Archive for Old vs. new

Why I Was Planning to Kill My Last Job

Not like, oh, I hate this damn thing– let’s blow it up! More like, I have a Vision of the Future! And it involves *gasp* outsourcing.

I know it is controversial. I love to catalog, and I am going to keep doing it no matter what. (YOU CANNOT STOP ME!) But let me tell you about the workflow at my last job:

Divide books up into ones w/CIP data and ones without

Give ones w/CIP to student worker, who uses OCLC Connexion to
–create a call number using Cutter shortcut (i.e., ShortCutter (TM! I just made that up!))
–add 949 fields for interactive importing to Innovative
Student writes OCLC record number on workslip, gives books to cataloger

Give books (and other media) w/o CIP to cataloger, who
–does the same as student worker, sometimes more complicatedly

Cataloger then takes all those books and
–revises call number so it is unique within the collection (and checks to make sure it fits there/is accurate/is the best choice of call number)
–performs authority control on all subject and authority headings
–downloads authority records, as needed; replaces outdated authority records in existing database, as indicated
–checks for any other anomalies
–exports records from Connexion into III, individually
–writes call number in book and on workslip

My vision for the job:

Outsource the initial cataloging (or pre-cataloging or whatever) OR
Automate the initial cataloging

Cataloger checks as in the final group procedures

The cataloging focus would then be on quality control. In fact, I foresee a future when the authority control could be done automatedly, with quality checks, natch.

And the job itself would shift to management of the entire Cataloging/Processing Department, rather than strictly focusing on the cataloging part. Of course, there would be a need for original cataloging from time to time. (By my estimation, with just DVDs, VHS, and books, the library where I worked required the OC (“Don’t call it that.”) on about 80-90 titles a year. My supervisor did original cataloging on far more CDs, I think.) So, Head of Cataloging and Processing would need to be a cataloger. (Like me!)

About the controversy:

1) Job loss: I get that. It is real, and I don’t want to dismiss it. But I truly think that there will be more library professional and paraprofessional jobs in the long run. You know how ppl were all freaked out about automation taking jobs away from humans? Well, it turns out that the machines cannot (YET!) maintain themselves. And, as I’ve said before, there’s always going to be a need for information professionals who can translate the info for hu-mons and help people learn to evaluate sources, etc. More jobs, not fewer!

2) Lack of quality of outsourced cataloging: I have heard (i.e., read on listservs) the lament that Library of Congress is cutting corners and it is being reflected in the quality of their records. The (vast) majority of records we used at my library (and this is pretty standard) were copy-cataloged from Library of Congress records. And it’s true– there are some egregious mistakes in the records. Not all of them or even most, but, man, when they are wrong, they can be Very Wrong. (I wish that I had written down some amusing examples! How fun would that be!) Which is why I advocate for a cataloger to check every single record.

I really think that hybrid is the way to go, here. You need somebody to supervise the department, take care of the technical aspects, and approve the records, but I think that it makes more sense, economically and in terms of using people’s time and energy to its best.

Oh, man, I just realized what a technical, specific post this is. But everyone, cataloger, department head, library patron, or person with a heart can enjoy this (noisy noisy video):

Library 2.0h noes!

Via my Facebook page:

“What kind of librarian are you?” with the result Librarian 2.0.
You were interviewed for the New York Times about the changing face of librarians, you’re in charge of your library’s Facebook page, and you hate working with old people. You enjoy showing patrons how to use the computer catalog and no longer make a bitch face when asked for help with self checkout. Patrons and coworkers see you as a breath of fresh air and someone who is full of good ideas, as long as you aren’t rolling your eyes at them. You are a next gen librarian, one who will define the future of blah blah blah. We get it. Remember, it’s still ok for libraries to have books in the building..

Oy. Before I complain about the term “2.0,” I just want to talk about the description of “me.” I was interviewed by no one, but thanks for the NYT shout-out. (If you are reading this, New York Times, call me!) My library had no Facebook page, no self-checkout and no bitch-face. I am an incredibly polite human being who wants books in libraries! In fact, I am pro-traditional-library (though I think that using new technology appropriately is important.) People need and love books, the physical objects. I am one of those people!

