Archive for the ‘Cataloguing’ Category

Informal RDA discussion for RLUK members: what I got out of it

As I mentioned in my previous post, yesterday was the informal discussion about RDA that Helen Williams and I organised for RLUK members. Helen and I were really gratified to see so many people turn up and felt the discussion went well. I personally found it very useful and got a lot out of it, I hope the other participants did too. We held the discussion under the Chatham House Rule, to facilitate open and free conversation. At the start of the meeting, I did mention that I’d be blogging about the discussion but would not identify any individuals or institutions that took part or say anything that could identify them. Everyone is of course free to report back to their institutions about what was discussed, indeed I hope they found enough of interest that they do want to report back, but again without identifying/attributing comments to individuals or institutions. Although this all might seem a bit unnecessarily like a John le Carré novel (and let’s face it, there are few enough opportunities for that in my daily life), I firmly believe that offering that kind of confidentiality really helped everyone feel able to talk openly and made the discussions more useful.

This blog post is a report of the main points of discussion during an extremely full two hours of conversation, but is obviously slightly affected by that confidentiality. It obviously reflects my own personal impressions and the things that struck me as most interesting. I could never hope to cover everything discussed in those two hours. Doubtless other attendees would have taken home a slightly different impression and may, indeed, decide to blog about it themselves or add to the comments here to offer a rounder picture.

For me, the best thing about the morning was just having a rare opportunity to talk openly and freely to UK colleagues in a similar situation, colleagues who are thinking about RDA implementation, planning or worrying about training needs and figuring out how to tackle the same hurdles. I now have a network of people I have met personally who are dealing with these issues in other institutions which will be extremely valuable over the next few months. People did air some unresolved issues about RDA itself: the timing of implementation, the content of the RDA rules/guidelines, the problem of not having had easy access to the Toolkit to make a full assessment, the value of RDA while still in a MARC environment. None of these issues will be new to people who’ve been following RDA over the last few years and many of them I feel are extremely valid concerns. However, putting those aside, I think there is a general acceptance now that RDA is coming (finally!), it really is happening and we simply need to prepare for it now that we know the Library of Congress and the British Library are moving to RDA on March 31st 2013. I’d sum this up by saying that we’re now in a “when not if” world and that represents a change of mindset.

Having said that, the “when” is not a straightforward question to answer and only a couple of institutions represented at the meeting had made a firm commitment to move to RDA on Day 1, along with LC and the BL. Some were waiting for a new library system (or necessary upgrades to an existing one) or a new discovery layer. However, in general, the majority were preparing to accept RDA records from Day 1 and a smaller number of people expected to be also creating RDA records. The general sense was that this wouldn’t be a “big bang” switch to RDA, but a more gradual process possibly over the course of the whole of 2013. Again, while there was a variety of experience round the table, very few people had actively begun RDA training for their cataloguing staff or had written RDA documentation or even created RDA catalogue records. However, there is a real sense of movement with this and those institutions with some idea of a timetable were certainly looking at training within the next year.

An interesting aside, more institutions than I expected (from an admittedly small and interested sample) had access to the RDA Toolkit and few more were actively planning to get a subscription in the coming year. However, there seems to be some concern about how much use of the Toolkit can be assumed for the majority of staff, especially paraprofessional staff, copy cataloguers or those who do cataloguing as part of a much broader job description. Several participants plan to create documentation separate from the Toolkit that will work as a “cheat sheet” set of instructions to walk someone through the steps need to edit or create an RDA record (or update an AACR2 record to RDA) without requiring any access to the RDA Toolkit. This matches current practice for many, where staff are not expected to look things up in AACR2.

At one point, when speaking about the need to make senior library management aware of the implications and costs (in productivity terms but also for the RDA Toolkit, etc) of RDA implementation, I realised that the seemingly constant delays to the arrival of RDA may have made those of us talking about it seem like the boy who cried wolf. And it’s only finally this year that we’ve been able to say “it really is coming this time, we have a date, honest!”. Getting RDA into annual appraisals and objectives for managers (and sometimes also for staff) or into the annual plan for the department seemed to be a common way of getting the message out to senior management about the changes coming.

Someone asked whether we have any actual measures, for example from the US National Test libraries, of the drop in productivity when training staff in RDA, either of how great this drop is or how long it lasts before productivity begins to pick up again. I have to say I haven’t seen any hard measures of this, though I remember being surprised by reports from test libraries that the productivity picked up more quickly than they expected. That’s something I’d be interested in following up, though, as we’re all very conscious of the need to maintain productivity and hit rates in our ongoing work even during this transition.

Another quote I came away with was the notion of “accommodating RDA versus creating RDA”. That the process of implementation might be in several stages, the first one of which we are currently in as we see RDA records arriving from external sources. Training could take place in stages: train cataloguers to recognise RDA, deal with copy, before moving on to creating RDA records. “Accommodating RDA” also points to wider issues around derived records, batch-loaded records, vendor records (for shelf ready, e-journals, etc) and various workflows where decisions will have to be made about what kind of records are acceptable. Even once cataloguing fully in RDA, there will be many situations where AACR2 records are still being downloaded into the catalogue for one reason or another and it is unrealistic for most libraries to attempt to convert these to RDA. The notion of hybridity in the catalogue proves quite a relief, then, as we can accept the plurality of records.

