Monday, December 31, 2007

Technical Services Librarians and Leadership

I've had some good opportunities to develop my leadership skills and they've mostly been OTJ - On The Job. While there's not much that can substitute for real life adventures, I'm glad that there are additional opportunities for people in the Technical Services to become library leaders. I'm currently President of NETSL (a section of NELA - New England Library Association) and here's an opportunity I proudly to announce.

Along with all of the other advantages of being a member of the New England Technical Services Librarians here's another one.

The Executive Board of NETSL would like to encourage Technical Services staff to develop their leadership skills by applying to NELLS - The New England Library Association's leadership symposium. NELLS will be held July 28 through August 1, 2008, at Rolling Ridge Conference Center, North Andover MA.

While the cost of this symposium is underwritten by the 6 New England state library associations, participants are required to pay $500 tuition. The NETSL board is offering a scholarship - a minimum of $250 - towards the tuition of one NETSL member attending NELLS.

Applications for NELLS are due January 28, 2008.

When you fill out your application, add a note saying that you are a NETSL member and are also applying for the NETSL scholarship. If you want to apply for the scholarship and have already submitted your application, send an addendum stating such.

NELLS is a great opportunity to develop leadership skills, which are a definite asset in today's competitive library environment. Please seriously consider applying to NELLS, and, if you do, be sure to apply for the NETSL scholarship. Good Technical Services librarians make good leaders.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Cataloging History, or, The History of Cataloging

Even though most cataloging is done electronically and bibliographic records are usually displayed on a computer screen, antiquated terminology is still very much in use. Words like “main entry” and “headings” and even our cataloging rules developed because of catalog cards.

If you’re confused by some of these terms because they don’t seem to fit well with NGCs (that’s New Generation Catalogs) or if you sometimes yearn for those simpler days of opening a drawer and flipping through cards, take a trip down Memory Lane with a visit to The Virtual Museum of Cataloging and Acquisitions Artifacts.

Heidi Lee Hoerman, faculty member of the School of Library and Information Science at the University of South Carolina has gathered together cataloging essentials from days of yore. Take a look to see items you likely haven’t seen in many years – if you’ve ever seen them at all! The Virtual Museum’s homepage contains a link to The Library History Buff, which in turn has links to all sorts of Librariana including Library Postcards – a “must visit” for library fans.

If you’re looking for that perfect gift for your favorite cataloger, please consider Heidi's Washable Book Weights. Why would someone need a book weight? To hold a book open while keying original cataloging data into a template, of course!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Who does our cataloging?

For most of us, “Cataloging” really means “Copy Cataloging” where we search a database and find a bibliographic record that matches the item we have in our hand. Except for one-of-a-kind things like manuscripts and works of art, someone has likely already cataloged the items in our collections and we only need to verify the accuracy of the bib record and import it into our library’s catalog.

That’s good. It means we spend far less time cataloging than our colleagues did 30 or 20 or even 10 years ago. It means we can train paraprofessionals to search for matching records which translates to processing items faster and getting them to our patrons in record time.

But where do all of those cataloging records that we’re all sharing come from?

A major contributor to our library catalogs is the Library of Congress via their Acquisitions and Bibliographic Access Directorate. The divisions within Bibliographic Access are responsible for the descriptive cataloging of books, music scores, sound recordings, microforms, and computer files. In addition, the Cataloging in Publication division prepares bibliographic records in advance of publication for those books most likely to be widely acquired by American libraries. The results of LC’s efforts are available to all libraries in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.

However, not all of the bibliographic records we find come directly from the Library of Congress. The Program for Cooperative Cataloging (PCC) is an international cooperative program coordinated jointly by the Library of Congress & PCC participants around the world. Members contribute not only cataloging but authority records for names and subjects. The goal of PCC is to provide useful, timely, and cost-effective cataloging that can be shared by libraries.

In addition to the more formal PCC, members of OCLC or Online Computer Library Center also create and share bibliographic records via WorldCat. Once restricted to members only, WorldCat is now searchable to anyone with an Internet connection, although a membership is required to export bib records directly into a local catalog. A specific level of membership is needed to contribute records. Tens of thousands of libraries are OCLC members and their catalogers create new bibliographic records if they cannot find one that matches the item they are searching.