Now, I don’t want to belabor the point, but people people, not just nerds, have been using internets since, say, 1995. In 2002, System of a Down was using “software version 7.0” of… /trails off/ /looks it up/ Conversion? Eating seeds? Our city? At any rate, they were using software version 7.0. The version of Firefox I am using at this very moment is 3.0.10. Libraries, as we know them, have been around since the freakin’ 18th century, and the ancient-y civilizations had libraries.

How are we only on version 2.0?! I mean, it really gets me that we are only on the second release to begin with, but .0?! .0?!?!?!?!??!!!

If we’re going to be arbitrary about the whole thing, here’s what I’ve got:

Library 1.0: some guy collects scrolls and tablets in his home, in some kind of order
Library 1.1: other guys do the same thing
Library 0.0: Rome burns
Library 2.0: Rich 18th century nobles sponsor libraries
Library 2.1: Rich 18th century nobles sponsor university libraries
Library 3.0: Literate commerçants collect their Romans for easy access to Bawdy Entertainments
Library 4.0: Some other stuff probably happens
Library 5.0: 1876 — Dewey BLOWS EVERYONE’S MINDS!



Library 5.1-5.9.18: thence to now, revisions to Dewey + LCC, ad infinitum
Library 6.0: Computers take over
Library 6.1: What happened to all the card catalogs?
Library 6.2: Seriously, guys, is there any paper anywhere in this damn library that is not bound?
Library 6.3: Discs of various sorts with information people might use, usually shelved in reference section or housed in the back of books
Library 7.0: Internet BLOWS EVERYONE’S MINDS
Library 7.1: Search engines and online databases
Library 7.3: Whatever buzz-words people are using for the fact that a lot of young people can use computers

Library 7.3. There.

As a bonus, here are some other phrases besides “[insert noun here] 2.0” that will one day be used in historical fiction to gently mock those of us in the fin-de-20ème siècle and early 21st:

internet cyberspace (I actually found that phrase in a book! That was published! By a major press!)
[any word].com (when you aren’t just giving someone a web address; this one is courtesy Nicole)
pwn (sadly)

Classy — Cal Edition

[I maintain that anytime someone says “classy” to refer to a person or behavior, there is no way to make it sound unironic. Here, though, I am making an adjective about courses that are being taught, and this is not intended to be a comment on the tackiness or non-tackiness thereof.]

Here are some classes I aspire to take:

Mixing and Remixing Information at UC Berkeley’s ISchool

Oh, man, this is so beautiful, I don’t even know what to do with it. 1) The title is gorgeous! 2) Using XML and web services to make already-available information more accessible, which is exactly my aim! 3) Course description employs the word “exploiting”.

Interface Aesthetics, also at Cal’s ISchool

I think that I’ve expressed my love for aesthetics a bit already, but I want to add, also, how important this is to me, in terms of ease of use and “exploitation” of pre-existing user instincts.

Information Access — this one is at Cal’s ISchool!

Exactly! This is the reason I want to go to such an innovative program! Basically: information retrieval practices, including new practices, and their social impact.

The Politics of Piracy, an undergraduate class in the ISchool

I am not sure if I’d be allowed to take it, if I were a grad student, but it is so exciting to me! It is what it sounds like. It is student-led and pass/no-pass. Lots of discussion. I think it’s an important conversation to be having. I think I especially need to be having conversations with people about this. I like the question “Is there such a thing as ‘good’ piracy?” Another question for myself: why do I not pirate, if there is any way for me to pay for something official, while not condemning others for piracy? And why are we calling it piracy, particularly since the pirated object is still available to others? And also if we don’t want people to do it, as pirates are widely considered to be “cool”? Were they foreseeing a (very near) future when pirates are passé?

Has the moment already passed?

Has the moment already passed?

