Category Archives: future of cataloguing

10 Lessons in Leadership: Honouring Norman Horrocks with the First Dalhousie National Leadership Award

This afternoon, I had the honour of attending the first annual Dalhousie Horrocks public lecture which was given by Madeleine Lefebvre, Chief Librarian at Ryerson University.

Honouring a great leader in our community, Norman Horrocks, the lecture presented one of our School of Information Management students with the first Dalhousie Horrocks National Leadership Award.

For those of you who knew Norman, I am sure you’ll agree that our lives were enriched by knowing him.  He was an unforgettable individual. While we gathered to celebrate the award in his honour, with the added honour of having his wife, Sandy Horrocks and daughter also in attendance, it was also bittersweet.

During the lecture, Ms. Lefebvre focussed on 10 key areas of leadership or, leadership lessons, that she’s learned over her many years as a library professional.  For those of you who know Ms. Lefebvre, I don’t think you’d argue if I rephrased it by say that she presented a list of top 10 leadership lessons that she has learned over her career as a leader in our profession.

Top 10 Lessons in Leadership

1.    Leadership happens at all levels

2.    Role models – good and bad – are important guides

3.    Luck, serendipity, opportunity – whatever you call it – plays a part

a.    Sometimes you must consider that it is “…not just a time to go but a time to grow”.  An idea Ms. Lefebvre expresses when recognizing a need for change or recognizing new opportunities

b.    Build confidence with the things you are good at

4.    Surround yourself with great people

a.    Stay away from energy drainers/naysayers

b.    Great people can be found everywhere in life, not just in your professional life.

5.    Read, observe, listen, communicate

a.    Any leader today has to deal with change management

b.    Be able to take your professional jargon and translate it for outside fields to understand.  This builds relationships and creates opportunities for communication

6.    Know yourself

a.    Identify your strengths and weaknesses.

b.    Know your value(s)

7.    Trust our instincts

a.    What are the values you believe in?

b.    What is your true North?

c.    Is this an organization you want to be part of?

d.    Discontentment is a trap that can feed on itself.

8.    Be thankful and appreciative of others

a.    Are you aware of the power of your attitude on others?

b.    Collaboration is essential – it works wonders on how you are perceived.

9.    Have passion for what you do.

10.Have fun!

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Thoughts on Library Journal’s article: “Catalog by Design”

While checking out my Facebook timeline on Friday, I notice Library Journal’s new article, “Catalog by design: the user experience” written by Aaron Schmidt was available online.

I read Mr. Schmidt’s article with interest.  In short, he summarizes his thoughts on the shortcomings of catalogue displays and functionality.  To Mr. Schmidt’s credit, he was not questioning the skill of cataloguers or the information found within our records, but making a common observation: the appearance that user functionality in catalogues is an afterthought in catalogue design.

I’ve linked to Mr. Schmidt’s article so that all of you can read it.  I also urge you to read the comments.  I find his article and the comments a good jumping off point for a conversation on cataloguing design and functionality.  What must be understand is that this article is very much like dipping your finger and sampling the icing on a cake and then wondering why it’s so difficult to make a cake that tastes delicious and looks good, too.

Rather than focusing on user tasks, let’s first just talk about design and Mr. Schmidt’s suggested design.  Immediately, I notice the similarity between the draft designs and a mobile application screen; big buttons, clean display and highlighting only a handful of key services.  This is interesting to me, that a catalogue design for a desktop computer should mirror the look and feel of a mobile application.  While we understand why mobile applications provide only key elements and simple displays, is it enough for desktop (non-mobile) designs to offer the same limited features?  I was once told by a mobile application designer that the average user is on a mobile site/page for 40 seconds.  Forty seconds.  Keeping that in mind, we can understand why a site, like a library, would offer a clean, simple interface that provided gateways into the catalogue/library with key entry points for a mobile app screen design.  However, as some of those professionals point out in the comments section of Mr. Schmidt’s article, it isn’t as clear as performing a known item search, especially when users are entering the catalogue from a desktop computer.  While many users may be performing a known item search, it is on a desktop display that we are provided with opportunities for searching newly catalogued material in the library, browsing reading lists, collections, similar titles or “wandering” virtually to stumble upon an item of interest.  When many of us use our phones, we use the apps for quick access into known item searches or activities.  When we sit down at our computer, we are often searching for more: that may be in the form of research, browsing, online shopping, or whatever activity that allows more freedom, options and navigation opportunities.

The second point is that many library catalogues, called social catalogues or social discovery tools, provide the flexibility and design clarity that Mr. Schmidt seeks.  One of the comments made by a reader suggests the popular social catalogue BiblioCommons.  This is an excellent example of a flexible, clear and user-friendly interface that has not only become a popular choice with many libraries, but users, too.