There was a huge amount of enthusiasm during the discussion for pooling resources and sharing training materials. There was interest in training events, perhaps even a train the trainer model where possibly the British Library, CIG or even RLUK might provide something centrally. However, there is a real shortage of experienced RDA cataloguers in the UK (outside of the British Library certainly). There’s obvious concern about everyone being self-taught – someone queried where the quality control would come from if everyone simply interpreted the guidelines for themselves. I mentioned something someone had said to me at ALA last month and which I found extremely reassuring: a colleague from one of the US test libraries said that during training she was only ever half a step ahead of the people she was training. This is a very different situation from the one we are used to as experienced cataloguing trainers and needs some different approaches. The best ideas discussed yesterday included:

  • Sharing training material and documentation, ideally by making it public
  • Making workflows within the RDA Toolkit public (the BL has said it will be doing this shortly but possibly other libraries should do it too)
  • The possibility of a forum or other space where people could discuss issues, ask questions (I had some hesitation about this as it feels like that may be reinventing the wheel but I also agree that the main mailing lists are not always the most helpful venues for advice or answers at the moment)
  • Building in ongoing support after the initial training, things such as “open clinic” or regular meetings where staff can come together and look at records they have been working on to discuss questions or where decisions might have been difficult
  • Developing some kind of “application profile” – almost a subset of the LC/PCC Policy Statements – to help with the options and alternatives in RDA as cataloguer’s judgement is not always a helpful concept

We also shared resources we have found useful. My personal favourites, which I’m going to come back to in my write up of ALA too, include:

  • the ALCTS webinars which are extremely reasonably priced anyway but which also become freely available (audio & slides online) after a 6 month period and where there is already a huge amount of great RDA stuff
  • the entire training schedule and documentation from the Library of Congress and all the new links being added to Cataloguers’ Learning Workshop
  • finally I mentioned a great idea from Lauren Bradley (@BibliosaurusRex on Twitter) who I spoke to at ALA. She has created a training checklist in a Google doc, pointing people to various online training resources but suggesting an order and making a selection of what she feels is useful. I think this is a fantastic idea and think I’ll be adopting a similar approach. Lauren very generously made her checklist available as a Google doc and she was asking for comments, so please do have a look and let her know what you think. If I do develop one then I’d like to make it publicly accessible too. Obviously each institution will have its own requirements but the basic skeleton is a very useful way to navigate around the huge amount of RDA training material available online

I’ve only skimmed over our discussion but my conclusions are that this format of open, confidential discussion in a small enough group to enable everyone to participate (we had 12 people) worked very well. Much as Helen & I would love to spend our time travelling round the UK talking about RDA with people (seriously, we would, especially if you offer us biscuits), that’s not really going to be possible. However, we are reporting back to the CIG committee the outcomes of this first discussion and the fact that we feel there’s a lot of interest in this in other parts of the country and from a broader audience than just the RLUK membership. If you think a similar discussion might be useful for you then do let us know and we can pass that on to CIG, who might be able to help facilitate other meetings. We were very grateful to RLUK for covering the cost of tea, coffee and biscuits (the things which allow a discussion of RDA to be civilised and enjoyable). Mike Mertens is reporting back to RLUK on the discussion to see how they can further support their members and the users of the Copac database.

Finally, I wanted to say thank you to everyone who came along and particularly to Helen Williams at LSE for following up on my initial “wouldn’t it be great if we could get everyone involved in planning for RDA implementation in a room” tweet, for offering us a room at LSE and for basically making this happen.


Going to London, where the streets are paved with acronyms…

Tomorrow I am going to London for a very full day of RDA and FRBR. In the morning, it is the informal RDA discussion for RLUK libraries which I’ve organised with Helen Williams. I cannot say how much I’m looking forward to it – born from a little casual remark on Twitter (as are all the best things I find). I’m hoping it will be a really useful opportunity to talk to other people thinking about RDA implementation in RLUK libraries, talk about what we’re planning, what we’re worrying about, what we’ve yet to decide. I’ve been doing a huge amount of preparation for RDA training/implementation since I returned from ALA so it will be great to chat to other people and see how my ideas and plans fit in with those of other people.

In the afternoon (must remember to have lunch in between), Helen and I are giving the FRBR for the terrified workshop for CIG in collaboration with CILIP in London. I have spent the day finalising my preparation. The workshop was fully booked within about 24 hours and we already have a waiting list so I think Helen and I are just really aware that we want to do a great job for all the participants and do justice to the fantastic workshop designed by Esther Arens. I think I’m going to dream about entities tonight.