The Library Scene Part the Second

Yesterday I talked about the Bücherrad(-rad-rad &cetera) portion of the awesome scene (in Neal Stephenson’s The Confusion in Wolfenbütten (thanks to Dani and Emily for the coding!), wherein Leibniz and Fatio explore the library that Leibniz inherited from Duke August and is now cultivating with his new-fangled cataloging and classification plans. Yesterday was cataloging. Today: classification.

“Observe– each book is identified by a number. The numbers are arbitrary, meaningless– a kind of code, like the names Adam gave to the beasts. Duke August was of the old school, and used Roman numerals, which makes it that much more cryptickal.”
Liebniz led Fatio away from the center of the floor toward the rugged stone walls, which were mostly barricaded by high thick ramparts covered in canvas taurpaulins. He peeled up the edge of one and flung it back to reveal that the rampart was a stack of books, thousands of them…

How hilarious would it be if that was what a library was, actually. A nice big pile of books covered in a tarp? Also, how funny is it to imagine that that is what digital information storage is like? A big pile of information covered by a tarp. Only here the tarp is that the stuff is invisible until you retrieve it? (Did I stretch that too far? Or JUST FAR ENOUGH?!)

Also, I love the shout-out to the arbitrariness of classification. Yes, it is organized in a fashion, but that organization, even if it is “intuitive,” i.e., sciency books together in Dewey in 500s, is arbitrary, because, of course, “500” doesn’t mean science anymore than “fhqwhgads” does, but also because where do we cut off science? Computer science is in the aughts. Medicine is in the 600s. We are cutting the whole damn thing into chunks, pretty much wherever we understand it. Which is why the whole thing is constantly in flux. When I left my last job, I left a list of reclassification projects, just as my predecessor had done; there wasn’t time in nine years to finish them all.

And, shout-out to Saussure, calling Adam’s naming of the animals arbitrary. I guess it would’ve been a bigger shout-out if he’d clarified that Adam also had to pioneer taxonomy at the same time by deciding which animals were different enough that they got their own names. (Incidentally, taxonomy isn’t just used to describe biological taxonomy but any kind of classification– ours included!)


“Now [the books] are in a heap, later they shall be on shelves– either way, how do you find what you want?” Leibniz asked…
“I suppose one would go by the numbers. Supposing that they were shelved in numerical order.”
“Suppose they were. The numbers merely denote the order in which the Duke acquired, or at least cataloged, the volumes. They say nothing of the content.”
“Re-number them, then.”
“According to what scheme? By name of author?”
“I believe it would be better to use something like Wilkins’s philosophical language. [ed. note: this is a reference to the language I mentioned that the Royal Society was trying to develop in which it was impossible to speak Untruth.] For any conceivable subject, there would be a unique number. Write that number on the spine the book and shelve them in order. Then you can go directly to the right part of the library and find all the books on a given subject together.”
“But suppose I am making a study of Aristotle. Aristotle is my subject. May I expect to find all Aristotle-books shelved together? Or would his works on geometry be shelved in one section, and his works on physics elsewhere?”
“If you look at it that way, the problem is most difficult.”

Word. I think that it is pretty common for libraries to fudge the Dewey a bit to keep books by the same author together. Of course, not to the extent of putting geometry and physics together, but to the point of, say, simplifying a call number down to one or two decimal points beyond the whole number so they will fit. I had to do this all the time, and often it involved rearranging and reclassing things.

Also, the part about putting the books in numerical order of when they were cataloged or acquired reminded me of a story I heard about someone, in a library class, cataloging books by the color of their covers. (Actually, the books in my bedroom are arranged in color order. We haven’t cataloged them yet.)

And on–

Leibniz stepped over to an empty bookcase and drew his finger down the length of one shelf from left to right. “A shelf is akin to a Cartesian number-line. The position of a book on that shelf is associated with a number. But only one number! Like a number-line, it is one-dimensional. In analytic geometry we may cross two or three number-lines at right angles to create a multi-dimensional space. Not so with bookshelves. The problem of the librarian is that books are multi-dimensional with their subject matter but must be ordered on one-dimensional shelves.”
…[ed. note: this is still Leibniz]
“…Consider the following: Suppose we assign the number three to Aristotle, and four to turtles. Now we must decide where to shelve a book by Aristotle on the subject of turtles. We multiply three by four to obtain twelve, and then shelve the book in position twelve.”
“Excellent! By a simple multiplication you have combined several subject-numbers into one– collapsed the multi-dimensional space into a uni-dimensional number-line.”
“I am pleased that you favor my proposal thus far, Fatio, but now consider the following: suppose we assign the number two to Plato, and six to trees. And suppose we acquire a book by Plato on the subject of trees. Where does it belong?”
“The product of two and six is twelve– so it goes next to Aristotle’s book on turtles.”
“Indeed. And a scholar seeking the latter book may instead find himself with the former– clearly a failure of the cataloging system.”
“Then let me step once again into the rôle of Simplicio and ask whether you have solved this problem.”
“Suppose we use this codimg instead,” quoth the Doctor, reaching behind the bokcase and pulling out a slate on which the following table had been chalked– thereby as much as admitting that the conversation, to this point, had been a scripted demo’.

2 Plato
3 Aristotle
5 Trees
7 Turtles
2×5=10 Plato on Trees
3×7=21 Aristotle on Turtles
2×7=14 Plato on Turtles
3×5=15 Aristotle on Trees

“Two, three, five, and seven– all prime numbers,” remarked Fatio after giving it a brief study. “The shelf-numbers are composites, the products of prime factors. Excellent, Doctor! By making this small improvement– assigning prime numbers, instead of counting numbers, to the various subjects– you have eliminated the problem. The shelf position of any book may be found by multiplying the subject-numbers– and you may be assured it will be unique.”

Oh, man. This part is just incredibly rich. Firstly, I love prime numbers! In fact, one of my favorite things in the world is trying to determine in my head whether a number is prime or not! And I’m no savant; it takes work! Two, I love his classification scheme! It makes as much sense as any other, as far as I can tell, with the obvious problem that I will address below. Three, I think it is an interesting proposal to factor in the author at the same time as the subject, instead of, as both Dewey and Library of Congress do: subject first, author second. Fourth, people are still tackling the issue of multi-subjected books. And with the proliferation of subject headings (and their sub-headings), subjects are being broken down minutely (which I think is to the good of all involved), while the classification systems don’t have room to accommodate the growth (which I think is just the sad truth of it all. I can memorize a string of numbers up to ten digits pretty reliably, but that is mostly because of my cataloging work. I think most people do well with three to five digits, again, reliably. Also, where would you put a sixteen digit string on a book? Across the title?)

[ed note: Fatio: ]”I predict that you will find success, Doctor Leibniz, and that one day there will rise up, in Berlin, Vienna, or even Moscow, a Knowledge Engine on a titanic scale. The shelves will extend for countless leagues and will be crowded with books all arranged according to the rules of your system. But I fear that I could very easily become lost in the bowels of that place. Looking at a shelf I might see some number, eight or nine digits long. I would know this to be a composite number, the product of two or more primes. But to decompose such a number into its prime factors is a notoriously difficult and tedious problem. There is a curious asymmetry about this approach, in other words, lying in the fact that to its creator the structure and organization of the great library will be clear as glass– but to a solitary visitor it will seem a murky maze of impenetrable numbers.”
“I do not deny it,” Leibniz answered without hesitation, “but I find in this a sort of beauty, a reflection of the structure of the universe. The situation of the solitary visitor, as you have described it, is one with which I am familiar.”

Beautiful! Of course it is insane to imagine people walking around doing complicated factoring in their heads in order to figure out what the hell section of the library they are in. But! Is it somehow more intuitive for people to find themselves at the end of the 700s looking for books about sports? People may be less lost if they have spent a lot of time in libraries or if they are familiar with the process of looking up books in catalogs and then scanning the shelves for that particular call number. But, honestly, if one were a “solitary visitor” to a library (one that didn’t explain on the ends of the stacks what kinds of books are housed within), how easy would it be for one to find a book on the subject of one’s choice or even to determine what section one was in? What would intuitive classification look like? And how would we shift to it?

In closing, I just want to say how indebted I am to Neal Stephenson for entertaining me thus and for awakening parts of my brain that had been long un-exercised. And, of course, the materials I have been quoting are copyrighted to the teeth, and I hope I have been applying fair-use in my blogging. (A subject I have yet to explore, which I know I REALLY MUST!)

The Library Scene

So, I am in the middle of The Confusion by Neal Stephenson, the second book in The Baroque Cycle. I know I keep talking about these books, but I am right now totally engrossed. I can’t read anything else. (Except for websites and trashy magazines.) Also, I haven’t been sleeping well for about six months and twenty-one days, and I have been experimenting with getting up at 5:00 (or whenever I wake up) and reading in the Serenity Room until I fall back asleep.

The other night I was delighted to find:

“Leibniz and Fatio at Wolfenbuttel” (actually, there should be an umlaut over the “u.” Anyone interested in cracking WordPress for me to tell me how to umlaut it up?)

The context: Leibniz is Leibniz. (Also, man, that is not who I was picturing!) Fatio is Fatio. And what is happening here is Fatio, a “very” “close” “associate” of “Isaac Newton” (oops, the last one didn’t need quotes), is visiting Leibniz to do some “investigating,” of which sort we don’t yet know. And Leibniz takes Fatio to the library he is creating and describes to him his vision of the future:

“Behold, the Bucherrad!” [ed. note: there’s an asterisk leading to the footnote: “Wheel of Books”] Leibniz said.
Viewed end-on, the Bucherrad was hexagonal, and nearly as tall as Fatio. When he worked his way round to the front, he saw that it consisted mostly of six massive shelves, each one a couple of fathoms long, bridging the interval between hexagonal end-caps that were mounted on axles so that the whole apparatus could be revolved. But each of the six shelves was free to revolve on an axis of its own. As the Bucherrad spun, each of those shelves counter-rotated in such a way that it maintained a fixed angles with respect to the floor, and did not spill its load of books.
Going round to the other end, Fatio was able to see how it worked: a system of planetary gears, carven from hard wood, spun about the central axle-tree like Ptolemaic epicylcles. [ed. note: like you do.]
Then Fatio turned his attention to the books themselves: curious folio volumes, hand-written, all in the same hand, all in Latin.
“These were all written out personally by one Duke August, a fore-runner of the lot you just met. He lived to a great age and died some twenty-five years ago. It was he who assembled most of this collection,” Leibniz explained.
Fatio bent slightly at the waist to read one of the pages. It consisted of a series of paragraphs each preceded by a title and a long Roman numeral. “It is a description of a book,” he concluded.
“The process of abstraction continues,” Leibniz said. “Duke August could not keep the contents of his library in his memory, so he wrote out catalogs. And when there were too many catalogs for him to use them conveniently, he had woodwrights make Bucherrads– engines to facilitate the use and maintenance of the catalogs.”
“Very ingenious.”
“Yes– and it is threescore years old,” Leibniz returned. “If you do the arithmetick, as I have, you may easily demonstrate that to hold all the catalogs needed to list all the world’s books would require so many Bucherrads that we would need some Bucherrad-rads to spin them around, and a Bucherrad-rad-rad to hold all of them–”
“German is a convenient language that way,” Fatio said diplomatically.

Oh dear God! I realize that this is fictional dialogue, but the truth of the matter is that Leibniz presaged the library cataloging system, as it is used today. We have a series of engines doing the work of storing the abstracts (though most library records don’t include 520 fields and should!), and we have a series of engines to organize those engines, etc. And, in this country, the Library of Congress does the work of collecting “all” of the books published in this country, and OCLC does the job of collecting “all” of the records for published books around the world (that are submitted to them) (which is a lot) (most?).