As a result of all this cooperation, libraries have readily available cataloging for their everyday, popular materials – as well as more obscure items – saving much time and energy. Finding bib records in a national database and importing them into a local catalog speeds up the entire cataloging process and gets items into patrons’ hands sooner. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

Friday, October 19, 2007

FRBR, AACR2 and RDA: Changes in Cataloging

As 2009 draws nearer, catalogers are talking more about RDA and what it’s arrival will mean for libraries. RDA (Resource Description and Access) will replace the familiar AACR2 (Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, 2nd ed.) which has been the cataloging standard since 1978.

There is another set of initials involved in this scenario: FRBR (Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records), an idea which has been around for about 10 years, but hasn’t gotten much press until recently. FRBR is a conceptual model that considers Work, Expression, Manifestation, and Item.

The Work is a “distinct intellectual or artistic creation.” Most of the time, it’s the title, but there are certain Works that are known by a variety of titles. Consider Hamlet which is also the Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark; Shakspeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark; or Shakespeare’s tragedy of Hamlet depending on what happens to be printed on the title page. Yet, they are all the same Work.

If that Work (regardless of the title) is translated into another language, we now have a different Expression of the Work. If someone makes an audio recording of that Work (in either language), we now have a different Manifestation of the Work.

Item refers to the specific copy of the Work that you have in your library.

Some libraries are already taking advantage of the FRBR model in their OPACs (Online Public Access Catalogs). Products such as Endeca and Aquabrowser allow users to qualify their search easily by subject, genre, language and format.

But back to AACR2 and RDA. AACR2 was written primarily with printed materials in mind. Other media such as sound recordings could be incorporated with modifications. However, electronic media has been evolving so quickly that Chapter 9, which provides the rules for such things, had to be revised several times. The format, originally called MRDF (Machine Readable Data File) became Computer File and then Electronic Resource. As digitization, streaming media, and other new technologies were created, it became harder and harder to apply AACR2.

Joint Steering Committee for Revision of AACR gathered and began revising the rules to accommodate FRBR and digital media. It soon became evident that more than a revision was needed. Describing new and future media required an entirely new approach and the idea of RDA was born. The intension of RDA is to provide general guidelines that allow catalogers to describe items without the restrictions of AACR2.

However, it seems that very few people are happy with RDA. Many think the guidelines are too general and will result in inconsistent bibliographic records that are less likely to be shared among libraries. Others feel RDA is too much like AACR2 and will not be as easy to use for non-print media as they had hoped.

What does all of this mean for the cataloger in a small library that uses Library of Congress or OCLC for its source of cataloging? Probably not much right now. RDA is due out in the spring of 2009, and that’s an optimistic goal. The bibliographic records for books, CDs, and DVDs will likely continue to look very much the same for a while. The biggest impact will be on the “one of a kind” works.

Back when Quick T.S. was a column in the print newsletter Centralities, I wrote articles on RDA (p. 7 February 2006) and FRBR (p. 14 January 2006) as well one on the new OPACs (p. 14 January 2006). All of those articles contain links for more details.

I’ll continue to monitor the blogs and discussion lists for more information on the status of RDA and to post summaries. Stay tuned.

Friday, September 7, 2007

It’s more than T.S.

Since this blog is titled Quick T.S., I try to stick pretty closely to Technical Services topics. However, like any good cataloger, I keep in touch with other aspects of libraries and the world beyond. Part of my job at CMRLS involves teaching workshops on cataloging. I’m also expected to attend conferences and represent the Central Region on several different committees.

Taking all of these responsibilities into consideration, there are two non-library blogs that I read regularly because I find they help in rounding out my professional life.

Presentation Zen is “Garr Reynolds’ blog on issues related to professional presentation design.” He talks a lot about PowerPoint and other visual aids and how their use could be improved. The posts tend to be long, but they include lots of video clips with examples of good (Garr likes Steve Jobs’ speaking style) and not-so-good presentations as well as examples of good and not-so-good slides and posters. He includes recommendations of books (complete with jacket cover images) many of which I’ve borrowed from my local public library. As some one who has sat through many a boring talk and squinted at too many unreadable slides, I want to spread the word of Presentation Zen to everyone who stands up in front of an audience (or even just creates a poster).

A recent discovery for me is Power Networking for Introverts. The focus of this blog is for business people, yet I’ve found Marcy Phelps’ suggestions practical and very helpful. Even though I’m not actively seeking clients, I understand the value of networking. Librarians need to build networks for a variety of reasons. For example, a well established network will help a public library director when asking for an increase in financial support from the town. A network is vital when job hunting and just plain handy when looking for information. If you’d like to do a better job at networking but feel a bit timid, read Marcy’s blog for lots of encouragement.