I’m still writing up all my RDA-related notes from my fantastic trip to ALA in Anaheim last month. I promised to post it all here and I will, sorry it’s taking a while but I hope this post demonstrates that I am still very much actively thinking about all these issues. I hope to bring a lot of what I learned at ALA from colleagues in the US to my discussions tomorrow, with colleagues in the UK. Which is what it was all about.

Adventures at ALA

I’m in Anaheim, California for ALA Annual. It’s hard to type that sentence without doing a little happy dance.

I was extremely fortunate to be awarded one of the conference bursaries from the John Campbell Trust this year which has allowed me to attend ALA. In my application for the bursary, I explained that there is such a lot of change going on in cataloguing at the moment with RDA implementation early 2013 and the LC Bibliograpic Framework Transition Initiative and that a lot of progress reports and announcements will be made here at ALA. So I will be attending pretty much everything on RDA that I can (and that’s quite a lot of things). It’s great to be able to get the information directly, rather than relying on Twitter and blogs for reports from others. I will be writing up everything I learn at the conference here on the blog as soon as I can and in as much detail as possible to share information with the my UK colleagues. I will also report to the CIG committee to feed into our training plans, as well as doing a formal report at the CIG Conference in Sheffield, September 10-11th.

Another part of what I’ll be doing while I’m here is working on the new project for High Visibility Cataloguing which I’ll talk about more over on that blog. For a year now, we’ve been thinking about the idea of a “23 Things” style programme for cataloguing and what we’ve come up with is something a bit different. We are working on phase one right now and part of that will be happening while I’m at ALA  (intriguing, eh?). I’ve got some HVCats cards to give away and hope to meet lots of catalogers/cataloguers while I’m here for that too.

I know, I know, it’s a hard life, right?

Train the cataloguing trainer: interesting conversations on Twitter, part I

This blog post was inspired by a fascinating conversation I had on Twitter* today about training cataloguers. There were some ideas there that merited a little bit more breathing space and a chance for wider input so here I am, hastily blogging about it.

I have trained a lot of people to catalogue, in virtually every library job I’ve ever had. Even in my graduate trainee year, where I first tried my hand at real cataloguing, I wrote guidelines for my successor as trainee (bringing in one of my other favourite things, documentation but that will have to be for another blog post). Come to think of it, I think my successor as graduate trainee left libraryland and never catalogued again as far as I know so maybe that wasn’t a good example to pick. Not everyone I’ve had a hand in training has run screaming for the hills, though, and sometimes – mmore often than you might think – I’ve had the privilege of watching someone gradually realise that they’ve got the cataloguing bug. I love training, it’s one of my favourite things in my current job. I like training one-to-one at someone’s desk in the intensive way you need to with a new colleague, I enjoy classroom-style training sessions to larger groups, I even like writing training handouts.

Today’s Twitter conversation was about how we train new cataloguing staff. Now, I was a graduate trainee at a college that was brilliant in many ways but does seemsto produce more than the average number of cataloguing-inclined trainees (you know who you all are!) which indicates that the experience of being trained and of cataloguing there is a very good one. I also had the good fortune to work at Stanford University and received a rigorous training there (in NACO and BIBCO as well as the quite different approach generally to cataloguing in the US). It’s maybe worth noting that I learned nothing at all at library school about cataloguing, it has all been on-the-job training. This is something to think about when training new staff – don’t assume very much prior exposure, even in qualified librarians.

I could tell you a bit about how I go about training new staff (some of which is part of the culture and tradition of my library but part of which is my personal choice as I deal with quite a lot of training): in essence, I believe cataloguing is something you can only learn by doing, ideally I start people will creating original records from scratch (but for carefully selected titles and usually starting with fiction, moving into biography and works of literary criticism). I start with descriptive and only move onto subject analysis and classification later. I find it’s better to do some original cataloguing first before talking about copy cataloguing (better to start with the false hope that there is one right answer before demonstrating that there are many possible right answers!). Exactly what needs to be covered depends what kind of post the person will be in, but on the whole training someone to catalogue requires time spent sitting together with catalogued items on a desk and records on a computer. I loved my training period at Stanford but it’s extremely labour-intensive and possibly not a luxury many places can afford these days.

When we think about cataloguing training, it can be hard to separate the institution-specific (“this is how we classify cd-roms” or “this is how we enter a new subfield in our LMS”) from the general (“what is an authorised form of name and how do we find it” or “what do we do with a parallel title”). However, I think there’s still a lot to learn from each other. So I’m interested to hear from you:

  • how were you trained in cataloguing?
  • What type of materials did you work on first?
  • How were you introduced to original or to copy cataloguing?
  • And, crucially, what do you think now – with hindsight – of that training and the way it was organised?

If you train people yourself, how do you go about it? What can you share about what new cataloguers should work on first and what type of cataloguing they start with? Or if you were designing training from scratch, how would you do it? Please comment (anonymously if you prefer) as I’d love to hear and think we have a lot to learn from hearing how different people achieve the same aim.


*Twitter is amazing. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I learn so much there and it opens up avenues for conversation that just wouldn’t be possible any other way. If you’d told me 15 months ago that I’d say such a thing, I would have guffawed.

