yes, I made a joke of it to the reference librarian, but at least now when she sees something like that, she will know from whence it came. If you, gentle reader, are interested in knowing more about the GTT, which is really just an index of very general terms and not like the LCSH in either form or function, there's a good article here.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Semantic Web BlahdeBlah

Reading about how libraries need to embrace the Semantic Web. Here's my note in the margins to myself:

"Isn't there a larger problem with metadata for the Semantic Web (or XML, or MARC) that all these tags are still *text*, and therefore subject to misspellings, misunderstandings, and the vagaries of the human mind? The problem that we have with databases and their inability to catch inconsistencies is also a problem for any XML or Semantic Web entity. You can call a cat a cat or a feline or a kat or a kitty, and no one can nay-say your tag. But your tag will not necessarily fall in with other tags which may be the same *thing*, but not the same *word.*"

I'm interested in how we resolve this problem. It's a problem that catalogers have obviously been wrestling with since time out of mind, but now we have an infinitely larger population of data-inputters, with infinitely less training in the importance of standardization and uniformity of metadata. Are we forced to just give up and let things be kind of crappy? I don't know that the answer is just "more programming."

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The Philosophy of the Book

I've been inundated today with the question of "what is a book?" I heard a piece on the radio where the commentator asked this question. I of course started yelling at the radio: "Librarians have been asking that questions for years, stupid! ASK A LIBRARIAN!" Then once at work in the library, the ILL librarian comes up and we have a talk about connecting traditional philosophical ideas of physicality and reality with FRBR. I don't know if anyone's done this, or if we've all moved way beyond traditional philosophy and just reference our own works now with nary a thought towards the people who spend all their time asking "what is knowledge?". I'd be interested in reading something that connected the two areas of study.
And THEN, another librarian (from acquisitions this time) came in to say that she saw an exhibit by Steve Wolfe that looked like he framed book jackets, and hung paperback novels on the wall. But it turns out that he actually painted those book jackets, and the "novels" are just woodblocks made to look exactly like a book. Objects that are books to the naked eye, but have no knowledge in them.
The universe is telling me to think about this issue. I like it when convergences occur like this, but I'm having trouble even articulating what I'm grappling with today. It obviously requires a lot more thought, but I don't have time to think about these things, either (cataloging awaits me!). What is a book? Is it just information? God, am I turning into Michael Buckland??

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A New Era of Responsibility

...A book which has come across my desk has this title. Which reminded me that I haven't posted on this blog since I was 7.5 months pregnant. Well, now our daughter is almost 15 months, I'm working a little bit again, and for the love of God, surely I can get myself back into the world of blogging about organizing information. Right?
So, in that vein, I want to write some about a project I was recently involved with. Since I am not working full time any longer, I took on a side project, archiving the personal papers of a successful businessman here in town. His dad was very famous as a businessman, as well, and some of his papers were also included in this job. The total amount was probably 20 linear feet or so.

The interesting thing about this project was how basically different it FELT than the professional archivist jobs I've had. I went to their (very large and well-appointed) home once a week, and worked out of their dining room. His wife would periodically come in, not to check on me, but to relate some historical factoid, or to show me something that she found, or to ask if she framed something correctly. Your own personal archivist! And, I found I did not have the same kind of mental freedom that I had while working in an institution. If I found something in a collection that I knew was superfluous and common, like, say, an envelope with no letter and no address, I could put it in a stack of things to get rid of. Not so with these papers, because the owner was working in his office down the hall, and he was a pack rat, and when I showed it to him, he'd say "we should keep it, I suppose."

It's interesting to be able to go to the creator and say "what is this? what were you doing at this time?" instead of just having to guess and research.
"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.