Category Archives: In the Cataloguing Department

“MARC” Cataloguing

In preparing for class this week, I’m brushing up on some readings on the topic of authority control, controlled vocabulary and AACR2.  While reading Michael Gorman’s article Authority Control in the Context of Bibliographic Control in the Electronic Environment (2009), I stumbled upon these wise words:

People who talk of “MARC cataloguing” clearly think of cataloguing as being a matter of identifying the elements of a bibliographic record without specifying the content of those elements.  It is, therefore, clear that those people do not understand what cataloguing is all about. (p. 16)

While there are many of you who may not always agree with Gorman, you must acknowledge that this statement is spot on in its observation.  How many of us, in the practicing profession, have seen the devaluation of cataloguers from a position that requires training in cataloguing to a position that requires no more than a high school diploma?  Cataloguing is not simple data entry, and understanding how to catalogue within a MARC record is not as simple identifying the field and inputting straightforward data and punctuation.  However, in many public libraries with tight budgets, we often turn to library assistants for help in editing our MARC records.  Does this activity make them a cataloguer?  While using staff as a valuable resource, is this also confusing (sending mixed signals) management and other professionals about the knowledge, skills and judgement (Gorman) necessary to be a cataloguer?

Gorman goes on to state “[T]he most important thing about bibliographic control is the content and the controlled nature of that content, not the denotations of that content.” (p. 16)

While Gorman is discussing all of this in the context of his dislike of Dublin Core, his comments should have us all rethinking how we hire, train and educate our future cataloguers and librarians.  It should also have us questioning why such a vital service – the access to information and retrieval of information –  is so misunderstood.

A great discussion can certainly develop from the brief comments I have made, starting with the complexity of MARC and our descriptive standards, however, if our professional can’t clearly communicate the overarching goals and practices of cataloguing, the details about how we set out to achieve these goals will not matter in the long run.


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Cataloguing Humour: New FRBR Model

A little Friday humour I’m sure many of you have seen, but I thought I’d post anyway:

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Are Cataloguing Departments experiencing the “Acceleration Trap”?

I read an interesting article in the April issue of the Harvard Business Review. The article, written by Heike Bruch and Jochen I. Menges introduced the idea of the “acceleration trap”, which is essentially departments, companies or organizations that take on more than they can handle. They:

“…increase the number and speed of their activities, raise performance goals, shorten innovation cycles, and introduce new management technologies and organizational systems.”

Having come across this description within the first paragraph of the article, my interest was peeked. I started to have an eerie feeling that they were describing a cataloguing department at any public library! While we can’t apply all of the characteristics of an acceleration trap to our cataloguing departments, there are some key issues that we face that resemble this business model “trap”.

According to Bruch and Menges, organizations (or in our case, departments) that are over-accelerated exhibit at least one of these three signs:

1. Employees are overloaded with too many activities, which results in a lack of time and/or resources to complete these activities.

2. Given the wide range of activities, employees cannot focus their expertise or time in one single area or on one single task, resulting in haphazard and unfocussed work. (I call this being a jack of all trades, but master of none.)

3. Employees are faced with ongoing, high performance projects that provide no “downtime” between projects. In essence, employees work in an environment that operates close to capacity limits, feeling constantly overloaded.

Hmmmm. Facing the retirements of experienced staff, the hiring of inexperienced staff (if the position isn’t eliminated altogether!), as well as budget shortages, old software/computers, and increasingly diverse collection and the ongoing threat of outsourcing…it appears that we have been experiencing an ongoing form of the acceleration trap in libraries for some time.

With the backlogs, increasing demands on our cataloguing staff and pressure from management, many of us have been asking our cataloguers what they need to increase productivity – including innovative ideas to cut corners and save time. In fact, some managers in cataloguing departments often stress getting the items out and circulating over actually cataloguing properly (or even uniformly). However, that’s a whole other blog post!!

In this article, there are several ideas for breaking free of the “acceleration trap” or, at least, ideas to help alleviate the stress and burnout that can result in a department due to these demands. You’ll find that many of the suggestions are ones that we have been implementing in our departments, due to necessity.

They include:
•Halting less important work
•Clearly outlining strategy
•Creating a system for identifying projects and how they will be completed
•Identifying the causes of the continuous demand for high-pace and energy intensive projects and indicating how and when these projects will end.

Here are two ideas/quotes from the article that we can all benefit from:

“If you demand that employees give you the same level of accelerated effort every day, month after month, their energy will fail and the company’s performance will suffer.”

“Regularly ask yourself, your managers, and the whole company: ‘Which of our current activities would we start now if they weren’t already under way?’ Then eliminate all the others.”

