Archive for the ‘cataloguing’ Tag

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!


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!

CIG conference report: Japanese management techniques and workflow analysis

At the CIG conference in September, there were a couple of talks about Japanese management techniques and their application to workflow analysis in cataloguing/tech services. I found this very interesting – I live with someone who does Six Sigma/LEAN workflow analysis as a job and who has often commented on how he’d love to apply the methods to the library! It’s almost too interesting a topic – I have too much to say and so have struggled to write up my report for the last 2 months. I’ve finally done a version for my institution’s intranet blog and am reposting it here, with a few extra examples, as I think it’s of wide interest.  Last year, we started a review of workflows and processes within my own department (which is why I have been talking about library workflows at home!), so I have spent a lot of time thinking about this issue.

Stuart Hunt spoke about “Improving performance in cataloguing and technical services workflows”, based on the experience of the University of Warwick. They contracted an external company (Processfix) to analyse and improve workflows throughout all University departments. The wider economic context of current and anticipated future cuts led to a need on an institutional level to consider all activities and see how they could achieve that holy grail of “doing more with less”.

Examples of  Rapid Improvement Workshops that took place in the Library were looking at how long it took to shelve a book (from being returned to being on the shelf ready to borrow again) or examining the entire acquisition process, from recommendation to availability of a book to the reader. At Warwick, the process used various different tools that Stuart Hunt described together as “Japanese management techniques” but included Six Sigma, LEAN workflow and BPR (business process engineering). This is a field full of acronyms (so very familiar ground for cataloguers) but contains some very intriguing ideas and techniques.

 Stuart’s presentation should have been followed by a talk from Robin Armstrong-Viner talking about the use of LEAN Kaizen (one of these Japanese management techniques) at the University of Aberdeen. However, he was unable to make it due to a family emergency, so instead his slides were used as the backdrop for a more general discussion, led by Alan Danskin who gave some examples of how these workflow analysis techniques have been applied at the British Library.

The start was to “brown-paper” a wall (yes, apparently “to brown-paper” is a verb) to create a process map. Everyone involved in the process from beginning to end takes part and, using post-it notes, writes down each step in the process (one step per post-it). These are then arranged on the brown paper to give a sequence of activities in the process, which can be divided into “swim lanes” (areas within the responsibility of a particular team or department). The process map is then used to identify areas of “waste”, defined as “anything that doesn’t add value to the process”. Waste can be  many things, for example waiting time is a waste, so it’s often crucial to look at the point of handover from one “swim lane” to another. Another waste is over-production, doing redundant tasks – the example given here was adding coloured slips of paper with tick boxes to each item received which essentially repeated all the information already contained in the purchase order on the Acquisitions system (and I wasn’t the only person in the room nodding and groaning in recognition there). Sometimes it’s worth asking “why?” of a certain step/process, and repeating the why until you get a sensible answer – saying “because we’ve always done it that way” isn’t satisfactory. I call this the “irritating toddler” method of workflow analysis.

Transport is another example of waste, so another technique was to take a scale plan/drawing of the library layout and use string to map the journey taken by an item from the minute it arrives in the building to the point it reaches its final home on the shelves. The length of the string would show how far the item has to travel and could reveal waste. This can be very illuminating, though obviously there are physical limitations placed by the building which can be difficult to overcome.

There was a huge amount of detail and interesting examples in the talks – Warwick were able to reduce the time taken to reshelve a book from 48 hours to 4 hours by changing the workflow. Alan told a great anecdote from the BL’s experience, where a huge amount disruption to staff working time could be cut out simply by deciding to stop locking the door of the stamping room while the staff were inside (I loved this and have repeated it to people since I got back, but it maybe losing something in the re-telling…). It is worth looking at the full presentations if you are interested in the ideas or want to see some photos of “brown-papered” walls with process maps on them:

Stuart Hunt’s presentation (PDF) and Robin Armstrong-Viner’s presentation (Powerpoint)

Stuart mentioned that he plans to publish about this (indeed, he made quite a strong argument about there not being a culture of publishing in the UK but that there should be, as the library qualification is a research qualification too), so I look forward to reading more about it.