The interface designs of library catalogues have gone ignored for many years.  Functionality and the ability to recall information has traditionally trumped design and user-friendly interfaces.  This may be the result of a lack of research or options, but in recent years, there has been an increase in focus on user-friendly interfaces.  Librarians and decision-makers have been forced to take an interest in the design as well as the functionality of library catalogue interfaces and many are addressing the issues.

Vendors, aware of users’ growing expectations for intuitive interfaces are also attempting to address this shortcoming in the form of social catalogues and catalogue overlays. Just like the future of the library catalogue, I do believe vendors might also understand that their relevance is tied to providing libraries and users with products that meet today’s demands – not from within the library industry, but expectations created by the robust, user-friendly and customizable options available throughout the online environment.

While this topic can easily turn from a basic design conversation into an RDA debate, I’d like to keep it simple.  Up until now we, as professionals, haven’t demanded better interfaces for library catalogues.  We have moaned and groaned about them, but without real usage studies, evidence and support, it hasn’t been possible to force the design changes many of us know are essential.  We can credit the advent of the social catalogue with a push in the profession to study what, exactly, users’ expectations are in the catalogue.  Knowing that it is now possible to provide a social interface has provided many of us with an opportunity to bring in theories and evidence from the web design industry and ask for these same features within our catalogues.

Mr. Schmidt’s article only gives us a taste of the icing on the cake.  As cataloguing professionals, we understand the depth of the catalogue and the need to make something intricate appear simple, customizable and intuitive (or, like a cake, simple, elegant and beautiful) – while still meeting the demands of a wide variety of users’ needs (and that’s the rich, smooth flavour of our cake).

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Be Versatile: Get the Perfect Degree for the Information Age

On February 13, Dalhousie University’s School of Information of Management is hosting an open house for those of you who want to explore the possibilities of what an MLIS offers.  With the ability to attend both online or in person, it’s the perfect opportunity to examine your role in the information world and if this degree is for you.  I urge those of you who are considering an MLIS to attend this event.

The theme, Be Versatile: Get the Perfect Degree for the Information Age says it all!

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A new year and perhaps, a bit more blogging too!

Although my posts are few and far between, I am attempting to get back on track in this New Year.  With the New Year, there are many new opportunities and challenges ahead.  I’m teaching a new (to me) course as Dalhousie University – Cataloguing & Classification II.  It’s an interesting change from last semester.  The Organization of Information class is really all about ideas and theories.  While introducing existing models, it’s a time to explore and talk about the abstract.  The first year MLIS students were a great group of young professionals and met the demands I placed on them;  namely, having to think critically about the profession and the application of organizing information beyond that of a position in cataloguing.

With Cataloguing & Classification II, I am entering a FRBR, FRAD and RDA world.  One in which, up until now, I have only had to understand at a superficial level.  With these models in their infancy while attending school for my own MLIS degree and not having a need for understanding it in any depth while in my last position, I am now delving into the interesting, confusing and fascinating world of FRBR and RDA.  Given that my current group of students are but steps away from graduating, it’s important to me that I not only provide them with an understanding of these models, their importance in the future of cataloguing and how to apply/implement them, but to also expose them to the very real threats to the future existence of cataloguing and cataloguing departments.  This involves new skill sets, navigating the changing demands and nature of cataloguing and how far these skills carry beyond that of the cataloguing department.  Of course, for now, I’m simply facing Friday’s class, which focuses on RDA.

In addition to teaching, I’m now in full writing mode to complete my second book (fingers crossed) by the end of March.  This book will focus on the education of cataloguers.  Appropriate, now that I’m teaching in that area and spending much of my time determining what it is our future and current cataloguers need to succeed.

What I am learning about this new career path is that I am able to accept many more opportunities that are important to me in contributing to this profession.  I am writing, reviewing, editing and teaching.  This is a fulfilling role and one that teaches me that I have so much to learn and hopefully, to contribute in shaping the cataloguing profession.  For those of you who know me, it’s a perfect balance between my professional life and my personal life (which allows me to raise my daughter, Millie).  Of course, there are times when I feel I’m making a deadline by the “seat of my pants” but, I think we all feel that way at times.  But I am enjoying the ride and all of the opportunities that I’m fortunate enough to receive.

So with that in mind, I will attempt to make this a better blogging year (I know, promises, promises) and to continue to seek out new ways to participate in an awesome profession.

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Cataloguing: Shouldn’t we be asking “why” and “for how long”?

Recently, my husband and I had a long discussion about why we do things as professionals. For example, why do we focus on certain projects and outcomes and what is our motivation behind them? Do we, as professionals, just perform tasks and responsibilities out of tradition or routine, or is something else guiding us? This discussion continued on to include the role of ethics and the question of “why”. What I’d like to focus on in this post, however, is the “why” in our cataloguing departments and follow it up with the question, “for how long?”.

