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.
"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.