Anatomy of a cataloguer, or, I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed

This blog post started life as a comment on the “Anatomy of a cataloger” post by Theresa Schultz over at LISNPN but it got a bit too long and then moved slightly in another direction anyway so I’m posting here on my much-neglected blog.

First of all, it’s not entirely true that I wasn’t angry. There was definitely some anger, in fact there may have been a little mention of Hulk Cataloguer on Twitter last night. After thinking it through, however, what I’m left with is disappointment. First of all, please do read Theresa’s post. And definitely also read the comments there, eloquently and coherently written (thank you all). I’m not interested in any ad hominem attack – Theresa has replied to the comments and explained her position, welcoming the discussion. She points out that the piece is meant to be humorous. Let me just indulge in a little experiment to see if I can show why the reaction to her post wasn’t just a sense-of-humour-fail on the part of the cataloguers I know.

What if, instead of being a piece about cataloguers written by a non-cataloguer (or a very reluctant cataloguer, by her own admission), it were a piece about librarians written by a non-librarian. Replace “cataloguer” with “librarian” (and a couple of the other words to the new context) and see what it gives:

Is there any position more dreaded than “librarian”?  Not because they’re scary, but because none of us really want to do it?  Because we don’t really love books, electronic resources, searching, referencing, or silence?  Or any of the library standards?

I can’t think of anyone I went to university with who liked librarianship.  We all thought of it as a necessary evil.  I’ve had to do some work in a library, and I haven’t changed my tune overmuch.  Borrowing a book is fine, but working on an issue desk?  Forget it.


Librarians are respected in an abstract way, I think, when they’re thought of at all.  It’s not a glamorous position, a high-visibility position, or one with a lot of change.  If you like a reliable, steady sort of work, then libraries might just be for you. 

You get my point, right? If someone wrote this in a magazine or website, the library community would be all over it. Even though it’s intended to be humorous, the use of stereotypes, the “necessary evil”, “who’d want to do this” aspect would get our backs up and we’d be advocating and busting out of the echo chamber about libraries and librarianship. Wouldn’t we?

And rightly so. It’s particularly disappointing that this was written on a website for enthusiastic, interested new professionals, library school students and people interested in the profession. As part of a series that, while light-hearted, states its aim to give “a better understanding of what our colleagues do and so students might have more realistic ways to potentially decide which track to focus on”. Yes, the author gives some praise to the importance of cataloguing and the catalogue but all the while says “we’re lucky other people like to do this so that we don’t have to”. Who is going to finish reading that and think “Hmmm, I think cataloguing’s for me, I love to be under-appreciated, mocked and considered nitpicky”?

More importantly, I’m disappointed because we’re obviously not getting our message out. It’s been nearly a year since High Visibility Cataloguing was set up and we’re not much further out of the cataloguing echo chamber. I’m disappointed because we should have been *offering* to write a piece for LISNPN about the realities of being a cataloguer. As part of the discussion on Twitter last night, Doreva Belfiore made the suggestion that a cataloguer write about their work for the Hack Library School blog. Brilliant idea. We should have thought of that. Proactive not reactive!

In true schoolteacher-y style, I’m most disappointed in myself. Must. Do. Better. This high visibility stuff won’t happen all by itself, we need to be looking for avenues to promote and describe what we do ourselves, take charge of the narrative so that other people don’t do it for us.

This was my own personal reaction so I’ve posted it here but please do keep an eye on the High Visibility Cataloguing blog as we would really like to collect proactive ideas and ways to get our message out there. We need you! If only to make sure the Hulk Cataloguer doesn’t make another appearance.

Thank you to all the wonderful cataloguers who commented on the original LISNPN piece and talked about why they love cataloguing, superstars one and all!

P.S. I heard a rumour that the Hulk Cataloguer may have a Twitter account. If any gifted person would like to design an avatar for Hulk Cataloguer, I…. er, I mean he‘d be very grateful 😉

Creating spaces for cataloguing conversations to happen

At the start of year I said I hoped 2011 would be another Year of Cataloguing Conversations. I’ve realised that this is already happening in a variety of ways and I am thinking of more ways to create spaces for these conversations to happen. I hope this will continue over the rest of the year. At the moment, I’m tying up loose ends at work before going on leave so – in a similar vein – here’s a post pulling together all the disparate threads of cataloguing conversations and my thoughts about them (in case I don’t get much chance to blog for the next couple of months).

Catbkchat & Conversations with Catalogers in the 21st Century

The idea of a Twitter cataloguing book club was just floated on Twitter and then managed to embed itself in enough minds that we’ve been doing #catbkchat now for a few weeks. We’re currently reading our way through Conversations with Catalogers in the 21st Century section by section. It has been quite successful, there is now talk of a more general library book chat (#libchat), and an off-shoot of the first #catbkchat was Anne Welsh’s experiment with her Advanced Cat & Class students at UCL, opening up the classroom to Twitter discussion of a freely available chapter of the book. I think this is a simple model that obviously attracts a lot of people so I’d expect and hope to see more of this kind of Twitter chatting.  