Bruch, Heike and Jochen I. Menges. “The Acceleration Trap”. Harvard Business Review. April 2010. (p. 80 – 86)

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Celebrating the Season in Collection Access

As promised, I thought I’d post a few pictures from our last “Glendale” potluck. Glendale, our location name, consists of Delivery, Collection Development, Collection Access and Processing. As part of our Collection Management team, we also invited our IT gang out to celebrate with us.

In February, we’ll all be relocating to our new Woodlawn Branch (Dartmouth, NS). It’s an exciting time, but not without a touch of sadness and nostalgia. There’s a lot of history and memories, so we wanted to make sure this was a special occasion. Famous for our potlucks throughout the library system (just another bonus of being a cataloguer), I thought I’d share the photos of the food and some of our staff with all of you.

Enjoy! And I hope for those of you who celebrate the season, enjoy your traditions, new and old!

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Update and Holidays Wishes

I thought I’d write a quick post to let you know that I will begin posting again regularly in the New Year. As with many of us, December is a very busy time of year, with holiday and professional commitments, deadlines and so on.

Our department, the Collection Access Department, will also be relocating in the new year – to a newly renovated branch. Very exciting, but there is a lot of work involved! I’ve also starting writing a book (the contract is signed and it is now legit!) and have commited myself to several articles as well. So, in an effort to juggle it all, I’m afraid I haven’t been posting as frequently as I’d like – especially meaningful posts. However, I’ve been collecting some topics and am optimistic I’ll draft some posts over the holidays, which I’ll start posting in January.

In the meantime, I look forward to an exciting 2010 and will be posting my professional resolutions and outlook for cataloguing in the New Year shortly. I hope you’ll continue following and contributing to the posts and discussions.

Within the next day or two, I’ll also be posting a few pictures from our famous “Glendale Christmas Potluck”. Our current location is called Glendale and I work with professionals who are not only talented in their work, but in the kitchen! Since this is our last Christmas potluck before the big move, I thought I’d share it with all of you as well.

Cataloguers tend to be a close-knit group. I’m very fortunate that my colleagues and the staff are almost like family. And as such, we have our traditions, differences of opinion and fun.

So, maybe I’ll turn this discussion over to you, the readers – do you have traditions, funny stories or interesting facts about your cataloguing departments that you’d like to share? What about holidays stories?

And, in the meantime – I wish you all a great holiday season!

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Resuscitating the catalogue: next generation strategies for keeping the catalogue relevant

Now that things have settled down after ALA, I’ve had a chance to go through the rest of my notes from the sessions at ALA. On Monday, July 12th, ALCTS hosted this session on keeping our catalogues relevant.

The panel for this session included Renee Register (OCLC), Beth Jefferson (Bibliocommons), David Flaxbart (University of Texas, Austin) and Ellen Safley (University of Texas, Dallas). Their slides should be available for viewing shortly.

After watching two shuttles (at 7:00 am) depart from the Hyatt, there was finally room for me on the third. As we rolled over to the 8:00 session at the convention centre, I was excited about this presentation. What new ideas will be presented? What are other libraries doing? What are the triumphs or disappointments they are facing? I was not disappointed.

When I arrived, the room was already quite full. By the time the session started, there were a large number of attendees, something I was very happy to see. Let’s hope some of them were frontline staff, as well as technical services professionals!

I’m going to outline the highlights of everyone’s presentation, emphasizing key points, and issues we should be thinking about. Much of what I’m outlining are my own thoughts, based on the presenters’ presentations, so for those of you who also attended, my notes and outline may differ from yours.

Renee Register (OCLC)
We should be thinking of the “catalogue as an experience”
• Think about catalogues in terms of metadata. How will our content evolve with the birth of next generation catalogues?

Is the catalogue dead?
• The catalogue is more present than ever. It is only our methods that are changing. There are more players in the metadata field. Especially in the electronic form.
• Amazon doesn’t create, they pull metadata from other sources to create the “mash-up” of information our patrons have become familiar with.
• **We need to create the ability for end-users to interact with our metadata.
• Because our catalogues are taken for granted (we do all the work but the work is not seen) our cataloguing and the catalogue is only noticed when the information is wrong, or doesn’t work right. There’s a level of expectation.

• Encouraging interoperability
• Homogenizing data
• Ability to re-mix and re-use metadata
• Create neutral formats for seamless sharing from a variety of sources
• Capitalize on our strengths of metadata contributors
• *Participate in the exchange of metadata

Beth Jefferson

Beth Jefferson (Bibliocommons)
Although I hadn’t met Beth until this conference, I am familiar with her work and Bibliocommons. It’s a popular new social discovery tool in Canada, which is gaining a certain amount of attention. If you’d like to see an example of BiblioCommons, see the Oakville Public Library Catalogue.

