Archive for the ‘cataloguers’ Tag

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 😉

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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!

High Visibility Cataloguing

High visibility, because visible is the first step to being valued.

Since Venessa and I first started talking about High Visibility Cataloguing, we’ve been trying to get the message out to as many cataloguers, metadata specialists, information retrieval officers, bibliographic data managers and other colleagues as possible. Our thanks to Alan Danskin of CIG for his support and for allowing us to post to the CIG blog and hopefully reach a wider audience there. We also managed to get a piece in the last ever issue of Gazette last week (needs Flash to view).

If you didn’t read my original blog post about this then you’ll find it here. Even if you did read it, you may not have seen all the great examples of self-promotion and cataloguers hogging the limelight that people have added in the comments so please do have a look (both here and on Venessa’s post). We’ve been talking about it on Twitter and getting responses from all over the cataloguing world so we’re trying to use the hashtag #hvcats (and have set up a twapperkeeper archive for it). We’re hoping that there will be more discussion and more examples/ideas in the comments on the CIG blog post too.

Venessa and I are really delighted with all the support for the idea and have been collating the various examples and experiences and will hopefully have a central home for them all and for this discussion to continue coming very soon (to save me having to add so many links for you to click on!). An exciting development to look forward to!

Cataloguers, step into the limelight

I have always said that if librarians as a profession struggle with their public image and with public understanding of what they do, then cataloguers are the librarians of the library world.

When people talk about the “echo chamber“, where librarians need to talk to the wider public rather than to each other, I can’t help but think that cataloguers are stuck within their own little bubble inside that echo chamber, mainly talking to other cataloguers.

So, for a long time now, I’ve been interested in promoting cataloguing and cataloguers within our profession, to other librarians and information professionals. And within our institutions – there has been a tendency to describe us as “back room staff” and “back room activities”, tucked away in our fusty corners, poring over rule books, measuring things with rulers, preparing antiquated records fit only for card catalogues while the whizzy, modern, exciting work of whizzy, modern, exciting libraries takes place around us, even in spite of us. This isn’t the case, but we really need to get better and telling people the facts. And showing them what we do.

Biddy Fisher talked about library advocacy and the role of “cat & class” within the new heart of the library profession in her keynote speech at the CIG conference in September (the powerpoint slides are available here). It was a subject that came up a lot in general discussion, over tea, at dinner during the conference.

At the conference (and mainly due to us both being on Twitter), I met Venessa (who tweets as @scarlettlibgirl and blogs at Scarlettlibrarian) and since then we’ve been talking about our mutual interest in proactive advocacy for cataloguing and metadata. Talking about the new roles and activities for the staff traditionally called “cataloguers” (you will note that my job description places me in a “cataloguing” department whereas Venessa’s calls her a “metadata adminstrator” but that’s only the tip of the iceberg in what our various roles cover). We also interested in how cataloguers promote themselves and their work within the wider library, perhaps even the whole institution.

See Venessa’s call to arms on her blog. Our aim is to promote debate and discussion within the cataloguing world but also to encourage promotion to librarians who are not cataloguers. All of this is with the aim of making cataloguers more visible, we need to step into the library limelight and do more to promote our contributions.

We’re particularly interested in anything (official or not) that cataloguing staff have done to promote themselves or their cataloguing work to their colleagues. We’re working on raising our profile so hopefully you will hear more from us in due course (Venessa is working on this right now).

Please do get in touch, on Twitter or via our blogs. I think there’s a real groundswell of broader library advocacy and promotion going on from grassroots level in the wider profession and I really want to see the cataloguing community build on that.

I’ll be posting more about this shortly…

Marketing

I have been putting off writing about marketing (Thing 19) for a number of reasons. I have read some great posts on the topic over on other cam23 blogs and wanted to digest and maybe even respond to some of that. It’s a huge topic and I still feel that there is just too much to say, especially when I am aware that I’m falling behind and really, really want to complete all 23 Things in time for that voucher. The specific requirement on the Thing 19 instructions to blog “specifically about one tool or strategy you are going to adopt to promote your service as a result of your participation in Cam23” makes this a difficult topic for someone like me, who is not in a position to make decisions about the use of social media for marketing in my place of work. There are many other people in the same situation, who have dealt with it in a variety of ways – Librarianintraining takes the opportunity to play “fantasy librarian” (and request a larger office), Birdbrain points out that “surely this kind of thing has to go through SMT” (bit of a UL in-joke, but very funny and almost certainly true).