CIG E-forums

Okay so this isn’t really a new communication medium as ALCTS have been doing it for a while now, but I am really excited that CIG is trying out the e-forum format too! I’ll be co-moderating the first one on RDA on April 18-19th and really hope it provides a useful, free, open-to-all discussion channel for cataloguing debate and exchange of views.

The keen but clueless cataloguer’s guide to… linked data/the semantic web/metadata futures

This is a particularly hard thing to define but is something I have felt increasingly concerned about over the last year or so. Lots of things are happening in the areas of open bibliography, linked data, semantic web. There are many exciting projects and collaborations. I feel very strongly that this is a future path for cataloguers and catalogue data, and we should be interested and actively involved. Yet, I hear people in the communities working on these projects that they struggle to get librarians – or even cataloguers in particular – interested and engaged. Meanwhile, I feel I know a little but not quite enough to participate in the conversations…

Last week I mentioned on Twitter (in yet another exchange about this favourite topic of mine) that I wish there was some kind of “Idiot’s guide…” or “… for dummies” which would help point someone like me – an enthusiastic and interested cataloguer but with very little technical expertise or knowledge in programming etc – in the right direction. A few pointers on where to start among all this information. What would I need to know to take it further. I’m not afraid to teach myself, I’m not afraid of technology, there’s just so much out there I don’t know where to start or what would be most useful/important. Particularly from the point of view of the data I work with on a daily basis (catalogue records, authority files, RDA/MARC, etc).

A few things are currently being mentioned in this discussion – the possibility of a future Mashed Library event with a focus on metadata/cataloguing is one really intriguing idea. But to gather more suggestions in rather more characters than Twitter will allow, @orangeaurochs has set up this “Cataloguing Technology Wiki“. If you’re interested, have suggestions or are someone working in linked data/semantic web and other similar areas and wish you could just let cataloguers/librarians know what you wish they knew, then please come and add to the conversation in the wiki.

Cataloguing 23 Things

As part of the Cataloguing Technology Wiki, @orangeaurochs also asked how cataloguers prefer to learn about this kind of thing. Which has grown into a much wider conversation after a brilliant suggestion (from @NunuThunder) of some kind of Cataloguing 23 Things. So please come and look at what we’re talking about with this. There’s already quite a lot of interest in cat23, but we’re trying to refine what exactly that might mean and whether it would be a separate thing from the original idea of an “idiot’s guide…” to linked data, semantic web. The 23 Things could be more about mainstream cataloguing, tools and open source programs, similar ideas. We’re hoping to set up a separate space for that particular conversation but in the meantime, if you’re intrigued or have some good ideas, come and add them to the wiki. There are already some great ideas there but we need to get a clearer sense of what the potential participants would be looking for, what we’d need to cover, etc.

Support for solo or self-taught cataloguers

The cat23 discussion has also touched on something I’ve been pondering here in Cambridge for a while (since 23 Things in fact) – the idea of some kind of online/drop-in support for cataloguing questions/queries. I have had it at the back of mind for a while but was unsure how to make it work even in an institutional context. There are many people here who are solo librarians (let alone solo cataloguers) or cataloguers by default. There are also lots of people trying to teach themselves new formats. I wondered about a regular drop-in q&a session (bring a problem, we’ll all have a look together and see what we think). I get a lot of informal cataloguing queries that I think people are reluctant to ask through “official” channels (think the query is too basic or they should already know the answer or whatever). I think there might even be some benefit to it being possibly anonymous(ish) so had looked into IM chat type functions, twitter.

The conversations about cat23 and cataloguing learning raised the issue of solo cataloguers or self-taught cataloguers – especially in an age where very few get much in the way of cat & class at library school. Who helps and supports these people? Where can they turn for the smaller questions if they’re not comfortable asking on Autocat and have nowhere obvious to turn?

I’ve been doing a bit of investigating about this as it must be a perennial problem – there have always been solo cataloguers and this situation is only worsening. I notice that the Cataloging & Classification Section of ALCTS has a Recruitment & Mentoring Committee which reported at ALA Midwinter 2011 that they are planning to roll out a mentoring programme within CCS. I’d love to hear more about that as well as any buddy schemes to partner up solo cataloguers with other cataloguers, any distance support networks or similar. Anyone know about anything like that or involved in the mentoring at CCS – I would love to hear from you in comments or on Twitter!

Library Day in the Life: Tuesday

I’m really much too tired to be writing this now but I know if I don’t do it tonight, I’ll never catch up. Since I’m in no fit state for proper composition, I’m going to do today in bullet points.

