Uncontrolled Vocabulary, the Carnival, and the LC Working Group; or, the recognition of frustration

Back in December, a few days before the deadline passed for comments on the Library of Congress Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control, I wrote a post called just that.

In it I expressed much frustration; with both the big picture issues facing bibliographic control and those of my daily frustration in trying to use the tools my profession supplies me to do so.

I was popping off in that post. Clearly. Heck, I even tossed out an f-bomb. I was (am) mad.

Well, thanks to Anna Creech (or so I believe. By the way, thanks, Anna!) that post showed up both on Uncontrolled Vocabulary #24 [revisited momentarily in #25] and in the Carnival of the Infosciences (#86) about a month after I wrote it.

My first reaction to learning it had been discussed on Uncontrolled Vocabulary was mild shock. Oh my! Which idea in it had they latched onto? Hopefully not my (temporary) defeatist attitude regarding my personal feedback on the report. Thankfully, not.

Greg’s initial “almost motivated me to advocacy” line really struck me. A fair few of my colleagues—I’m guessing a significant percentage—have no real idea of the issues catalogers and metadata folks go through with their tools, or the lack of them.

Everyone picks on the OPAC because it’s easy to do so, and most stripes of librarian have to use one. My gripes are much broader. Yes, the OPAC sucks. But so do the various modules in the ILS. I have almost 7 years experience with Voyager’s circulation and cataloging clients due to working in Circulation; (minimal) Cataloging (E-Reserves); and now Cataloging. I have no doubt the Acquisitions folks have complaints about aspects of that module, and so on.

In cataloging, besides needing our ILS module, we need our classification schedules—either in print or online, or both—DDC in our case, AACR2, subject headings list (LCSH), Classification Web, Cataloger’s Desktop, “foreign” language encyclopedias, Connexion (WorldCat), Cutter tables, ….

Then there are the assorted policies emanating from the many organizations involved. Let’s just leave that at many. And some number of these policies actually constrain the work we can do in most libraries.

While OCLC policies do allow qualified libraries to enrich WorldCat records centrally, some consider these policies to be overly restrictive (On the Record : Report of The Library of …, 13, emphasis mine)

These not very well expressed reasons are why I and many others are frustrated. And most of our colleagues cannot even feel our pains. Folks working with other forms of metadata face similar and related issues with their assorted tools, or lack thereof.

Cooperative cataloging. That’s existed for a long time. Right? People use the phrase all the time so it must be an “entity” of some sort one would assume. I would beg to differ.

I do appreciate the Working Group’s calls for increased cooperation and “distribution of responsibility for bibliographic record production and maintenance” (16). I particularly like:

1.2.4.1 LC, PCC, and OCLC: Explore ways to increase incentives and tools for contributions of new bibliographic records, as well as upgrades or corrections to existing records … (18).

While I realize that some may need incentives, could you please just get out of my way and let me do my (basic) job? Yes, there is a bigger context to this such that this item makes wonderful sense. But I still find it more than mildly ironic.

As slight side excursion based on the first quote from the LC report above:

While OCLC policies do allow qualified libraries to enrich WorldCat records centrally, some consider these policies to be overly restrictive (On the Record : Report of The Library of …, 13, emphasis mine)

When will we stop talking like this? Could someone please explain to someone intelligent involved in writing this report that there is not a single library that has ever produced any kind of surrogate, much less added any records to WorldCat. Nor will there ever be.

This poor use of language (rife in our field and made fun of here before) leads to issues with policies which must be defined within the context of this poor use. Libraries, qualified or not, do not really do anything. People of the cataloging persuasion (or assignment) catalog and add or correct records in WorldCat.

But it is libraries that are “qualified” by our various cooperative agreements. This is part of the problem.

I am not through reading the final report yet, about half-way (read this past Mon. at the diner for dinner. Now 2 past.).

This realization that:

A fair few of my colleagues—I’m guessing a significant percentage—have no real idea of the issues catalogers and metadata folks go through with their tools, or the lack of them.

… I had due to my post being featured in these 2 collective stalwarts of the bibliogosphere around the same time. I was aware of the UV appearance first and there is really something odd about hearing your post discussed on the web.

Like Greg, my realization almost led me to advocacy. But this is a delicate situation for a multitude of reasons. I try to be very careful on the few times I bring my actual experiences at work here. Almost every one of my complaints is with something other than my institution and I do not want to give the impression otherwise. But there is so much that does not get talked about in our field (not only in cataloging, of course). Even critique towards a positive end state is rarely publicly welcomed and/or welcomed in public.