Beth’s presentation focussed primarily on public library catalogues. She began by saying it is not a matter of resuscitating our catalogue, but of re-thinking the possibilities of our public catalogue and what it can do.

Rethinking the public library catalogue
• We’ve missed a generation of technology. While we are only starting to introduce tagging, new technology is already moving beyond this.
• Less is more. We have a habit of loading down our catalogues with information, rather than remembering our purpose – helping to narrow down our users’ searches to get less.
• We need to consider precision vs. recall. It matters with facets. From what I gathered from Beth’s comments, Bibliocommons has created two levels of searching. The first searches only title, author and subject. The second searches all indexed content.
• Catalogues are meant to enable discovery. Many users are searching by format first, then audience, etc. How are our catalogues coping with this?

What users traditionally did in the physical library we need to recreate and automate in the library catalogue. How do we mirror this search/behaviour in our OPACs? Let’s consider or watch how our users browse and search in the physical library. They look at our shelving carts for popular reading ideas (if someone else just took it out, it must be good). They look at covers and books they’ve read reviews about. So, why don’t we create widgets that reflect recently reviewed or returned items? Why not add cover art that can be browsed?

What I really enjoyed about Beth’s presentation is that she has some of the same ideas and interests as me. When pushing the catalogue beyond our familiar boundaries, she too is an advocate of introducing discussion forums into the catalogue, as well as the ability for users to respond to comments/reviews about items. Like social networking sites, why not connect our users to each other? Perhaps we should add the ability to “follow” other readers comments and reading suggestions. Like in facebook, we can provide a forum where users can “trust” one another for reading suggestions and allow for them to send messages to each other. This goes beyond what we think about the catalogue today. It goes beyond tagging, even. This allows a new level of interaction and brings me back to my own vision – that a catalogue is a place, not just an inventory. It’s great to see a vendor taking the same view.

Making the catalogue practical and personal
• Allow users to control their account activity
• Users want to manage and personalize their accounts. They want to create usernames (rather than using a barcode) and many users want to keep track of “their stuff”, which may include writing personalized annotations about books they like or have read. This will allow them to refer to their account for future reading ideas, or assisting in suggestion reading ideas to the online catalogue community.

One catch phrase Beth used that I really liked is “Using collections to build connections”. Our collections are in the catalogue, let’s enable our users to really use our collections to connect with eachother.

David Flabart and Ellen Safley discussed their experiences implementing new catalogues in academic libraries. David’s library only recently implemented Innovative Interfaces (purchased in 2005, implemented in 2007). David walked us through his library’s experience, including the need for setting early goals (for example, customization was key on their list). While they created customized search examples, icons and external linking, he also spoke of the challenges academic libraries face, as opposed to public libraries. Academic libraries have two very different users: students and professors. They have different needs, wants and expectations. This difference goes beyond public library vs. academic library, but user “class” differences. Professors want reviews from colleagues, not their students and students expect a certain level of service based on their tuition fees.

Ellen had a great line that I wanted to quote. “If people don’t need to learn how to use Google or Amazon, why do we make our catalogues so difficult that we have to offer training?” That’s an excellent point. She offered the following in her presentation:

• To find, NOT search
• Lose the professional jargon in the catalogue – for example, “holdings”, acronyms and so on.
• Make it simple
• Make options more visible (facets)
• Boolean is out – let’s give users one single search box.

I think that all of the speakers made some excellent points. Next generation catalogues are about building community and allowing users to participate as much or as little as they want – just as they do in our physical library community. We should be looking into ways to maximize on our users wants, needs and expertise. Mining this social data will allow a new level of discovery in our catalogues. With the inevitable implementation of RDA and the relationship mapping that we are starting to build upon, we are going to see changes in cataloguing practices and they should allow us to grow with our user community. I hope that the attendees who were at this session walked away with ideas and an understanding that the catalogue can change – if we’re not afraid to let it.


Filed under Conferences, Discovery tool platforms, future of cataloguing, In the Cataloguing Department, Social catalogue, The Library Catalogue

Social Catalogues – Slides in a more compatible format

In my last blog post, I uploaded the Powerpoint slides in the .pptx format, which opens easily only if you have the latest Office 2007 package.  So, I’m posting them here in the 1997-2003 format for all to access. 

Social Cataloguing Site: Features and Implications for Cataloguing Practice and the Public Library Catalogue

Social Catalogues: The New Face of the Public Library Catalogue

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