  • The Pile of Doom was diminished this morning – in the way of cataloguing magic, a couple of the multivolume sets were less complicated once I’d shown them to a colleague, the looseleaf integrating resource turned out not to be a problem at all and I checked off the DVD-video training pack, doing an authority proposal for it
  • More classifying, here and there throughout the day to keep moving through the stuff awaiting classification
  • On a visit to the Legal Deposit department (to return a book which turned out to be a duplicate), I see the enormous number of boxes of books they are currently unpacking. They tell me that’s only half of what arrived. You can hardly see round the room for the stacks of boxes and all the shelves are full. Hurry back to my desk and take some more classifying to make more shelf space for what is coming our way…
  • Mid-morning meeting, regular weekly catch-up with the staff who deal with looseleaf material and continuations (which currently fall outside the normal workflows of the department for one reason or another). I apologise for being focused on RDA in the last few weeks and promise full attention next month. We set out some medium term goals and talk about where we’d like to be by the time I go on maternity leave.
  • Am asked a question about cataloguing remote databases, so refresh my memory of some work I did on this (turns out it was in 2007). Cataloguing for these databases is currently the responsibility of Electronic Systems & Services division though I think there’s a case for us having someone more involved – I can’t volunteer though as I’m not going to be around much this year
  • Lunchtime – bump into a couple of the TeachMeet organising team who are coming into the library for lunch so sit and have a lovely chat with them about the bookings yesterday, what next and the need for cake next time we all meet.
  • Weekly meeting with member of staff I am training. She shows me the questions/queries/comments she has from what she’s been working on. We talk about 246 use for portion of title, exhibition catalogues, multiple statements of responsibility and language codes in 041/008. It’s a short meeting as she’s doing well. I still need to give her records a final proofread back at my desk then classify and send for binding as needed. There are a few which need authority work so I leave those for tomorrow.
  • Afternoon meeting with the language specialist staff of the European Cataloguing department to talk through the workflow changes we have made in English Cataloguing. This is seriously one of my favourite topics. It’s really good to talk through what we did, how we went about it and why, what it achieved, the issues it raised. Their own workflows, types of material and priorities differ from ours (they don’t have legal deposit material which is an enormous difference) but I hope there will be something in what I’m describing that’s useful to them. There will be issues specific to each language that will be different to what we faced with English-language material. It’s a really positive meeting – they listen very politely to me talking about workflow, ask some questions, nobody falls asleep. I hope they got some ideas – we talk about the need to look at quick wins, the importance of good news stories in cataloguing (where so much can be about what we haven’t managed to do, the backlogs, the increased rate of material coming in). I think it’s important that we’re all actively looking at our cataloguing workflows with a critical eye. I follow up the meeting by emailing some further information I didn’t have to hand and clarifying how to limit a search in OCLC to just PCC records (one of the things I talked about). I’m tired, and I still managed to write quite a lot about workflow – thank goodness for everyone’s sake I don’t have the energy to write more.
  • Oh and I also had cake as it was someone’s birthday in the department today. A good day.

Library Day in the Life: Monday

This is my first post for the Library Day in the Life project, now on Round 6, where librarians record what they do to give an insight into what library work involves. I work as a cataloguer in a legal deposit and university library in the UK.

I work part-time so haven’t been in the library since Wednesday lunchtime last week. Mondays are therefore always a bit of a catch-up day: catch up on emails, catch up on the piles of books and AV material left on my desk in my absence (I’m sure some people wait until my back’s turned!) and catch up on how things have been going since I was last in the office.

On a Monday, I take a bit of time to look at the shelves of books to see how things have been moving, whether work is building up in one area, how many books have been dealt with out of another, how quickly things are being processed and so on. Especially so this morning as it’s technically “changeover day” – the staff of the English Cataloguing department work on a 3 week cycle (3 weeks in a team working on urgent material of various types, 3 weeks in a team working on various “fast track” procedures, dealing with books by finding records according to various predefined workflows and dealing with the various offshoots of that work). I usually send out an email to cataloguers moving back onto the Fast Track team on the Monday of “changeover”, so like to know where we stand with various categories of material for their work during that cycle. However, we had to reshuffle things last week to respond to problems of a lot of staff leave and unexpected absence over the weeks before and after Christmas and also in anticipation of an exceptionally large delivery of books from the Legal Deposit Agency (more on this another day). We’ve basically had to throw all our cataloguing and classifying might in the direction of most need, so we’re not doing a normal changeover. A brief, impromptu meeting with the head of department and we settle on a strategy and email the rest of the staff to let them know how we’re proceeding during this cycle. We’ll be keeping an eye on the workflow and how things are moving over the course of the weeks though.

I then plough through piles of books that have appeared on my desk: mainly books returned from the bindery or from lyfguarding which I’ve already classified, so I just need to complete the holdings records and pass them on to the processing staff for final classmark and labelling. I also have a couple of piles of books to check that have been catalogued by a member of staff in another department who has been having cataloguing training with me: she’s learning fast but I still need to proofread and check each record, make classification decisions and, in a few cases, I need to propose new authorised forms for headings (mainly personal names, but one Sri Lankan series and one subject heading for a Canadian lake). The authority work is the most time-consuming part of this work.