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…

RDA at CIG: some rough notes

I seem to have let *cough* several weeks pass since I promised to write up more of my notes from the CIG conference in Exeter. Shame on me, I’ve been short of computer time and short of time at work to post this kind of thing. To start keeping my promises, here are some fairly rough notes on all things to do with RDA that came up during the conference. Be warned, there are a lot of acronyms coming in this post! A lot of the RDA stuff came up in discussions or questions so will not be reflected in the presentations on the conference website.

First there was a fairly informal talk from Alan Poulter, the new CILIP representative on JSC. He stated that, as an academic, he is very independent and happy to raise any issues, concerns or questions that people may have. He is keen to act as a real rep by gathering questions, comments and contributions. He is aiming to set up a website, maybe a wiki, to allow people to do this more interactively. He has had very little comment so far.

The questions discussed what will happen if some libraries adopt RDA and others don’t. Alan Poulter said this was something the library community has experienced before.

There was a question “If FRBR is the question, to what extent is RDA the answer?”, which Alan Danskin (CIG Chair and BL rep on JSC) answered basically saying it’s a move in the right direction. There was a chicken-egg situation where the cataloguing rules and the encoding (MARC) need to reflect FRBR, so the decision was taken to start with the rules which will allow the rest of the necessary changes to take place. He was at pains to say that moving to RDA will not be as big a shift (in the first instance) as the shift from AACR to AACR2. Very few headings will change. In future library systems, more work can be done at the expression level  and a FRBRised future is more attainable if this effort is shared. Someone else asked why we still didn’t have separation of description/display/coding in RDA but Alan Danskin felt that RDA did manage this separation (despite the fact that we’ll initially be implementing it in MARC) and that there is mapping to MODS as well as ISBD, etc.

Alan Danskin reported on the results of CIG’s RDA in the UK survey [Powerpoint presentation available online]. 78 responses, primarily academic libraries but a mix of other types. CIG feel the survey showed a generally low level of understanding about RDA, there is quite a lot of basic work to do on awareness and understanding. Feedback from BL staff also confirms that there is a big issues understanding the FRBR model, work-expression-manifestation-item, etc. Alan said that quite a few respondents to the survey were unclear what was meant by the questions on “percentage of materials catalogued in-house” and on authority creation.

 The survey also reveals a high level of concern about how non-professional cataloguers are going to handle RDA, it needs to be made straightforward.

CIG is planning to contact those respondents who offered help with training (venues, trainers, etc). They are currently looking at LC’s training materials and tailoring them to the UK audience. They aim to encourage discussion on the CIG website, invite new members to join the RDA Task & Finish Group, which aims to plan modules, delivery options and prepare training materials. CIG is aiming to make training available at as reasonable a price as possible. They are investigating free access, not charging for content at all just venue, catering, etc. They are investigating the Open University’s Moodle online course software with a view to developing something online which would be more accessible and reduce costs.

Alan Danskin confirmed that the BL are planning to make a decision about implementation next year. Interestingly, he said the BL has money in its budget for training and that it has been discussed with management how this will affect key performance indicators, though there were comments from the audience that this certainly will not be the case in other institutions (neither budget nor flexibility in KPIs).

 If the BL decide to implement RDA, they will have local policies to deal with RDA’s options and alternative rules, etc. They will probably follow most of the LCPS but not all, so there will be BL policies which will be added to the RDA Toolkit in time (with a link icon appearing next to the relevant RDA rule).

Also on a related note, during the Standards Forum Alan Danskin was talking about various MARBI proposals and said something in what he described as an “incautious moment” about MARC being at the end of its useful life. He said some of the recent changes highlight this as you find yourself working around the format to achieve what you need to achieve. When pressed on this, he said any predictions of the death of MARC should be taken with a degree of caution but that as long as we’re using MARC then we’re not talking the same language as everyone else. We need a schema based on a set of data elements (eg ISBD or RDA elements) that could be turned into XML. When linked data was mentioned, he pointed out that there was still a lot of stuff that had no URI to enable it to become linked data. The whole issue of MARC/encoding generally was a recurrent feature of tea break discussions and general chat, in fact.

