Category Archives: The Cataloguer

“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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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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The Organization of Information: Pondering the Preparation of a Syllabus

As I work on my very first course syllabus for the Fall term at Dalhousie, I find myself reminiscing about my own time in library school and how I felt about the courses I took.  Were they useful? Practical? Was I given enough hands-on work or discussions? What courses did I like? Dislike?  Why?

The first class I’ll be teaching is the Organization of Information.  And here I am, paging through my old notes and text (yes, I kept them!) to remind myself of what I learned and what I found useful/interesting.  As one of those truly *nerdy* students, I took an abundance of notes for each course, writing more on topics that interested me and making side comments on theories and topics I didn’t understand or speakers that I found dull.  I also, ahem, color coded each week in my binders so that they would all correspond….talk about the organization of information

I do remember enjoying courses where a lot of discussion occurred and the class style was laid back.  I don’t like the feeling that you can hear crickets in the room as the instructor asks a question.  It either means everyone has zoned out, they don’t understand what’s being discussed or they’re bored and can’t wait for class to be done.  Hopefully, I can find a balance between instructing and providing the information they need, with common sense applications and enough interest to keep the conversation flowing with the class.

As with all new instructors, I hope to put a little of myself and my own interests into this class, while maintaining the core structure and content that the students will need as a foundation for future classes.

So as I sit at my computer and work through the course schedule, week by week, I find myself wondering, how can I make this class interesting to newcomers?  What will spark an interest and provide them with enough curiosity to ask questions? And I wonder, what do many of you feel about the courses you took?  What differentiated an enjoyable course from a “so so I never want to attend that class again” course?

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Deep Breath: Change is Good, Right?

Change is a natural part of life, and careers.  As you have been able to tell by the spotty and infrequent posting on The Cataloguing Librarian this past year, something must be up, right?  I mean, besides now having a one year old (picture included for those of you just *dying* to see her).

In March, I turned in my resignation at Halifax Public Libraries. It was a very difficult decision but I believe it is the right choice for me and for what I want to accomplish professionally.  It came down to how much or little I want to participate in the profession and my answer was “A LOT!!”.  In fact, participating and hopefully contributing ideas to our profession is extremely important and I want to make a difference.  Not just on a local level, but on a larger scale.  Trying to balance home  life (the desire to be the one to raise my daughter) with a full-time job as a librarian would not allow me to write, blog, speak at conferences or do any consulting;  at least, not for quite a few years.  So, I took a deep breath and made the decision.  And I’m excited!

First, I want to state that The Cataloguing Librarian blog will continue.  I just wanted to put that out there so that those of you who don’t finish reading the post beyond this point will know that I will begin to post again.

In addition to my continued interest in all things cataloguing, I’m finding that my focus in social catalogues and social technology has led me quite naturally to the area of readers’ services.  Barry Trott, as the new editor of RUSQ, was kind enough to offer me the position of column editor for the RA column in RUSQ – which I accepted eagerly before he could withdraw the offer!  So, for the next three years (and maybe longer?), I’m the column editor for that exciting column.  And, that means I may be approaching some of you to contribute your thoughts as guest writers for that column.

My first book, The Library Catalogue as Social Space was published this past winter.  And, I’m currently working on a second book that’s due to the publisher this Fall that focuses on the education and skills of cataloguers – new and “seasoned” professionals.  In particular, how social software and technology may impact the profession and what it will look like in the future.

I’ll also be teaching at Dalhousie University’s School of Information Management.  Right now,  it’s been confirmed that I’ll be teaching the Organization of Information course this Fall.  Hopefully I’ll be able to teach another one this Winter.

And, of course, I’m going to continue my consulting and contribution to NoveList in whatever capacity they offer.  As all of you know, I’m a strong supporter of NoveList and the innovative ideas they implement to connect readers to book, enhancing the experience and success of readers’ advisory in public libraries.

So, while I’m not working full-time at a public library, I am still active in the profession and eager to write, teach, share and present on an ongoing basis.

I hope many of you will continue to contact me to discuss ideas and opportunities, as well as to share your experiences and ask questions.  The Cataloguing Librarian blog will continue to explore cataloguing issues, management and profession conduct topics and readers’ services in an online environment.  It is my hope that you will continue to read the blog and provide feedback, as you have done in the past.

So, you should now start seeing more posts on this blog – which means I need to focus and get writing!

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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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Managing Expectations and Early Arrivals

Managing Expectations

Over a month ago I started a post called Managing Expectations.  The post was centered around what a professional expects of him/herself and/or their colleagues.  I’ll admit, my expectations are high, both for myself and those I work with throughout the profession.   Rarely disappointed, I do have to remind myself often that we must set realistic expectations and goals.  For example, when I started this post originally, I was 8 months pregnant and despite my best efforts, having trouble meeting the demands of a full-time job, blogging, juggling additional professional commitments and pregnancy in general.  In fact, I started to realize that prioritizing my expectations and setting realistic goals were very important so that the quality of the work I do is not compromised.  And, I think that’s what I learned most since I started writing this post (mainly in my head).  You can’t control certain events in your life, but you can manage your expectations and be realistic about what you want to achieve and what the end outcome should be.  Above all else, maintaining a sense of integrity and open-mindedness is essential.  It’s with setting realistic goals and maintaining a certain standard for yourself that you reflect a professional demeanor and reputation – and that saying “no” at times is key is maintaining that reputation and standard of work you expect from yourself.  I hope to get back to my original post soon and provide a more thoughtful and deep discussion, but I believe many of you are aware of how thin we spread ourselves – and how in doing so, we still expect our output to be exceptional – or worse, we know that our output is just “good enough” but we don’t want to disappoint, so we say yes to certain projects anyway or rush through work and or respond to emails without truly reading those emails.   (Ever done that? )

Early Arrivals 

Unfortunately, I never finished this post because I had some complications at the end of my pregnancy which led to bed rest, hospital stays and eventually, the birth of our baby daughter, Amelia Laurel Tarulli, born Tuesday, March 29th.  After a 5 day stay in the hospital, we are now finally home.  Talk about managing expectations!   Attempting to blog, write or even eat seemed too much of a task leading up to Amelia’s arrival and gave me time to think about professional goals while I’m off on maternity leave.  While I’ll be off on maternity leave for 10 months, I will continue to blog and write.  However, over the next couple of months, I’ll have to practice my “managing expectations” mantra as I figure out the motherhood/professional balance.  I know I’ll be active and writing as I was thinking of blog posts while still in the hospital (those moments where my every thought wasn’t centered on Amelia).  So please, be patient.  The Cataloguing Librarian blog will continue, but the frequency of the posts may be a bit less for the next month or two.

And now, for a picture of the baby.  Perhaps our next Cataloguing Librarian?

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Using Twitter for Professional Development and, Book Discussions?

It took me a long time to jump on the Twitter bandwagon. I’m usually keen to try out new social media tools, but for some reason, I couldn’t warm up to Twitter. Why should I care what 10, 20 or 50+ people are doing in 140 characters or less? I don’t care if you’re at the grocery store, if your child was just potty trained or that you’re having take-out for dinner because you had a long day. Really, what is the point?

However, this past Fall I did decide to finally create a Twitter account and I’ve been pleasantly surprised. While I’ll never tweet to the degree that some other members do – btw, how do they have time for tweeting so much?! – I’ve forged some excellent professional and personal relationships through Twitter and I find that my use of this tool is more like a news-ticker in Times Square. In essence, it’s a highlight of all of the latest library-related news stories for the day – throughout the day – and in a far more timely manner than waiting for a weekly newsletter or monthly journal article. And, when I’m really interested in a topic, I click on the link and read it.

I’ve discovered colleagues throughout the world with similar professional interests, as well as personal interests, and am enjoying these connections and the resulting conversations. However, most recently, I have discovered another use for Twitter.

A couple of weeks ago I received my copy of Conversations with Catalogers in the 21st Century in the mail. Excited to announce my most recent book acquisition, I tweeted my excitement and found a handful of other cataloguers throughout the world who are also reading this book. As a result, we decided that in a few weeks’ time, we will share snippets of interesting thoughts and comments on the book through Twitter. Not only will this increase sharing of ideas amongst each other, but will also provide our followers with exposure to some of the key concepts and ideas within this publication. What a great way to share professional ideas and to start conversations, ideas for additional blog posts, articles or publications!

I am now expanding my narrow view of what Twitter was to a much grander view of how it can be used and the many benefits it has for networking, professional highlights and current/timely news within the profession. In fact, I can see the benefit of creating departmental Twitter feeds for cataloguers to follow so that they, too, are exposed to the most recent cataloguing trends and ideas. This does not necessarily require the department to tweet, but does expose staff to new technologies and encourages professional development in a new way. (and acknowledges that many non-librarian staff are otherwise left out of professional development opportunities and access to tools such as this unless they do it on their own time)

Up until this point, I have only seen individual professionals tweet and libraries tweet out their services, programs and blog posts, but haven’t seen departments or in-house library teams use it as a professional development tool. I wonder if this is a new trend and use for Twitter that will begin to grow – or if another social media tool with develop to address this need/purpose.

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