Thus, as much as I would love to spend more time talking about these issues here and perhaps shedding a little light on them for a handful or two of people, I simply cannot do any more than the rare instance when I do. Which lines can or cannot be crossed, and which of the first are wise to do so seem like questions best answered by avoiding them (like everyone else).

There was a bit of discussion in the comments at Uncontrolled Vocabulary #24 about what I was saying. I came a tad late to the party but was able to add a comment clarifying what I was trying to say.

As I wrote there, I am feeling a bit better as I am learning to try and modify in increments. I just wish when you weren’t allowed to change some specific field it would tell you versus making you look in some crazy long document, especially if you forgot the 1st sentence about increments. Other validation errors tell you what the problem is.

But. Yes. I remain frustrated when I cannot do something like change a title that is wrong in a pre-pub record.

I also got a decent amount of long-term headaches taken care of and off of my desk the last couple days. :) I don’t do resolutions anymore but I did swear I was going to move some of that stuff. About half is gone (mostly in the last 2 days) and I’m waiting on an answer on 2 things.

I do feel bad about some of that stuff sitting there for a couple months sometimes. But let’s be realistic here. They give me these things (or wait for someone like me to come along) because they are nightmares and they don’t want to do them. I get a lot of found stuff. Some of it has been sitting somewhere from 2 years to several decades. Literally. So, honestly I can’t really sweat the couple months it’s been on my desk. And as I said it is moving on.

Hope is hard when you are continuously frustrated from doing your job.

A rant and some hopes for the Carnival of the Infosciences

Note: Talking with one of my wise friends, I was cautioned that maybe some of the complaints from various Carnival hosts about the lack of participation were not “helping the cause,” if you will. Seeing the wisdom in that stance, I took a closer look at what I had already written here. I have decided that it isn’t all that much of a rant and focuses more on what I hope(d) the Carnival can become. If it, in fact, sounds more like a rant to you, then I apologize. My aim is not to shame or belittle. Maybe we as a community are incapable of keeping this going. I, for one, have no choice but to believe differently.

This was my 5th time hosting the Carnival of the Infosciences; four at my previous digs, …the thoughts are broken…, and now one here. I’ve heard people say one should leave a venture when one is on top[, along with other conflicting advice]. Having hosted 5 times puts me on the top (of something, anyway).

Thus, I feel it is time for me to bow out gracefully. At least for a while. I had high hopes for the Carnival from the beginning. At times they were even fulfilled. Greg and Chadwick cannot do this on their own, though. It takes people to write something and then submit it, or for someone to recommend someone else’s content.

Hosting really isn’t very hard at all, except in one case. That case would be when there are no or very few submissions. Submissions are what drive the Carnival; nothing else can. I may have a lot of “library-related” blogs in my feed reader, but there are far more that I do not read.

One of my hopes for the Carnival has always been that it might bring me (and others) good items by librarians of stripes which I (or others) would normally not see. It does this sometimes for me, but not as often as it seems it should. It seems even the fair amount of the biblioblogosphere that I am aware of is highly fragmented from other portions.

Since I am, in a sense, bailing I may have no right (moral or otherwise) to ask others to step up, but I’m going to anyway. Please, folks! Save the Carnival. Only you as individuals can do this. For yourselves and/or for others. As for past hosts (and Greg and Chadwick, of course), I want to give a hearty thank you for your efforts! Feel free to host again if you like and have the time, but maybe you can join me into poking and prodding other folks into hosting for the first time.

All one has to do, hosting or otherwise, is keep this URL for the Carnival wiki handy, and while one is reading whatever blogs you read is to keep a 1/10th (or less) of your perceptual powers [You are a library worker, right? You have perceptual powers!] focused on noticing good writing. Once you decide it is good writing, or good commentary on an important issue, or whatever criteria of good you prefer, check that previous URL and send your recommendation to the next host.

Or, if you said something that you care about for whatever reason, submit it.

We all constitute a smart, intelligent, curious, bunch of library folks with blogs. There are too many of us, and too many areas for any one of us to keep us with all. If a fair number of us, from all walks (and paces) of librarianship, could keep small parts of our perception attuned to the Carnival then we could achieve something approaching a collective collective development for a kind of selective dissemination of information (with the selection being all of the biblioblogosphere). Every two weeks. Now, to me anyway … that is freaking amazing!