Terry Willan from Talis commented that the information supply chain with all its interdependencies is a real problem, so many libraries buy in most of their cataloguing and the international infrastructure for bibliographic information is the real nut to crack. Maybe the only way to move away from MARC is a bottom up approach, starting small scale and gradually gaining traction. However, MARC is a very severe restriction on RDA.

Alan agreed that one of the difficulties everyone has with RDA is that it needs to be backwards compatible, so for example chapters 6, 9-11 have lots of elements to describe attributes of an entity (title of work, date of birth of person) but that this information then has to also be put into a string for a heading.

Someone asked whether there might be libraries which go for a “partial” implementation of RDA. Alan actually mentioned the example of what France was describing at the EURIG seminar (a “French profile” which only adopted certain “acceptable” parts of RDA) and said that if a library is not using the core set of RDA elements, then it is not RDA. It’s not good for the re-use of records. He also alluded to the issue of hybrid records, where they have been updated to RDA to some extent so that they are neither AACR2 nor RDA. He raised the question of a heading changing to RDA, what then becomes of the AACR2 records in the database which use that heading?

In a general discussion on the final morning, there was a distinct lack of enthusiasm when the question was asked how many people had looked at RDA Toolkit for more than 30 minutes. It is perhaps confirmation of what Barbara Tillett described as a “muted response” in the UK that only Cambridge University and the British Library had taken out a subscription to the RDA Toolkit for this year. Not really surprising given the cost and uncertainty about implementation/implications during 2010-11. LSE reported that they had explored the Toolkit quite extensively during the open access period and used the opportunity to create some sample records.

CIG Conference: report to follow

This week, I spent three very enjoyable days on the Exeter University campus at the Cataloguing & Indexing Group (CIG) conference. It was an extremely interesting and useful programme with lots of great conversations and discussions. I have lots of notes to write up and things to mull over so I intend to do that in a series of blog posts.

However, I’m off on holiday for a week and so won’t have a chance to do it for a while. In the meantime, I wanted to point anyone with an interest to the conference website (presentations should appear there soon). I couldn’t livetweet in the conference room itself (no wifi signal) but there were several of us tweeting from the conference, or adding our tweets since we got back so have a look at the hashtag #cigx for more information. I’ve tried to set up a twapperkeeper archive for that hashtag, but am not sure if it’s working yet.

The high points (apart from meeting lots of lovely people and the fantastic food) were a morning spent looking at how Japanese business methods (LEAN Kaizen, Six Sigma) can be applied to technical services workflows – or actually any workflows for those of you in libraries too small to have separate departments – with examples from the experiences of University of Warwick, University of Aberdeen and the British Library. Also a programme designed to look at the “wisdom of the crowd” in assigning LCSH. There were also discussions of RDA which I’m going to come back to in a separate post, as well as retrospective cataloguing projects. There was actually such a lot of useful content that I will definitely need several posts to cover it all. So, there’s some cataloguing goodness coming to this blog very shortly. Once I’ve had my holiday.

RDA in Europe: or the implementation domino effect

I have already briefly discussed the RDA in Europe seminar I attended last month. However, since the presentations have now been made available online, I wanted to return to add a little bit more detail to that initial report. The seminar covered a huge amount of ground so I’m just going to point to a few of the things I found most interesting or useful and then provide links to the presentations themselves for anyone interested in the full shebang. The most useful links were the ones I gave in my first post, since they link to real examples of how records may look using RDA and comparing differences between AACR2 and RDA for those (like me) who like practical examples.

For those who would like an overview of the reasons behind, history and overall development of RDA, the introductory talk by Alan Danskin (from the British Library chair of the Joint Steering Committee, JSC) is a useful starting point. One of the most interesting points he made was that RDA should be viewed as a floor rather than a ceiling – that cataloguers would be able to add to a record, provide more than is called for in RDA, as long as the record fulfils the basic requirements of RDA.