The staff reference copy of Chris Oliver’s Introducing RDA has also appeared on my desk, but I have to put it to one side so I can ask a colleague how we go about dealing with staff reference copies (we have a small reference collection in the main cataloguing office and we thought a copy of Oliver’s book for this collection was a wise move since the library’s borrowable copy has been on loan non-stop and has now disappeared). I add this to a pile which also includes some problematic items that I’ve decided to come back to (this is the Law of the Magic Cataloguing Trolley which I might explain later in the week but is known to all good cataloguers). This pile is a little bit large now, so will have to tackle it tomorrow. I work on lots of non-book formats or non-standard material so the Pile of Doom includes some tricky multivolume sets (yes we have vols. IV.1 and IV.2 from the 1980s and now we’ve received vols. I, II.1-2, III.1  of a “new edition”, sigh). There’s also a DVD-ROM of video tutorials with accompanying book (where I know from talking to her that the cataloguer has made the right decision about how to handle it but which still needs me to proofread) and a looseleaf integrating resource which has changed title and binder size, so will need a new classmark (our in-house classification is organised by height), as well as a reminder for me of dealing with change of title in integrating resources (247 field anyone?). See, definitely needed to all go on the Magic Trolley.

My day is slightly unusual in that today was the day we opened bookings for the second Cambridge Librarian TeachMeet. It’s not part of my official job but the whole organising team has been working on this over the last few days, it’s amazing how we pulled it all together since our planning meeting on Tuesday last week. So I send out the announcement on my designated mailing list. Over my lunch hour, I spend a bit of time tweeting, checking camlibtm emails and marvelling at how quickly places fill up – within 2 and half hours of announcing that booking was open we have 44 people signed up out of a maximum of 60. We’re actually full as I write this, which is overwhelming actually – we hoped it would be popular but we had no idea how quickly people would want to join in. We’ve made a big effort this time to try to reach a wider audience than just staff in the libraries of Cambridge University so we’re really pleased with the mix of people signed up. Now we get to test Eventbrite’s waiting list system.

My afternoon is more of the same, dealing with questions from cataloguers on various issues, doing some classification/binding decisions (as the books to be classified are building up and are now our priority task). We found 3 unsuppressed RDA records in the database so I spend some time tracking down where they came from (OCLC) and what was done to them by local cataloguers (not enough to make them not be RDA records any more). I then email the findings to other staff who are due to meet next week as part of our regular RDA meetings. When we met before Christmas, we decided to keep an eye on RDA records appearing from other sources and we are probably now at the point where we need to draft guidelines for staff on what to do with RDA records when copy cataloguing. This will be discussed next week. It’s good timing, in a way, as I’ve just done an introductory talk on the changes from AACR2 to RDA to all staff (and will be giving it again next week) so everyone should at least have a basic awareness of what we’re dealing with now.

Finally, I follow up with a colleague in another department about having an informal meeting to discuss the workflow and procedures we’ve been trialling and implementing in the  English Cataloguing department. This is a topic dear to my heart, so I draft some notes and print off some of our documentation and we agree a meeting for tomorrow afternoon. More about that tomorrow no doubt.


yum yum

It’s surprisingly hard to sum up a day’s work, especially with cataloguing where I feel I should explain more about what we do and why we do it. Hopefully I’ll do a better job tomorrow. However, I feel the Cambridge Librarian TeachMeet is a big enough achievement for me to think I’ve had A Good Day. Even if I had to do it without any Worcestershire sauce French Fries . And even if nobody delivered cake to me.


Content versus carrier

This is a little idea I’ve been mulling over for a while, since doing the Cambridge 23 Things over the summer. As a cataloguer, we do talk about “content vs carrier” (particularly in conversations about RDA) but this is looking at it in a slightly different way.

When I set up this blog, as part of 23 Things, I spent a quite ridiculous amount of time agonising over the choice of WordPress template, colour scheme and details of layout. I spent time admiring the design of other blogs and wondering how to create something as aesthetically pleasing. The only thing that took me more time and effort than the appearance of the blog was the blog name (which I am also not very happy with, but that’s another story…)

As 23 Things progressed, however, I realised that I was reading the majority of other people’s blog posts via RSS feeds using Google Reader. I was trying to keep up with all the posts on the all the blogs (slightly over-ambitious) so I often read quickly in the display screen of Google Reader, without ever clicking through to the blog itself. In fact, I frequently still do this. And reading in this way means that I don’t see any of that lovely formatting, beautiful layout and great design. I see only the content and I’m choosing to look at it through a different carrier.

Reading blogs in Google Reader

This was good news for someone like me, whose design skills are limited – actually most people hardly ever need to look at the actual design of my blog and can read the content elsewhere, blissfully unaware that I’m aesthetically-challenged. However, this did make me think about catalogue records and cataloguing.

What do I mean? There is a stereotype that cataloguers spend their time carefully honing their “artisan-crafted” perfect catalogue records. Although this stereotype is outdated and no longer accurate, it does definitely have a recognisable basis in truth. As a cataloguer, I do spend time making my records look good when I can and I’m proud of them if I feel they are sparkly, shiny and perfect. There was a time when cataloguers could hope to have a lovely, neat, attractive, controllable catalogue. When I started cataloguing, about 12 years ago, it was worth this effort because the catalogue record that I produced was the final version that was viewed by other library staff and by users of our catalogue. We had a huge amount of control over what was seen and could make a final decision about how that record would look before we released it to the viewing public.