At any rate, this is all making me think about the origins of library and information systems as we use them today. They don’t seem to me to be intuitive so much as prescribed, and their roots are from the Eighteenth-Century Enlightenment obsession with organization of knowledge and learning. Like I said on Friday, this is the era of the encyclopedia and strangely, relatedly, of landscape gardening, wherein the wild becomes tamed by the careful pruning and defining of terms and plants, respectively. So, the entire basis of library science, as we know it, is based on the assumption that knowledge is this big mess (probably true) that we can organize (maybe?) and classify (??) and control (non).

If not that, then what?

[Next, part II of the Library Scene, wherein complicated and confusing classification systems emerge and the shortcomings thereof are revealed–]


I have been a paraprofessional for years, kind of ambivalently. (And before I say anything else about schooling, I want to acknowledge that a) there is schooling for paraprofessionals; b) paraprofessionals often do the job of a librarian at c) a fraction of the pay. I left my last job because I had hit the [whatever material a library ceiling might be made of] ceiling. They told me that if I got a Masters in Library and Information Science (actually, I am certain they said either “MLS” or “MLIS,” because who talks that way except people who are trying to give you the definition of the abbreviation up front), I would be able to advance. (I found out that there wasn’t anywhere to advance to later, but that is a different story, probably outside of the scope of this blog.) (Maybe.)

At any rate, I wasn’t willing to get the degree until I’d gotten some perspective. Did I already call my adventures in animal care a palate-cleanser? Because it totally was. I went into college, like many people, ready to explore and figure out who/what I wanted to be. Unfortunately, I found myself on my own trying to make a living shortly thereafter, and day-to-day concerns were the driving force for me. (Well, my addictions were my driving force until I got into recovery. But that is really outside the scope of this blog.) (Really.) So, what I ended up doing, probably also like many people, was becoming something and then trying to figure out what to do with that.

I had already done some exploring by studying French and getting an MFA in Creative Writing, but taking the leap and leaving my stable job for a “stable job” (oh, Christ. Very sorry) gave me some serious perspective. I realized that caring for animals was what I wanted to be doing with my free time, not my paid time, that I actually needed more money to make that vision (and others) manifest, and that I don’t have to start over from scratch to create a career for myself.

Cause I was working in stables?

Cause I was working in stables?

So. School. My boss and supervisors at Mills were absolutely right. I could continue in my career as a paraprofessional and cataloger, but if I wanted something more (and it was clear I did), then I would need a library-specific degree.

Jobs tend to want the ALA-accredited MLIS, and I decided to go for that.

I applied to San Jose State’s School of Library Science. This is the nearest library school to me. (Though, apparently, that is no longer relevant.) I have several friends and acquaintances who went/go there. Good good good. I have heard nothing back from them yet.

I also considered Washington State’s program. It is a bit pricier, requires once a quarter trips up north for the first year, and it is a distance program. (So is SJSU now, of course.) It is also among the top 5 library programs in the country. It requires a GRE, and I was feeling pretty impatient to start school this coming fall, which tipped the scales against it. I have a friend who really likes the school, and I trust her judgment. This is a definite possibility.

I thought not to go to Berkeley’s ISchool, and I’ll tell you why: Cal’s program is <gasp> non-ALA-accredited! (I didn’t realize that it was because the program is so new. I’d heard talk that it was because the program was so radical. And it pretty much is.)

BUT! The more I explore my ideas and desires in re: librarianship and information management, the more I realize I am looking for something that shifts the paradigm away from the traditional. (Not that it matters, but I want to go on record: I love books and I love traditional libraries. They meet a need in our communities that isn’t really met anywhere else, and I think that their usefulness will continue to grow, probably indefinitely. I especially think that libraries are vital for outreach and services to people who don’t have their own access to information technology and those who need help sorting through things. Also, for teenagers and people who want to read new hardcover books.) I don’t want to be a Trendy Mendy (trademarking that!), but I do want to move things forward here.

Here’s what I am going to do. Take CompSci classes and the GRE. Apply to Berkeley’s MIMS (aw!) for next fall. Consider the possibility of PhD once enrolled.

Yeah, I said that.