Providing a kind of bookend talk to Alan’s was Caroline Brazier, who spoke about the need for change in the governance structure that lies behind AACR2 and now RDA. Her presentation gave some helpful diagrams to explain the rather convoluted structure currently in place but this was all created when AACR2 were truly “Anglo-American” and the high level of interest demonstrated by the European countries attending the event show that there will need to be some more to become more inclusive of other countries and constituencies in future.

There is a huge amount of information about the various plans/discussions/activities going on in all the European countries with regard to RDA implementation/investigation/translation. For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the various country talks was learning what cataloguing codes, authority files and encoding systems were used in each country at the moment. The level of enthusiasm for RDA and, perhaps more significantly, for a move away from the national and towards the truly international adoption of standards was very heartening. Whatever may happen with the implementation (or otherwise) of RDA, there is a real appetite now for people to create records that are interoperable, accessible, standardised. It makes me appreciate how far we’ve already moved in this direction in the 12 years since I first started cataloguing – it’s easy to lose sight of that but it is true.

The French cataloguers seem quite sceptical about aspects of the new code and explicitly stated that they feel it is still too anglo-centric. They were particularly unhappy with what they feel is “loose, limited reference to” ISBD. Germany seems to have made the most progress towards a translation of the text of RDA (a major issue for all the European countries as well as Canada) as well as in their move towards possible implementation.

For those who mainly catalogue items in English, then the most useful talks were undoubtedly the ones about implementation in the various English-speaking countries and the overview of the US testing process.

Barbara Tillett of LC spoke about the plans of the various English-speaking countries: Australia (the only country to officialy state they will be adopting RDA), Canada (which requires a full French translation before they would be in a position to implement RDA) and the UK. I learned something new in the discussion of the UK: there had been some general beta testing planned in various UK libraries but now the BL is setting up its own test and will be making the results of this public. Barbara stated that the response in the UK to RDA has been “muted” and that the decision about implementation will not be taken on a national level but rather on an institutional level. Essentially, the BL is waiting to see what happens at LC and then everyone else in the UK is waiting to see what happens at the BL.

Beacher Wiggins presentation on the US RDA testing process is well worth reading if you have any interest in RDA. Not least because LC have created a vast amount of training material, examples, test files and documentation (linked to on my earlier post) which is publicly available and extremely useful when thinking about the practicalities of RDA. The test starts in October until the end of December. Then the test results will be analysed in the period January-March 2011, with the aim that the US national libraries will make a final decision about implementation in the period April-June 2011 – in time to announce it at the ALA Annual conference.

Possibly the most practical and useful session was the overview of the RDA Toolkit, presented by Troy Linker with Barbara Tillett of LC giving a hands-on demonstration of various features. This talk isn’t available online, sadly. For anyone who has taken out a subscription to the RDA Toolkit for this year (are there many who have? we have one here in Cambridge), here are some of the interesting features:

  • Bookmarks can be added and can be made visible in the main text of RDA (or hidden from view). They are working on sharing bookmarks (either globally or across an institutional subscription) but this is still under development.
  • There is a print function which will allow printing of whole sections of RDA if required
  • The saved search function allows the user to set up a sophisticated set of search parameters in the Advanced Search window (selecting which documents to search, including/excluding examples, searching only certain work/issuance/media/content types or specific RDA instruction numbers) and then name this as a saved search to be retrieved on another occasion (it appears in My Profile).
  • Workflows are worth investigating (Tools>Workflows). These are step-by-step processes for creating records using RDA. Users can create their own (copying and modifying an existing one to edit it if necessary) which can be shared either globally or with all users from the same institution. Good examples are the CONSER standard record workflow and all the workflows submitted by LC staff – extremely useful working documents and something I am thinking about adapting/building on as part of our local training if we end up adopting RDA in my library.
  • As well as the ability to create workflows with links to AACR2 and RDA, there is also the facility to embed links to RDA from Word documents or intranet documentation. Troy admits that the copy & paste function is not very good and makes it difficult to paste chunks of RDA into Word so the “embedding” function is meant to replace that (make of that what you will…).
  • On the RDA Toolkit home page, there is a section on Teaching & Training ( which includes links to webinars and also has a training calendar where everyone is encouraged to their own training events. More information will be added to this training area over time.