Even though Technical Services librarians often work in the basement or in another out-of-the-way place, we can still be vibrant and active members of this exciting profession. Presentation Zen and Power Networking for Introverts are great tools for the journey.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Reading Those Shelves

A few months ago, a librarian from a member library called to ask the best way to implement a shelf reading program.

The Central Mass. Regional Library System has only a small professional collection and, since we’re not open to the public, the staff here are the only ones who search for items and reshelve them when they return. It doesn’t mean our shelves are in perfect order, but we’re the only ones who see them.

So, I sent a brief questionnaire about shelf reading to the Regional Library Systems’ mailing lists and received 68 responses. While, I learned 68 slightly different ways to implement shelf reading in a library, there were some very definite patterns.

In many libraries, shelf reading is done informally as a part of reshelving. That seems to work with very small collections, but less well where the collections are larger. In short, some structure is needed or it won’t get done.

Who reads shelves?

Academic libraries tend to have work study students or other student workers and they usually become the shelf readers as well as reshelvers.

Some public libraries are able to hire pages who handle much of the reshelving and shelf reading. Sometimes shelf reading is a formal part of the page’s job (e.g. first 20 minutes); sometimes shelves are read when the shelving is finished. Many public libraries use volunteers for reshelving. Several responders noted that some of their volunteers are part of the local Senior Tax Relief program where senior citizens work to lower their property tax bill by $500 or $750.

Even when students, pages or volunteers are available, staff often participate in shelf reading, sometimes on a regular basis, sometimes when the library organizes a specific shelf reading “event”. (More on events later.)

When is shelf reading done?

In addition to ongoing shelf reading by students, some academic (and some school) libraries have a major push at the end of the academic year, just before the beginning of the academic year, or during the summer. This generally includes staff who are also weeding and taking inventory. The push can happen during a time when the library is already closed. Other times it may close for the project or it may stay open.

Since public libraries don’t operate on an academic calendar, shelf reading is ongoing with heavily used (or “problem”) areas read more frequently. Shelf reading is often done before the library opens for the day, sometimes in conjunction with pulling requests. Otherwise, it happens when the library is quiet and fewer staff are needed in public services areas. A couple of public libraries have closed for a week (or however much time is needed) to inventory and read shelves.

How is shelf reading organized?

There are two main ways to organize a shelf reading program and responses were split pretty evenly: Assign readers a specific area to maintain, or keep a log so that one person begins where the last person left off. The argument for an individual having responsibility for one area was usually “ownership”. Another is that supervisors can more easily determine if a shelver or shelf reader needs additional training. However, one person pointed out “If people get too familiar with their sections, they tend to miss things.”

How much time do people spend reading shelves?

Shifts range from 20 minutes to 2 hours with one-half hour and 1 hour being the shift lengths most commonly cited. Longer shifts often include a break in the middle. Occasionally, a section length is used rather than time.

One public library assigns shelf reading times to all staff and selected volunteers the way a library assigns time at the circulation desk.

What training is given?

Training is needed for students, pages, volunteers and new library staff. A common approach is to give potential shelf readers a short test that involves arranging call numbers in order. If you want to test your shelf readers, there is an LC shelving game and a Dewey shelving game. The Bolton Public Library has developed a shelving manual. Interestingly, two academic libraries intentionally put a couple of books in the wrong place to test shelf readers’ attention to accuracy.

Shelf reading “events”

One responder commented, “the more ongoing shelf reading you do, the less need for the huge collection-wide shelf reading projects.” Yet, as I mentioned earlier, some libraries draft all staff to read shelves at a specific time when the library is closed or they close specifically to implement a thorough shelf reading project. Often such an event includes weeding and/or taking inventory. One academic library chooses this route because shelf reading “is such a lonely activity, the students really like doing it all together.” When this type of event happens, it’s not unusual for the library to provide food or snacks and turn what could be a tedious chore into a celebration.

There are other ways to make the job of shelf reading more fun. At one academic library, student workers are assigned to specific sections of the collection for the duration of the school year. The students keep a log of their shelf reading and periodically the library awards small prizes to those who have done the most shelf reading. The activity becomes more interesting when it results in cool stuff. Another library allows shelf readers to listen to music, but not audio books.