What do we really do?
It’s easy to make library management “think” they need us, but do they really? Why do we catalogue? Rather than simply stating the typical answer “to provide access to our users”, let’s think about what many (not all, but many) cataloguers actually do.

1. Spell check

2. Change subject headings of incoming publisher’s full bib records to in-house subject headings

3. Flesh out “bare-bones” records when not provided with a record from a publisher or when a cataloguer deems it “not good enough”

4. Catalogue local publications or unique collections

While I’m being a bit harsh with my description of a cataloguer’s responsibility, I think many of us can agree that these are everyday tasks in our cataloguing department. And honestly, the only task on this list that I think is vital and continues to be an asset to cataloguers is item number four – Cataloguing local publications and unique collections.

Let’s face it, the first three items can either be addressed with software, such as a spell check tool or an import tool that catches subject headings and changes them to the in-house headings (ex. Find and replace). And, of course, there is always the ongoing argument that we shouldn’t have local, in-house headings. For the records, as a public library cataloguer in Atlantic Canada, I see great value in adding localized headings separate and apart from LC’s American based headings that reflect Canadian and Atlantic Canadian terminology and cultural differences.

But, “why” do we catalogue? If we take the top three items from the previous list, we can easily answer the “for how long?” question. Not long at all. Truly, quite short term. But what motivates us to catalogue and what are our goals? Why are we needed in an age where publishers can provide full, descriptive bibliographic records that are created based on our specifications and imported directly into our catalogues?

Rather than being tied to bibliographic records and how we describe items, what about transitioning into a role that provides access to information and deals with the catalogue and “how” it provides access to information? They are not one and the same.

Bibliographic records provide content and data to describe an item. However, our new catalogues and future catalogues are much more than a system that allows users to find an item based on the content of bibliographic records only. What’s in a catalogue? What does the catalogue look like and what additional elements can enhance access beyond the information found in a bibliographic record?

Challenge
I’ve always believed that cataloguers are more than data entry specialists. But, I don’t think our potential is being realized and I don’t believe many professionals want to explore the real strength and expertise of their cataloguers. Sometimes, it’s just easy to maintain the status quo and avoid the resistance.
So here are my thoughts on exploring “why” we catalogue, or more importantly, what the motivation should be behind cataloguing and what we actually do or should be doing.

New challenges and motivations:

1.) Cataloguers exist to make every visit to the library catalogue easier and better than the last – and as a result, to find *something* that makes the user feel like their information needs were met. Like the internet, it might not be what they started out looking for, but they should stumble upon something that has peaked piqued (*thanks Annie) their interest.

2.) Cataloguers are not only controlled vocabulary experts, but uncontrolled vocabulary experts. Our authority records provide insight into alternate terminology, but we should also be aware of trendy terms that aren’t found in our records and those terms should be added to user tags within our catalogues – let’s start making use of those social features!

3.) Readers’ advisory terminology should be explored. It’s no longer good enough just to add a person, place, career, or genre heading. Let’s start talking about appeal factors – moods, pace and read-alikes should be incorporated into the catalogue. How will this be accomplished? Isn’t that the whole point of exploring “what” a cataloguer can do and what a catalogue is capable of?

4.) Engaging users in book, movie and music discussions online within the catalogue

5.) Step out from their anonymous role and become visible – for example, monthly “cataloguer’s feature” lists that provide a brief profile, area of cataloguing expertise and items within the collection of interest might create a level of community and trust between the online catalogue and its users (currently only found within the physical branches).

There are more ideas that come to mind, such as collaborators with branch staff and community groups, creators of gateways to additional information and resources within the community and so on.

While I know we can’t implement all of these ideas today and I do value what duties cataloguers perform on a daily basis, I strongly encourage cataloguers and their managers to start thinking about how easily technology can take over the tasks that many cataloguers currently perform and how we can put a cataloguer’s expertise to better use to serve users and address the catalogues of today and in the future.

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Readers’ Advisory Services in the Library Catalogue

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak at Dalhousie University’s School of Information Management. Speaking to a readers’ services centered class, I tailored my presentation around my theories regarding the perfect marriage between RA work and the library catalogue. Although this is an area only starting to be recognized, and still meeting resistance on many ends (RAs, Cataloguers, software shortcomings, etc.), I wanted to introduce the class to a new way of thinking about RA work, and collaboration outside of branch staff. For those of you who are interested, the presentation is below:

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Yesterday’s ALCTS Webinar on RDA – Recording and Slides Available

For those of you who weren’t able to attend the free ALCTS webinar – RDA Ask-the-Experts, the audio recording and slides are now available. I’m one of those individuals who wasn’t able to attend it yesterday – so I’m looking forward to taking some time to listen to it and review the presentations.

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