Overall it was a really enjoyable one-day seminar, in the beautiful Black Diamond (as the Royal Library building is known) and one of the best things was the opportunity to talk about cataloguing with people from all over Europe. I’m such a geek.


Recommended Daily Allowance: RDA

Please forgive the post title, there are not many puns to be had in cataloguing acronyms. This is a non-23 Things post, and so should possibly come with a health warning for anyone reading who is not a cataloguer!

This weekend I attended the seminar on RDA in Europe: making it happen! (note the chirpy exclamation mark, which pretty much sums up the atmosphere of the whole event). The seminar was organised by JSC, the Joint Steering Committee for Development of RDA and EURIG, the European RDA Interest Group, a body that does not yet officially exist but which elicits a huge amount of interest in Europe and beyond, as evidenced by attendance at Sunday’s event. I’ve been thinking a lot about RDA since the launch of RDA Toolkit and it was a good opportunity to spend some time with other people who are also thinking about it.

Most of the people speaking and attending were moving on the IFLA 2010 in Gothenburg, Sweden. Yes, that’s a note of envy you can detect. For this reason, it might take a while for the slides of the various presentations to appear online (though this has been promised) and so I’m going to wait to write up a proper summary of the event until I can link to slides.

I did want to say that it was a very interesting overview of general interest in and attitudes towards RDA in many different countries in Europe. There was also an extremely useful, detailed summary of the US national libraries’ testing of RDA which begins in October 2010 as well as another chance to look at RDA Toolkit, which has inspired me to go back in with my open-access subscription and play about with it some more.

There is a growing body of training material, example records and other RDA-related documentation online so I’ll link to some of it in lieu of any further summary from me. I’m finding this very helpful in understanding exactly what RDA may mean for our cataloguing practices and workflows.

And another thing, or, Attack of the riled cataloguer

Still on Thing 8, tagging.

I found the Thing 8 blog post hard to write as there was a lot I wanted to say and could have said. After a few days reading other blogs and people’s thoughts, I still can’t quite leave it alone.

This post started life as a comment on the lovely Cardies and Tweed’s post about tagging but ended up about much more than that, so I’ve turned it into a blog post. I actually agree with Cardies’ overall conclusions, that tagging has a place alongside traditional access points and that Thing 8 raises more questions than it answers.

I just wanted to raise a couple of points in an earlier paragraph as I think it demonstrates a problem with the Clay Shirky article and is what I tried to talk about in my post on tagging. My primary issue with his whole argument is that he conflates classification with subject cataloguing/the use of subject access points. Tagging is a user-led equivalent of the latter, while the former is a very different thing. Promoting the benefits of tagging by analysing the failings of classification schemes is attacking a straw man, in my opinion.

As a demonstration, I want to just look at some of the points raised by Cardies & Tweed:

“…we concluded that while the Library of Congress system is very good, it can often fail when you have a new subject area that just doesn’t fit into any existing category. Plus, some problems do occur when specialist subjects come up and one cataloguer would feel it necessary to place a book in one category, when another would choose differently. One example that springs to mind, after another librarian chat, is the complex world of mathematics. The librarian in question found that a lot of the existing mathematics books had been put into sub-categories that were not accurate. Of course the issue that arises here is that this librarian specialises in maths, while many other don’t, so how do we get around such a dilemma?”

I think that it’s true, new subject areas/concepts come along that are not already reflected in either LC classification or subject headings. This will always be the case and tagging does have a role to play in covering this kind of new development because tagging offers an immediacy (no decision by committee) that formal taxonomies or thesauri lack. I just wanted to state that we also have the ability to propose new LC subject headings, LCSH is not a static thing and has more flexibility than the classification scheme. Proposing a new subject heading has no implication for shelf space and has no physical limitation. New headings are added and corrections/clarifications are made on a weekly basis (see here for the most recent weekly list).