While not every library is able to implement a shelf reading program, all see the value of having the collection in order. Communicating that message to students and pages, however, can be “a constant challenge.” As one person wrote: "If it's not where it's supposed to be, it might as well be in Ohio."

And even though many libraries use students, pages and volunteers for a job that one librarian described as “mind numbingly boring”, most pointed out that “Everyone is responsible for neat and orderly shelves. Just like everyone is responsible for making patrons feel welcomed and well served.”

Monday, August 13, 2007

Library Classification Systems

A few weeks ago the national press and the biblioblogosphere were all abuzz with the news that the new Perry Library in Gilbert, Arizona (a branch of the Maricopa County Library District.) is not using the Dewey Decimal – or any – classification system. Instead, librarians had decided to shelve books “by topic, similar to the way bookstores arrange books.” An article in the Arizona Republic also went on to say that it’s “too confusing for people to hunt down books using those long strings of numbers and letters”.

The Dewey Decimal Classification system definitely has its problems, but in my opinion, somebody was not using DDC appropriately if “long strings of numbers” were used on a collection of 30,000 items. One of the beauties of DDC is that a cataloger can choose to use a shorter number (also called broad classification) for a smaller collection. It’s the cataloger’s responsibility to choose a number length that is suitable for his/her library’s collection size. Is 025.4 too confusing? I think it’s a perfectly good number shortened from 025.431 (the number for Dewey Decimal Classification).

The article also stated that now the “library will be organized in about 50 sections, then subsections, from sports to cooking, gardening to mysteries. For example, a book on the Civil War would be in the history neighborhood and in the U.S. section.”

Isn’t that what DDC does? In fact, it places books (and audios and videos) on the Civil War (973.7) chronologically in the U.S. history number (973) after books on the War of 1812 (973.52) and before the books of Reconstruction (973.8). You can give books on the Civil War longer numbers (973.711 = Causes; 973.717 = Southern Union sympathizers; 793.741 = Union troops), but in a collection of 30,000 items, 973.7 works for all of them.

Regardless of the length of the call number, libraries also need good signs indicating subject areas such as Cookbooks, Sports, U.S. History and maybe even U.S. Civil War. This would be a boon for the many library patrons who browse the stacks. Call numbers, though, are the best way to locate a specific book (and also the best way for library staff to inventory the collection.)

So my advice is don’t ditch DDC. Adapt and modify it so that it works for your size library. Use attractive signs that enhance DDC by directing patrons to a specific subject area. While libraries and bookstores have a lot in common, they are not the same and blindly following all bookstore practices will only detract from a library’s unique identity.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Technical Services Blogs

A couple of years ago, when the Quick T.S. column was part of the CMRLS newsletter Centralities and not its own blog, I wrote about the blogs that focus primarily on Cataloging issues. I had scoured the blogosphere and found only a few of them: 025.431 The Dewey Blog, Catalogablog, The FRBR Blog, and Lorcan Depsey’s Weblog. Since then, other cataloging-type people have begun blogs and so I’m updating my list to include more blogs with a Cataloging focus.

Christine Schwartz began Cataloging Futures in April of 2007. Cataloging Futures uses the subtitle “a ‘work’ in progress” (a play on FRBR?) and says “The focus of this blog is the future of cataloging and metadata in libraries.” Christine has been paying attention to the stated purpose of her blog since “Cataloging” and “Metadata” are some of the largest words in the accompanying tag cloud.

Digiblog: ALCTS and Future of Tech Services began in October of 2006 to “to support the 2007 ALCTS Midwinter Symposium in Seattle …” Anyone can register and post to the blog. There is not a lot of activity, so if you have an opinion on a Tech Services issue and don’t want to start your own blog, you might consider posting on Digiblog.

Minerva Shelved, which began in December of 2006 as part of a Library 2.0 project, does not specifically define itself as a cataloging oriented blog. The tagline is simply “On books and libraries and such.”. However, Minerva often covers cataloging issues and so I’ve tucked her blog into the folder called Cataloging Blogs in my Bloglines account. What I like best about Minerva Shelved is that it plays classical music. I want music on my blog, too!

Any blog that begins with a Library of Congress classification number must have something to do with cataloging and sure enough Z666.7L364 contains “musings related to metadata, cataloging, and the ‘great big’ world of librarianship (plus some other stuff…)” The blog’s author, Jennifer Lang, is the Electronic Resources Cataloger at Princeton University Library and also teaches Cataloging and Classification at Rutgers University’s library school. The blog began in April of 2006.