The issue of marketing raises some related questions that I do also want to look at, even though they aren’t directly answering the question posed in the Thing 19 instructions.

The marketing opportunities offered by social media

Social media marketing cartoon

Lots of people have already blogged about this very well. I think that social media do offer new avenues for marketing, especially if you see communication and visibility as important part of how a library markets itself to potential users. A Facebook page (setting aside my personal dislike), a Twitter account, a blog that users can subscribe to via rss feeds, audio podcasts – these are all communication methods that allow libraries to be more visible and to communicate in various media and in a number of online “locations” with users.

There is, as always, an issue of time as many have already pointed out. Many of the social media tools we’ve been looking at require a responsiveness and even an immediacy that does cost in terms of staff time and effort, even if the tool itself is free. A Twitter account is no good if nobody answers the questions that it inevitably will attract. I have found myself that it’s much easier and therefore more appealing to tweet a question to an institution than it is to track down an email address or phone number to ask that same question. Same goes for a Facebook page. If a library sets this up they need to be prepared to devote the staff time and energy in maintaining the content and responding to communication (not just using these as means to “push” publicity messages out to people).

This has all been covered in more detail and with prettier pictures. At the UL, there are already several initiatives on marketing the library using social media (blogs, rss feeds, videos, twitter). So, rather than repeat the same again (with less pretty pictures) or play fantasy librarian about “what I would do if I were in charge”, I’m going to say some other things that I want to say when thinking about marketing, social media and libraries.

Marketing the librarian rather than the library

One aspect of social media is an element of personalisation. Of moving things from a remote, impersonal institutional level (the Library website, the catalogue) to a more personal, immediate, conversational level (the Library twitter account is often a single person, the ability of blogs/Facebook to allow comments, interaction, response, images). I think it’s a good opportunity to think of marketing the librarian (or rather all members of library staff) as well as the library with its resources, databases, facilities, training. It’s the chance to become more visible, engage with people and demonstrate the added value that library staff can offer that way.

Every encounter, training session, question at a reference desk, query to a passing member of staff in the corridor is in essence a marketing opportunity. What social media does is moves this chance encounter, this passing conversation, friendly interaction outside of the library walls and into other arenas. Be where the users are, as everyone says. It’s what Miss Crail already recognised with her marvellous poster (I had to find a way to reproduce it here, I very much hope she doesn’t mind):

Miss Crail's, Your Librarian, Your Friend

courtesy of the marvellous Miss Crail

I’m going to go a step further too. In a very large library like the UL, there is also an issue of internal marketing. Marketing to the rest of the 300+ members of staff who you are and what your work contributes to the library, what services you can offer in your particular role to the rest of the staff. This is much easier if you’re in a very senior position or in a very public-facing position, where you are carrying out training or inductions. It’s harder for other members of staff whose work is less visible (that includes a huge number of people in the UL, it has to be said). While taking part in 23 Things, I’m starting to see the opportunities social media can offer for this internal marketing and communication both within the library and within the wider Cambridge library system. It would have been almost impossible for the various people who have commented on Andy’s “blog post that wouldn’t die” over on Libreaction (it’s long but worth a read if you haven’t already seen it) to have had that discussion in any other media, there’s no email list or event that would allow it (maybe in a discussion at the libraries@cambridge conference but then there’d be people who couldn’t make it, or who were a bit intimidated about speaking up in person at a large event… you see what I mean).

Social media should be explored as a means of offering a personal presence for librarians, for marketing to the rest of the staff in their library (if it’s a large institution or if, like me, you work in a “backroom” kind of function), for marketing to other libraries and library staff in Cambridge and – just as importantly – for marketing the librarian (and thus the library) within the University  to academics and students, as a way of demonstrating what value librarians can add, by showing how librarians can contribute to research and teaching. A blog, a twitter account, whatever it takes.

Since I (reluctantly) joined Twitter, I’ve already answered several cataloguing questions of varying degrees of obscurity and also used it as a (surprising) forum for discussion on RDA cataloguing rules. I’ve been able to use the new contacts and communication methods to point people in the right direction if I can’t answer a question. This is something it can be very hard to do as a cataloguer. It’s good to be “visible” in this way and a huge number of benefits can come of it, both personally, professionally and for the wider library community. It gets us out of the “echo chamber” if we can do it right (or at least get cataloguers out of our own particular version of it, but that’s an idea for another time). It reminds me of the whole concept of “embedded librarians” which works well for subject librarians but not for cataloguing staff – social media offers the opportunity to try to become more “embedded” whenever possible.

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