The problem of one cataloguer placing a book in a different place to another cataloguer – that is definitely possible. In fact, catch me on a different day and this one cataloguer could easily place the same book in a different place. However, to my mind, this is only a problem for classification – as Shirky says, a book can only physically be in one place in the library, so sits only in one subject area even if it might just as happily sit in a different subject area (in some cases, there is a history of assigning “alternative classmarks”, but it’s not something widely used in the UK). Whereas the whole thing about subject headings is that there can be multiple subject headings for the same book or item, you don’t have to decide it’s only about one topic. There’s no 1:1 ratio here. So multiple aspects can be reflected in the cataloguer’s choice of multiple subject headings. In fact, most subject cataloguers would specifically want to do that.

As for the maths books that are in incorrect categories, if that means their classification number then this could be reported and might get fixed but might be due to the limitations of the UL’s classification scheme (and the overlap between the collection development policy of the UL and the Moore Library). If the maths books in question were given incorrect/inappropriate subject headings or are missing the most relevant subject heading, then it absolutely should be reported so that the cataloguers can fix the records (adding extra subject headings or removing inappropriate ones as required).

There’s no doubt  that those of us classifying are not subject specialists in all areas collected by the library. How do we deal with this? Well, I have been known to call on someone with specialist knowledge when totally stumped. We are also open to the notion of crowdsourcing (ie. see what other libraries – including specialist libraries – have done). Crowdsourcing also extends to finding out what library users think. This is something that doesn’t happen often enough, but if there’s anyone (especially another librarian, but actually anyone) with specialist knowledge who feels something has been wrongly categorised in some way, then they are most welcome to report it. There’s an online comments form if the cataloguers are too scary to approach in person 🙂 We won’t mind. Cataloguers always follow Library Tip #75, as explained by the marvellous Unshelved comic strip.

Okay, this post has been a bit of a rant ramble, but what I am trying to say here is that classification is not the same thing as subject headings. It’s the flaw underlying Shirky’s whole argument. And yes, normally classification means that a book will only be assigned one classmark. However, classmarks don’t always provide subject-related access anyway. More than 50% of the stock in the UL, for example, is on closed access. A reader browsing the shelves at a particular classmark is only seeing a small section of the UL’s holdings in a particular subject area, however accurately the 3-fig classfication scheme is applied. They are not seeing closed access material, non-book material, all articles within periodicals, digital resources. Even for the bookstock, a large proportion of the closed access material has a classmark that is purely a location marker and has no subject meaning. However, all of those items (books and other types of material) have subject headings which are designed to allow users searching the catalogue to find all the items potentially of interest to them. User-generated tags would just be an extra way of searching.

Information overload, See Personal information management

Personal information management LCSH
I am starting to struggle a bit with information overload (“physician heal thyself” I hear you cry, or rather, “librarian manage thine own surfeit of information”). I have this drive to be completist, read every post in every Cam23 blog, every tweet and every link from a tweet or post. I’m just about managing this but it means I spend a lot of time thinking “ooh I read something about that… somewhere…” without being able to recall exactly where. I need to tag my thoughts.

Thing 8 is tagging. I need to declare an interest. I’m a cataloguer. My very first job as a graduate trainee was 50% cataloguing and that percentage has only gone up in my library career since then. Actually, I’ve found this Thing hardest to write about because it is so closely related to what I spend the majority of my time thinking about/doing.

The Clay Shirky article was interesting. I’ve read some of his stuff before (though obviously can’t actually recall very much about it due to lack of thought tags). I do think he’s setting up a false dichotomy though. He speaks about classification being related to the physical need for books to be located somewhere and there being restrictions on space. Yes. But classification isn’t the same as LCSH or the same as controlled vocabulary more generally. They do different things. The way in which he talks about what a “professional cataloguer” would think or feel is monumentally irritating (and inaccurate).

The simple answer is that tagging is great. It works brilliantly in Flickr or blog posts and, in a more complex form, what Shirky is describing is happening in Amazon’s “people who bought this, also bought…” recommendations and in Google searching. And we all know how successful these discovery tools have been. There is real power in crowdsourcing (if you have a big enough crowd). The Ann Arbor example shows how tags could work in a catalogue. But it’s not an either/or and I don’t know many cataloguers who think it is.

%d bloggers like this: