Tag Archives: library catalogue

Jack Of All Trades, Master of None

Our cataloguing department had a chance to sit down this past Friday and listen to ALA’s super debate “There’s no catalog like no catalog”.

1.   How does a library catalogue get better every time it is used?
2.   What do we “cost” in relation to our benefit?
3.   Where do our services fit in to a user’s goals?
4.   Is our “virtual” library just as well staffed (with its own librarian too) as our physical branches?
5.   Why aren’t we collecting data from our patrons to enhance the catalogue and share community interests?

Some other interesting points:
1.   We need to be more evidence and cost driven.
2.   It’s important that we place more emphasis on statistics to justify what we are today and where we want to go.
3.   Our largest enemy is indifference – indifference from the profession, management and from the public.

And finally, my one concern:
It seems as if many professionals want us to become a “jack of all trades but master of none”.   A catalogue can’t be all things to all people.  Rather than try to be a Google and an Amazon, what do we do well?  What can we grow and enhance?  We are, after all, a database, not a search engine.  Perhaps I’m taking a narrower view than some.  Yes, the sky is the limit, but where do we start?  In the end, people use the catalogue because they are looking for information that is free and local.  They use the library website to find programs, links to additional reading resources and links.  I see, in the near future, a melding of these two ideas.

I found the debate useful in that it has started a dialogue in our own cataloguing department about the future of cataloguing.  I’m hesitant to adopt an “all things to all people” mentality, but I do believe we can be doing much more than we are.  I’m certainly looking forward to change, but not at the expense of a catalogue’s integrity or the detriment of the communities we serve.  First and foremost, we provide local service to the taxpayers who support us.  What do they want and need from our catalogue?

Leave a comment

Filed under future of cataloguing, Our Profession, The Library Catalogue

Readers’ Advisory Services: In the Backroom

As a member of our Readers’ Advisory Team at HPL, I’ve become interested in what the catalogue can do to assist and promote RA services while at the same time, maintaining the integrity of the catalogue.  While I don’t mind creating local headings if they provide long-term benefits to access, I don’t feel comfortable adding RA “buzz” words that are “here today, gone tomorrow”.  So, how can we balance our cataloguing rules while meeting the needs of RAs?  This is something I’ve only recently been exploring.  Our first step here at HPL has involved creating genre headings that fall under the “Narrative Nonfiction”. 

This week, we’ve begun a project to create genres that fall into the narrative nonfiction category and add them to our bib records, where appropriate. The birth of this project began with the idea of a narrative nonfiction tutorial.  The first steps in our own project began through frequent discussions with frontline librarians and by looking at RA websites.  Also, I’ve been working with an adult services librarian in our system to come up with definitions of these genres for our scope notes. While cataloguers are used to compartamentalizing and organizing books into clear categories (at least, in theory this is how we work), I decided to pick the brains of those RAs who are actually doing the searching on the frontlines.  As a result, I asked an adult services librarian to create definitions of how RAs would define the different genres and what they feel would fall into those categories.  Not only has this created a working partnership with frontline staff, which makes us visible and relevant, it also provided us with scope notes for our authorities.

I’ve recently proposed holding a session on this topic at CLA Montreal.  Although I haven’t heard anything yet, I do believe this is an area of cataloguing that should be explored. My splash for the session is below:

With the growing popularity of RA services, what role does the library catalogue play?  Why is the library catalogue being passed over for databases such as Novelist? This workshop takes a closer look at the strengths and weaknesses of the library catalogue in RA services.  We will discuss the option of implementing RA “buzz words” as subject and genre headings, ideas for collaboration with RAs and the catalogue for enhancing Readers Advisory Services and what cataloguing departments need to do to get out of the backroom and onto the RA playing field

I’m looking for feedback on this idea.  Should we be exploring our role in RA services?  Do any of you have suggestions or comments about this?


Filed under Access Issues, In the Cataloguing Department, The Library Catalogue

Thoughts on Chad Abel-Kops’ paper

Now that most of you have had an opportunity to read Mr. Abel-Kops’ paper, I thought it was time to write my own reflections on what he has written.

Rather than taking the view that we have not improved our cataloguing services although we have been aware of shortcomings as early as the 1940s, I take the position that it is to our credit that cataloguers have always acknowledged that ours is not a static profession, but requires constant attention and improvement. Indeed, the current Library of Congress task forces, discussion of RDA, AACR2 revisions and FRBR prove that we understand the need for change and we are addressing them.

I don’t believe there is a librarian or cataloguer active in the profession that isn’t aware of the fact that we compete with the internet. However, as professionals, many of us are aware of the role of the internet versus the role of the library catalogue. If we are falling short in any area, it is in the professions’ inability to express this difference to our users.

“But carefully constructed catalogs result in valuable recall and logical precision, right? When used thoroughly, the catalog provides answers; the latest Internet search engine, in contrast, produces wide-ranging and irregular guesses, with little control of linguistic or cultural variations. Users are left in a sea of confusion and quickly walk away from any types of anonymous, automated solutions.”

This is a quote from Mr. Abel-Kops’ paper which outlines our usual rhetoric when promoting the catalogue over the internet. While he goes on to state that this may appear to be true, in reality, users believe in “the principle of least effort”, I don’t believe we should be laying down our tools and looking to Google for answers. Indeed, I don’t believe that this statement is without merit. The library catalogue has a specific purpose. Rather than take the position that cataloguing and the catalogue is flawed, we should be focussing on methods we use to communicate the information to users. Emphasis on the end-user interface and experience is essential and has, up until this point, been largely ignored. While it is easy to point to cataloguing as the reason that the library catalogue is failing, it is harder to blame the profession as a whole and administrators for not emphasizing the end-user experience. I don’t believe the structure and rules behind cataloguing are where our weaknesses lie. The internet’s success is not based on whether or not we use controlled vocabulary, but the users’ experience with the interface and perceived results. The internet has been successful because of what it has done on the user’s end, not behind-the-scenes on the organization of information end.

What is ignored throughout the paper is the emphasis on what cataloguers continually attempt to do. I reject the idea that cataloguers don’t “focus on the needs that catalog librarians meet, rather than the methods they use.” Many professionals that I speak with are constantly striving to meet the needs of the users with an emphasis on moving away from the traditional models of the library catalogue. We seek to add more “see also” references and advocate for interfaces that reflect social tagging and communities.

“Humans provide meaning behind the information found; meaning that librarians strive to keep anonymous and objective, but in reality can never be.”

This is a powerful statement. However, meaning can be influenced by many factors. It can be influenced by the professions’ acceptance that the internet is superior to our library catalogue, as well as how information is ranked, displayed or “tagged” in a social setting. Indeed, meaning behind information is determined out of age, life-experience and socioeconomic class. We cannot be all things to all people. As professionals, we must determine how best to use our expertise to provide access to information so that end-users can create their own search experiences and meaning. It can be concluded that it is not the terms we apply or the information we provide that is of value to the users, it is the experiences they have while seeking the information that determines whether or not the library catalogue is successful.

I don’t believe we have a crisis in cataloguing. Cataloguers understand the need for change and continually attempt to do so. Indeed, no other area of librarianship has been required to change as much as cataloguing. From card catalogues to automated systems, to social tagging and emphasis on end-user satisfaction, cataloguers are doing their best to develop professionally. We continue to do so.

The fact that our services are not successful at the end-user level is not a cataloguing problem. It is far more wide-reaching than that. It is a problem for the entire profession. Why do the users believe in “the principle of least effort” and why don’t students understand the structure and use of the library catalogue? These issues require a look into the entire profession, not just the area of cataloguing.


Filed under future of cataloguing, In the Cataloguing Department, Our Profession, The Library Catalogue

“Raised on Google, this generation won’t settle for the difficult-to-use online library catalogues that many of us are accustomed to”

Here’s an article I stumbled across late last week.  I think it really points to some ideas for the future of libraries, the library catalogue and information retrieval. 

Here are some quotes from the article:

“… a former digital projects and web librarian, and an avid gamer, is charged with finding ways to provide library resources and services through gaming environments.”

“The new catalogue includes a single Google-style search box, an array of search options, cover art, tables of contents and book reviews.”

Hmm, definitely interesting.  We may not all have the budgets to accomplish what McMaster University is doing right now, but I am excited about new features our future catalogues will exhibit.  I’m looking forward to reading more about McMaster’s new library when it is finished – and what was or wasn’t a success. 

The other libraries featured in this article also provide inspiration, and perhaps a little trepidation, for all that is to come.   However, change is good and although we can all expect growing pains, I am very excited about the new ideas and excitement demonstrated by these librarians.


Filed under future of cataloguing, The Library Catalogue