This started to change as we moved more and more towards large databases that collected records from a number of institutions and combined them in some way. This was happening way before 1998, I realise, but my personal experience came as I moved to a larger library which contributed to OCLC and RLIN (as was). Now, cataloguers often have little control over the view provided by their institution’s OPAC. And beyond the OPAC, there are now the various resource discovery tools which can put library catalogue records into a completely different environment from the one for which we originally created that record.

I also began my cataloguing career in a time of dumb terminals, catalogue records that were only available to view through one interface. Now, we have less control over the view that is being seen by the catalogue user – they could be online on a variety of different browsers, or looking at the mobile interface on their new Christmas-present iPhone or via an app.

The content is still what the cataloguer sweats over for each record. But the carrier, the formatting, the labels on the OPAC, the design, the view, the way the user interacts with that content, is totally out of our control. Any carrier we might have is only temporary, is subject to change at any time with a change of LMS or a new resource discovery tool, through mashups and re-use of the content for different ends. I wonder whether one of the biggest changes in cataloguing is less about RDA versus AACR2, and more about letting go of the carrier and focusing on the content. The content is the data, so we should be thinking about the data and how it can be created in such a way to make it as flexible, usable, reusable and, above all, useful as possible for the whole of its life after we release it into the wild.

In essence, this is what lots of people have been saying for a long time. Certainly if we think of the carrier as being the MARC format, then we all know that the carrier is on its last legs. But I also think it’s about the mindset of the cataloguer, particularly when facing the changes that may come with RDA in the next few years but which RDA itself (since it doesn’t solve the carrier issue) doesn’t quite address. We shouldn’t spend our efforts on worrying about the design/layout/presentation (the presence or absence of full stops, the order of notes), we should be focusing on the content and always the content.

2011 – the year of…

Well, it’s been a while since I blogged. Not because there is nothing to blog about, rather because there’s a little bit too much going on at the moment. So here’s a little summary of what I would like to be blogging about when I can find the time.

The year of cataloguing conversations

I’ve just ordered a copy of Conversations with Catalogers in the 21st century, which will hopefully reach me in a couple of weeks. I bought it after reading about it from Christine Schwartz (who has contributed a chapter). She talked about 2010 being the “year of catalog(u)ing conversations” but I feel I got to that one a bit late, so I’m very much aiming to see 2011 be another Year of Cataloguing Conversations. We are expecting the outcome of the US RDA Test by Easter and a decision on implementation by June. Given the level of conversation (and angst, worry, stress, conflict) already caused by RDA within the cataloguing world, I can only imagine that this will definitely get us all talking. Venessa and I are also planning to keep talking about High Visibility Cataloguing and have lots of ideas to get other people involved in that conversation too, so I’m hoping it will be a year of positive advocacy and visible cataloguers getting into the limelight and shouting about what they do and how they contribute. We already have guest posts lined up for the blog there.

I tend to end up talking about cataloguing if people stand still long enough to listen so I will keep doing that and hope it is more of a dialogue than a monologue. I am also on the committee of CILIP’s Cataloguing & Indexing Group, which is a great way to have more cataloguing conversations with colleagues from all over the country so I’m looking forward to that.

The year of the (lib)TeachMeet

Last year’s inaugural Cambridge Librarian TeachMeet went really well. We’ve been talking since then about where to go next – members of the organising team are giving talks at conferences during the year ahead so we can tell people about our experiences and the feedback we received.  This week we announced that the next one will take place on March 29th. We have launched our spangly new website and twitter account too, as we were looking to create ways for lots of people to get involved in discussing, talking about, planning and participating in the (lib)TeachMeet. There is also another librarian TeachMeet planned in Huddersfield on February 9th and version for museums – TeachMeet Museums – planned for February 4th so this might turn out to be the year that the non-teacher TeachMeet really took off.

The year of professional conversations

2011 started off with a bang, as I attended the libraries@cambridge conference. Other people have written fantastic summaries of the day which I can offer until I have time to write it up properly. Apart from being a much larger and swishy affair than when I last attended in 2007, it was the perfect mix of inspiring, intriguing and interesting presentations and a rare opportunity to socialise and chat to lots of old friends, former colleagues and new acquaintances (the first time I’ve had people who have only ever “spoken” to me online in some way come up to me and say “oh are you Celine?” or, in the case of Ned Potter, “oh you’re Kuh-juh-klib”). I hope this is the sign of the year to come. At the moment, I’m using the huge network of cataloguers and librarians on Twitter to follow what’s happening at ALA Midwinter in San Diego. Even though my year at work will finish in April, I think the professional conversations will carry on – I might be a bit quieter than usual but I’ll still be keeping in touch with Twitter.

Here’s to 2011 – finally a year which is going to let me talk as much as I want!

%d bloggers like this: