Wednesday, August 04, 2010

User Tasks

I'm in the middle of a much needed/much appreciated vacation at the moment, but had this thought when reading through work emails today. The cataloger sent anyone doing copy cataloging information on the new BIBCO standard record (BSR). In reading through the revisions to the record for textual monographs I noted a nod towards the FRBR user tasks - find identify, select, and obtain. At this point I'm almost a little blind to that phrase in that I tend to scan it over and make a mental check of "Yeah, they're aware". But how aware are we, as a community, of these tasks? Do we really understand what we mean and are we doing our best to create data and systems that support these tasks? I'm sure that there is a ton of good work out there that I will undoubtedly find when I start looking. Yet there is a part of me that is afraid that those four little words will soon become as ubiquitous, and useless, as so many other buzzwords before them.

It's a time like this when I wish I was more involved in the cataloging community. As a student who barely has the time at work to download and mod a couple of PCC JSTOR records, but who is continually filled with new ideas, I wish I had a realistic perspective of how the field is moving and changing. The same report also noted the speed at which cataloging is evolving and I wonder if that speed is part of the problem - we're in the middle so everything in either direction is a blur. Also cataloging is not as cohesive a concept as I tend to imagine it to be. My background in academic libraries who have the time and the funding to keep up with changes and innovations means that I sometimes forget that people just can't have the most outstanding records or need to buy vendor records because, in reality, they're much better than no records at all. As there is a digital divide, is there a cataloging divide as well? The Cataloging Chasm? And if so, how do we fix it?

Friday, July 02, 2010

Knowing what I don't know...

A week or so ago, while preparing for the second digitization task force meeting we had this morning, I became acutely aware of the fact that I really don't know what I'm doing in this process. I understand this process from a very conceptual standpoint. I know what we're aiming to accomplish with our pilot project, I know what CONTENTdm is and what it is capable of, I understand the basics of Dublin Core, and I know how everyone in the task force will work together. I can put a photo on a scanner and make a TIFF at X dpi. I can probably upload that and make some notes on it. Very simple, very basic, very straightforward. But the longer I think about I realize I still have a lot of questions. I can scan something, but I've no real knowledge of image editing/correction. I have barely scratched the surface of Dublin Core and never actually worked with it or really done anything with XML outside of a classroom. I get the general notion of what it means to digitize a collection but I'm not sure what that means for us, for our collection and for its future.

Happily, I work in a library, which means two very important things. First, someone else has probably done this before and generated a ton of documentation, articles, books etc. about it. Second, we have consortia borrowing and ILL. So I did what I normally do in this situation - which is order all of the books I can find with relevant subject headings, put them in a pile, and start to feel slightly more secure. I've shared them with BP and in the next week or so we'll start tearing through them. We're also going to start a road map/timeline. Launching this project is going to be very complicated and while we will not be able to anticipate every contingency, we'll at least have a secure base from which to start. We'll also have a better sense of what it is we're trying to accomplish here on a more particular level, which is what I find I'm needing at the moment. While I'm good with concepts, I find myself itching to do, to move forward, to construct and create, even if it's just a 12 point plan for good happy success.

But now it's the start of my three day weekend and I do believe the sun has just come out...

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Freed from the mandatory assignments of the quarter, I am back to devouring novels at nearly pre-grad school rates. So. Freaking. Good. Because composing full sentences appears to be a challenge today and because the faster I stop blogging here the faster I get back to reading, a few random thoughts on what I've recently read.

*Pretty much everything I've picked up and read from the New York Review of Books' press has been amazing. Daphne du Maurier exquisite short stories, Mavis Gallant, and now Elaine Dundy's The Dud Avocado. I've ordered on Summit the second Dundy and Mitford's Madame de Pompadour.

*I am finally getting to reading David Copperfield and am in love. It's a strange read at times because I'm so familiar with Dickens' biography and can tell where he's drawn on his own history. That doesn't necessarily diminish the work, but means that I can sort of predict where portions of the story start to go. What I'm noticing in this read of a Dickens' novel is his incredibly strong sense of pacing. When he finishes a chapter/section, I find I'm torn between the drive to know more and the delicious sense of suspense or hesitation. Sometimes I close the book just for a bit to let it wash over me before pushing on. Bleak House was too long ago for me to remember and Pickwick doesn't start to feel like a novel until a fair bit of the way in, so I can't tell at what point he really honed this ability and when it started to fade (I do recall that he had trouble over/under writing Our Mutual Friend).

*I'm pretty sure I have a mental block against Middlemarch. I know it's beautiful and Important and changed the state of the novel and everything, but I just can't seem to commit to that much George Eliot. I'm sorry. I know I'm the worst Victorianist ever. Maybe I'll take it on a trip with me this summer as the only reading material and see what happens. Blargh.

*I have a million books on digitization and metadata sitting on my second desk at work. I still find it impossible to move forward in any major project without first ordering and/or consulting every book I can find in Summit. Smart or debilitating? We'll soon find out.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

RDA Toolkit Goes Live Today

The long anticipate formal launch of the RDA Toolkit begins today. I'll be touching base with the cataloging guru here today to see if/when we'll be able to start logging in, though after the demonstration we had in LIS 539, my hopes aren't as high as they once were. It will be interesting to see how the LC Test Partners start to feel out this new tool - how much will they be relying on the AACR2-to-RDA widget and how much will be actual immersion in the text? I'm also very interested to see what some non-MARC people will be able to do (XC perhaps?).

My real question is, can I begin my testing timeline countdown now?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Moving right along...

The Quarter is over and soon AK will start his yearly pilgrimage East (camps, Summer Nationals, maybe home for a bit, potentially Coaches College, more camps..). While I still have some work to do for iPeer, there really isn't anything on my agenda for the next three months except friend, books, more friends, and more books. A friend will be flying up from the Bay Area this weekend in her boyfriend's plane (with two unnamed compatriots). I've just purchased a ticket to visit NY later in the summer, which is fantastic. The trip promises actual summer weather, the anniversary celebration at the Frick (my favorite museum in the city after the Met), and plenty of time with excellent people.

Tomorrow at work we unpack the giant scanner and thus our digitization program will begin. I've been doing a lot of reading up on CONTENTdm, which has been mostly web-based. Things should really start falling in place for me when I can get into the software and start playing around. I often learn by doing, by poking around to see how everything is connected (and to see how to fix things once I break them...). The project also promises to bring me back to my library roots: archives and special collections. While I won't be the one selecting the materials for our pilot project, I will get to scan, photograph, and otherwise work with the archival bits. Really, this project is a nice full-circle moment for me - my former archival work and my current technology/metadata work mashing together.

Still waiting for the LC RDA testing to begin. Tomorrow we'll be hashing out the kind of RDA access we'll need at our institution. I'm still really torn about the implementation of RDA in the US. While I'm glad that it hasn't been abandoned, I feel we're losing so much potential by staying rooted in MARC and by neglecting the RDA vocabularies. But the alternative? I'm not sure I have one, not yet anyway, and that's a continual source of frustration. How do we renew without blowing it all to bits? Or should I just grab a safety helmet and learn to duck?

Sunday, May 30, 2010


The final paper of the quarter hit the drop box on Friday afternoon (hurrah!), so it's just presentations from the point out. One is a no-more-than-fifteen-minute presentation on how blogs can add value to a library's web presence. The second is an about-fifteen-minute presentation of RDA as if presented to a library director. The research for both is pretty much done, though there isn't much to do for the latter other than gather together everything from the quarter. A draft of each, in Powerpoint, sits on my desktop, awaiting tinkering. They're essentially outlined and essentially done except for the whole, you know, presenting part.

I keep stalling on the talky bit, which is unfortunate because I'm fairly sure I'm going to have to talk both presentations through before they start to make sense. I'm not entirely sure why. The recording itself is fairly innocuous. I don't really hate the sound of my own voice (though there still some shades of unadulterated Queens-style vowels in there). I seem to get caught up in the articulation bit. Even when I have a script and a timer in front of me, I tend to alternate between lethargic rambling and lightening-fast babbling. Before this program, getting up and talking in front of people/recording something as if I were talking in front of people just wasn't a feature. I can distinctly remember giving only two presentations in the four years of my undergraduate, and one wasn't even for a class but rather a summer research job. There was a group presentation for the MA, but I can barely recall if I said anything or if I wrote something and another person said it all.

The fact remain that I'm far more comfortable making my argument in text and handing it in or posting it online somewhere. The message boards we use in the online program just emphasizes this, especially because I even go back and edit once I've realized I've said something that's not quite right. If anything, I'm often too talkative on the boards. I try to tell myself that I'm not that librarian stereotype, that I do like people and that, in fact, I will miss interacting with students when I move into Tech Services full-time later this summer. But I just don't like talking in front of people. To people? Fine. With people? Absolutely. On a stage with people looking at me and judging? Ugh. I know that people are judging as harshly as I think and that, honestly, what is ten minutes on blogs and libraries and how does that impact the world? But the second I hit record I just feel like a complete idiot and start talking as fast as possible to get it over with.

Even though I've essentially been scripting this RDA presentation in my head for weeks, sitting down and getting it recorded just seem absolutely impossible. I'm sure I'll be able to trick myself into getting something down later this week (particularly since the blogging one is due on Friday). But right now, watching BBC history documentaries just seems like the best option.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Linked Library Data Incubation Group

Link to the charter:

The mission of the Library Linked Data Incubator Group is to help increase global interoperability of library data on the Web, by bringing together people involved in Semantic Web activities—focusing on Linked Data—in the library community and beyond, building on existing initiatives, and identifying collaboration tracks for the future.

The group will explore how existing building blocks of librarianship, such as metadata models, metadata schemas, standards and protocols for building interoperability and library systems and networked environments, encourage libraries to bring their content, and generally re-orient their approaches to data interoperability towards the Web, also reaching to other communities. It will also envision these communities as a potential major provider of authoritative datasets (persons, topics...) for the Linked Data Web. As these evolutions raise a need for a shared standardization effort within the library community around (Semantic) Web standards, the group will refine the knowledge of this need, express requirements for standards and guidelines, and propose a way forward for the library community to contribute to further Web standardization actions.

The incubator group has been initiated by actors from national libraries, university libraries and research units, library vendors companies and other interested stakeholders. Its scope is however not limited to libraries as institutions, but is meant to involve other cultural heritage institutions, partners from the publishing industry, and other relevant domains.

This is amazing. This is exactly where we need to be heading. And I am happy to see that LC is on board with this, as well as the DCMI (natch) and IFLA.

I am at loss for anything pithier than "YES!".

13 days...

Today I've been somewhat ridiculously productive. Thirteen days remain in the quarter and I've managed to draft all of the remaining assignments (paper on the US's plan for testing RDA, presentation on RDA, presentation on libraries and blogs). Some drafts are far more drafty than others and there's the actual recording to contend with, which may or may not be made a million times easier via Jing. I love the ability to switch between a browser for demonstrations and a PowerPoint for the rest of it, but the lack of editing is a bit nerve wracking. I never bothered with the micro-editing functions in PointeCast, but I did go slide by slide. Though this running through things in real time is probably beneficial for me in the long run as there really isn't an opportunity for a "do over" in live presenting. Once I've done more than a ten minute test drive of the software, I'll talk more about it here.

In researching libraries who use blogs, the idea of having something to blog about has come up again and again. Librarians are often eager to embrace and implement new technology, but sometimes they do so before they've really thought through the appropriateness of the program etc. Blogs are particularly attractive because they're often so easy to implement and use. But they're also so easy to forget about or to neglect. Updating a blog means that you have to find both the time to write and something worth writing about. My own struggles with blogging is a clear demonstration of that tension. The best ideas typically show up when I'm deep in coursework (though happily they tend to find a home on a class message board). When I'm suddenly free, it's all apologies and banalities. For an individual this might be forgivable, but for an institution it's much harder to pass off. An ALA TechSource report on Web 2.0 offers some excellent best practices for either choosing to blog and what to do once that decision has been made. While I am all for bringing libraries more into the web, I do balk at implementing for the sake of implementing. If it will truly add value, go right ahead. If not, find something else that works.

Monday, May 17, 2010

LCSH and VC's VS

I spent two day this past week in scenic Eugene, OR taking a course on LCSH. The course itself is excellent - great information taught by incredibly knowledgeable people. Sitting there, I realized how lucky I am to have had a fairly strong grounding in the subject from LIS 531. Still, I learned a ton. The course spent much more time working with authority records than anything else and I'll surely be using all of that during my usual authority work. While the course material was incredibly useful, when trying to parse the complex strings and stumbling to figure out where the damn geographic subdivision belonged, I couldn't help but think about the limitations of LCSH as a whole. It's another one of those legacy products built in bits and pieces and updated in chunks for nearly a hundred years. While the strings, once properly formed, can be incredibly expressive, I can see how much of a pain they are to break apart for something like faceted searching or other types of reuse. Simply assigning identifiers to more pre-coordinated strings doesn't feel like a solution either.

As we've been discussing on the boards for LIS 539, so much of LCSH depends on the context of the subject string, located with in the context of the record. This lack of context, or rather lack of explicit context, seems to be a continual issue in trying to move catalogs to be more in line with modern technology. Is it that the library community never dreamed of having to break thing apart? Is it that we, as a community, never dreamed that we could be supplanted as information leaders and thus took the reasonable step of saving time and energy by relying on our shared systems/methods/records to carry the burden of context? I doubt in that position I could have foretold the world in which libraries must function. But to see the same issue crop up again and again, it makes me wonder. As usual, I feel I've not spent enough time in the field to say "Well, let's scrap it and start again!" Scrapping LCSH would be a waste and LC does seem motivated to make significant changes when called on (adding a subdivision for form and fixing all of the inverted headings just to start). Still, it will be interesting to see where this all winds up as libraries seem to inch ever closer to the Semantic Web... whether we like it or not.


I received an email today from a Vassar student asking me to contribute my memories of the Victorian Studies program towards a project she's developing in conjunction with the college's 150th anniversary. I have a Word doc open right now where I've been dumping my memories of the program. I can remember when I first decided I declared. I can remember my first end of the year dinner. I remember feeling relieved that the program had left me well prepared for my MA. I remember chiding actors for wearing white tube socks during a production of The Invention of Love. It's still strange to realize I've been out of Vassar for nearly 6 years and that I've been out of high school for nearly 10. It feels alternatively that so much and yet so little have happened in the intervening time.

And on that note, sleep.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Mostly good...

Things are happening and I can't quite talk about them yet, but it's mostly good, somewhat migraine causing, but good.

So in honor of the ebbing migraine and the fact that I'm nearly done with reading for the week, a list of things that are mostly good or good.

*Coffee and its migraine-fighting caffeine

*My Circ Students, especially the ones leaving me forever graduating today

*Finally understanding what this Semantic Web thing is and why it's a Big Deal

*Lacey coming home in less than a month!!!

*Maria, who is going to be the best Tech Services manager EVER!

*A day off on Monday

*That Husband Guy. He's pretty awesome.

Monday, April 26, 2010


My mind, and my blogging, has been elsewhere of late. I'm in the midst of an incredible class on RDA (which requires its own blogging component and can be read here). The class is both wonderful and intense. I'm learning so much, but at such a pace that I can't quite spit it out into coherent sentences yet. This time last year I first learned about FRBR and Dublin Core, and now I find myself right in the middle of it (and the RDA vocabularies, and the Semantic Web and half a million other thoughts). Maybe this time next year I'll have it sorted for you all.

Add to this another class on systems, my attempts to fence regularly again, the Herculean effort of finalizing and organizing AK's summer camp schedule (*fingers crossed for Coaches College*), and impending end of the year at work and end of the fencing season and its no wonder I open a post here and then five minutes later find myself in the middle of a crossword puzzle.

But on the plus side, I have pomegranate molasses butter cake.

Friday, February 26, 2010

There's a light...*

The end of the quarter is virtually in sight. I have a cataloging paper due on Sunday (LCSH!), then a justification of my class participation for my management class, and then the two final papers (case study of IBM and a catalog critique). In a matter of moments I'll be meeting online with my group to hash out how we're going to lead a discussion on the challenges of managing Sandy Berman (certified badass). My diet today has consisted primarily of coffee and doughnuts, so I feel less than sharp. It also doesn't help that I've been watching episodes of the BBC series Who Do You Think You Are? Monstrously emotional journeys as celebs trace out the more snarled bits of their genealogy. A lot of sympathetic crying and not much in the way of tightening my discussion on subject heading choices.

This is not to say that the quarter is a waste - the very opposite in fact. Working on blind authority headings yesterday, I was struck by how much I now understand when looking at an authority or bib record. Searching makes more sense because I now really get what the system is looking at, what the fields in the record actually mean. I keep feeling that a quarter of this program involves relearning stuff I already knew, a fair amount of learning things I never knew or considered, and a fair amount of learning the rhyme and reason behind things I thought I knew. It's all very enlightening, but it often feels like I'm re-indexing my head on a weekly or even daily basis when new information or new links between old ideas are forged. Exhilarating, but exhausting.

Group chat time...

*...shining at the Epcot Center.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


I can't decide if it's the classes I'm taking or if it's simply getting used to the program that makes each progressive quarter seem more manageable than the one previous. Once the first week passes and I have a sense of when things are do and when I have to read/listen to lectures, the rest seems to fall into place. As an added bonus, there's been very little fighting with technology this quarter - no websites going down or contrary coding. I read and think and write and post and drop things into drop boxes and call it a night. That's not to say that this isn't satisfying or enjoyable - it's both. Rather, I think I have finally figured out how to make school a part of my life. Apparently the fifth quarter is the magic point for me.

The other day I sat down to decide what to take next quarter. I am nearly done with my last core class, so everything is electives and "culminating experience". I realized that after next quarter, I'll only have 17 credits left. A little over two quarters. I just really hope that there are jobs starting up when I'm done with this program. I am willing to move and work at whatever professional level, but I think I would lose all momentum if I had to wait a few years before a job opened. And now I'm going to stop thinking about it, lest I freak out.

Other than falling into a rhythm with classwork, this quarter is running smoothly because I'm so interested in the material. My cataloging class guarantees me at least "Ooh, so that's why we do X" moments a week. It's interesting, after all this time working with bib records and MARC, to finally understand why it works the way it does - why the author name in the 245 doesn't match the name in the 100, for example. Incredibly simple moves, but it feels earth shattering to me. We're working on LCSH this week, the part of cataloging that made my friends' heads explode, so we'll see how optimistic and enthusiastic I feel after that...

Tomorrow morning I'm up early to do a plyometric work out with the boy, so to bed for me...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ending Eras

This evening I securely packed up my oboe, took it to FedEx and shipped it eastwards to be cleaned, tuned up, and eventually sold. There's already a buyer interested, so depending on the condition of the instrument and the whims of the buyer, the transaction could go on for a while. But for now I've done what I can to make sure that it will go to a good home instead of languishing on my shelf as it has for at least two years now.

I came into the idea in passing. An aside comment by my mother made me realize it's been literally years since I picked up the instrument, let alone took a lesson or played for an ensemble or even made a reed. My final year of college, though difficult, really brought me to the pinnacle of what I could do musically. I played a fabulous repertoire with brilliant musicians. I had the chance to solo on English horn. I played for two years on my own reeds (with the occasional tweaks). At the end of it all, over a decade of playing, I really felt I had done what I needed to do. Music has given me so much. I will never regret playing. I will always think of the positive influence of Joel, Cheryl, and Mr. Newton. But I'm done.

It seems final and it's really not. I'm not done with music forever, but rather my time as a participant, a performer is past. I had my chance, ran with it, and then necessarily moved on to different things. I know people who have managed to keep music as a part of their life, who have careers and are musicians, but I don't feel that's where I'm at or where I'll ever be. This sounds somewhat apologetic and I don't mean it to be. I'm happy with my choice. I'm glad there is now an affordable used Rigoutat on the market for some young player who needs more than a crappy plastic Selmer.

It's time to be someone else now or, rather, to be the person who is already here.

And worse case scenario, there's always an alto sax in the closet. At least I can get those reeds from the store.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Quick, quick, as there are many rules in AACR2R to read before I sleep...

"We are living in an era experiencing tremendous acceleration in many fields. Ours is a society that demands rapid access to large bodies of information. How can we proceed to satisfy the needs of the student, the scholar, the researcher during the period in which both intellectual and technical difficulties prohibit the development of a utopian library?" - From The MARC Pilot Project, Library of Congress, 1968.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Passing Time

Today I looked like a student. AK is taking another class on campus and though it's my day-off, I'm nearby housesitting and I needed to print some readings, so I followed him to class. After nearly hitting two students while trying to park (look up, guys!), we wended our way through the parking lot and onto campus proper. I left him at his building and began to make my way to the library. Dressed in a black hoodie, jeans, and Chucks with a backpack over one shoulder, I looked like everyone else around me. I bobbed and weaved through the mass of students moving from one class to another, skidding to a halt when the girl in front of me had to stop to hug a friend, jumping over a bike strapped haphazardly to a bench.

Though I'm in school and the federal government gives me student level tax breaks, I sometimes forget I'm actually a student. The residencies up in Seattle drove that point home at the start of every quarter, when I was fighting with untold thousands of other students to get coffee before a morning lecture. In London I was a little more detached from that kind of student life. I road the morning and evening train with commuters. But after dropping off my coat in a coin-operated locker, carefully placing my work for the day into a clear plastic bag (better visibility for the security guards), and flashing my pass as I walked into Humanities 1, I was part of the world of scholarship, the people who could sit seemingly motionless for hours in front of a stack of paper, only jumping up with great energy and excitement when the little green light on my desk went off.

Judging by the newly moving groups of students behind me in the reference room and the growing crowds outside, it's passing time again. Time to pack up and go.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Cataloging the Quarter

So a new quarter is begun and I'm taking my first elective (531) and my final core requirement (580). I'm happy to report that thus far I am not feeling too overwhelmed by work or concepts, but rather I'm actually rather exhilarated and excited. I know freaking out about MARC and Charles Ammi Cutter (already mentioned here as inherently awesome) marks me as a special type of nerd, but I really don't care. It's so exciting for me to finally get the "why" for so much of the work I do on a daily basis or work that I've done before.

My history with cataloging is complex and piecemeal. While I had managed to develop and understanding of library catalog records from playing around in OPACs as a patron and a page, I didn't actually get into the meat of things until my first summer at the Music Library. The cataloging librarian, who is utterly amazing at her job, had severe problems with her wrists and hands. I believe the damage was done during some crazy retro-con project. In order to protect her wrists from further damage, and to allow her to continue to play oboe (and she is a very talented player), students were assigned all of the heavy typing work. I got a crash course in MARC and heading searching and was sent on my way. I would search for all appropriate subjects/performers (I did a ton of scores and CDs, as most of the books we bought were copy cataloged) and print them. She would work her magic and order them into a MARC template, which I would then type up and upload. I knew enough to pay attention to exactly what was written, but that's it. I knew enough to do the job and to do it well, but obviously when you have a ridiculous backlog of scores to retro-con, you're not going to take the time to make sure your student has a strong conceptual grasp of the fundamentals of cataloging. Especially when she'll be gone in three months.

This "sorta understanding" of the catalog followed me through the rest of my library jobs, but didn't really call upon them until my current position (in the Archives I worked primarily with finding aids). Again, I relied on my understanding of the bibliographic record as an advanced catalog searcher to get the work done. This was expanded when I trained to produce LHRs for our collection, but I was still working under the notion of "it has to be like this to validate", not 'it has to be like this because of X principle". It wasn't until I was assigned authority work that I finally sat down to learn what my coworker meant when she said "245 field". I read a few LC pubs and essentially threw myself into the work, asking innumerable questions and leaving things for others to look at when I could. Eventually things started to slide into place.

A cataloging exercise this past week finally helped to cement together my day to day notions and the larger picture of cataloging. I find it thrilling to finally look at something that you know has to work a particular way and to finally grasp WHY it works that way and to see how that rationale stretches all the way back to the nineteenth century (okay, maybe I'm the only one who is excited by Victorian era cataloging writing). I still have miles to go before I can sit down and catalog something from scratch, but I feel that the potential is there, that it's no longer as mystical and obscure a process as I once thought.

Right now a paper on this very subject is calling, so more later.