Perhaps you don’t want to take the time to read each of the Cataloging blogs. If so, a quick and easy way to keep up with Tech Services issues is to read Planet Cataloging., “an automatically-generated aggregation of blogs related to cataloging and metadata …” Planet Cataloging began in May 2007 and is maintained by Jennifer Lang (of Z666.7L364) and Kevin S. Clarke who are happy to add any blog they might have over looked. Planet Cataloging scoops up posts from all of the blogs I’ve listed plus several others. It also locates individual posts on Cataloging topics even if the overall coverage of the blog is more general.

Technical Services people no longer need to bemoan the lack of blogs discussing Cataloging and related issues. The number is growing which means it that much easier to stay informed. So find yourself a blog or two and get reading.

A Little Background

Quick T.S. has been around for about 2 years, although not as a blog.

It began as a column in the Central Massachusetts Regional Library System’s newsletter Centralities and was intended to keep the technical services staff of member libraries quickly informed of happenings in the T.S. world .

However, Centralities underwent an extreme makeover as part of CMRLS’s branding project. As of July 1, the newsletter is only 2 pages (instead of 10-20), and longer regular columns became blogs which are now available to everyone on the Internet.

The new Centralities is issued semi-monthly, so I’ll likely be posting to this blog 2-3 times during the month, although I’ll write more if time allows.

I’m happy to receive comments and receive suggestions for topics. Chances are, if something is of interest to you, it’ll also be of interest to librarians in Worcester County, Mass.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Working in the Digital Environment

For the last year and a half, I’ve had the great pleasure of working with a project called Digital Treasures . As I look back on my cataloging career (a rather long cataloging career), I’m sometimes amazed at the progression. Yet, working on a digital repository is a logical part of that progression.

First, a little history: My first full-time library job consisted of typing headings at the tops of catalog cards (I told you it was a long career). After a couple of weeks, I couldn’t help but think that a machine could do what I was doing – and probably do it a whole lot better. Lo and behold! Along came MaRC (Machine Readable Cataloging) and not only was a machine producing catalog cards with all of the headings correctly typed, but the cards arrived in the library in alphabetical order!

Over time I moved from copy cataloging to original cataloging learning AACR2 (Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, 2nd ed.) and MaRC codes. Then came audiovisual materials where I mulled over GMDs (General Material Designations) and Chief Sources of Information (do I really need to view that videocassette?). As media proliferated, I learned how to apply the rules and codes to CDs, DVDs, CD-ROMs, and remote electronic resources. Each type of item had its own idiosyncrasies that affected how the rules were to be used.

Amid all of this high technology, I also cataloged several Local History collections consisting of privately published material, hand written genealogies and many, many scrapbooks.

Then along came the opportunity to work on Digital Treasures, a cooperative venture of CMRLS, WMRLS and C/W MARS . C/W MARS purchased the software CONTENTdm which uses the metadata schema Dublin Core. (When librarians are describing books, audios and videos, the process is called cataloging. When describing digital resources, the process is called applying metadata.) Dublin Core was designed for digital libraries and is used instead of AACR2 and MaRC. One reason is that Dublin Core is OAI (Open Archives Initiative) harvestable and objects in Digital Treasures can be found by using a keyword search on any search engine.

Digital Treasures has been focusing its efforts on photographs, postcards, newspapers and other items often tucked away in brick and mortar libraries, showing the world these wonderful treasures. What a boon for researchers and the merely curious! If someone is surfing the web for information about railroads in Athol, a search on the words “railroads” “athol” and “mass” immediately brings up items from Digital Treasures. And if you key in the words “calvin” “coolidge” “kart”, you’ll find an image of our nation’s 30th president building a go-kart with his son at their home in Northampton that was scanned into Digital Treasures.

As much as I love visiting a “brick and mortar” library and curling up with a good book, I’m excited by all that digital libraries have to offer. Digital Treasures gathers together the gems hidden in area libraries and makes them available to people everywhere, bringing recognition to the collections and the libraries that house them. Soon, Digital Treasures will be one of the digital libraries accessible via a portal called Digital Commonwealth where people can absolutely wallow in Massachusetts history and culture.

When I think of researchers meandering through digital libraries clicking on links that bring them to more of what they’re looking for, I think back to when I used to type headings onto catalog cards. In addition to producing cards with the headings at the top, machines have made it possible to search immense amounts of information from disparate sources and to allow users to navigate through the great resources libraries have to offer.