Maybe you like that stupid electronic newsletter thing we get from ALA [well, some of us “we”], but I’m pretty certain we can—and do—do better. We could do even better.

Fine. I am an idealist still. Again. Whatever. But no organization could ever do what we as LIS bloggers could do with this Carnival, even if only a handful or two of folks from all the various areas/slices/angles/axes/practices/… hosted and made submissions each week (handfuls from each ‘area,’ that is). But that is the answer, the only answer. Submissions.

If the Carnival is to survive in any form, covering any slice of the biblioblogosphere, then the only answer is submissions. I will certainly keep on the lookout for them.

Submissions for the next Carnival can be made at the contact form at LIS :: Michael Habib.

Carnival of the Infosciences 62

Wow! It’s been a month since the last Carnival and I am afraid it shows. People seem to have forgotten about this struggling little venture. It also looks like we need hosts for the future. We have one more scheduled after this one, pulling into LIS – Michael Habib in two weeks, but after that there are no hosts scheduled. Please volunteer.

Now, onward to the spectacle that is the 62nd Carnival of the Infosciences

Spinning wheel

Photo is courtesy of my friend, bluebike, and is, I believe, from the Champaign County Fair last year. Thanks for permission. All rights reserved by bluebike.

Our first, and only, submission this week comes from Christina Pikas of Christina’s LIS Rant. Christina wrote “a mini essay on weeding in response to the biblioblogosphere kerfluffle.” She is referring to the assorted responses to one or more articles written about the weeding going on at the Fairfax County Public Library system. So, without further ado, “On Weeding…

Public libraries, on the other hand, especially branch collections, usually will weed more aggressively. First, the books are handled much more roughly and so can be in much poorer shape. Second, the mission of the library is for the local citizen’s person information needs like health information (should be rigorously and continuously weeded), legal information (should be rigorously and continuously weeded), self-help, hobby related, entertainment, and educational materials for both children and adult learners. Libraries that fail to weed will have out of date and possibly harmful materials. Sections like travel books where there are new copies every year should also be weeded — who wants a restaurant guide from 1999?

Ringmaster’s Picks

Seeing as the only submission is above this line, we will now move into the Ringmaster’s picks. As I said once before:

I’ll consider the chance to construct my own little version of “What did Mark find interesting around the biblioblogosphere …?” as a present from the rest of you all who stop by.

To continue with the theme which Christina is responding to I present two posts, with links to the article(s) that started the issue, or so I believe:

Chadwick Seagraves at InfoSciPhi gives us “Another Uproar over public libraries weeding non-circulating books.”

At these points people like Mr Miller, who actually said some insightful things, step up to pontificate about an issue that they are perhaps not an expert on. It is great to hear these opinions, but they should not drown out the clamour of the librarians who should be explaining and educating his readers that these are the tough choices that libraries face when we lose the financial and adminstrative support of our Boards and governments. They are also a result of our initiatives to adapt to the evolving information seeking and retrieval models so familiar to the average consumer.

Laura Savastinuk at LibraryCrunch on “Serving Your Community.”

As I was taught in library school and as I believe as a practicing librarian, librarians are here to provide information service and access, not to pass judgment on this information or those who seek it. Libraries need to be neutral zones, not a place for librarians to dictate what is worthy information and what is not.

Speaking of serving your community, we’ll move along to the issue of the Maplewood (NJ) Memorial Library closing the doors to their “two buildings on weekdays from 2:45 to 5 p.m., until further notice” due to unruly teenagers. This story has been all around the biblioblogosphere. Feel free to use your favorite engine of search to find more commentary.

Michael Casey at LibraryCrunch gives us “Responding to Teens.” He describes the process at another library which has experienced similar problems, on an even larger scale.

None of this has been easy or inexpensive. Security guards and off-duty police officers cost money, as do extra staff. The time to plan and present teen programs is also not without a cost. But the return on this investment has been remarkable. The numbers of incidents in the branch are down. Customer comments are far more positive and, perhaps most importantly, the community understands and approves of the library’s efforts because the community has been made an integral part of the solution. While it is never possible to please everyone all of the time, the efforts being made in Dacula are showing very real and positive results. I hope other libraries facing such issues can find the resources to address their teen problems without resorting to closing their doors.

He then gives us a follow-up with “Maplewood Continues.”

Another wonderful piece by someone I am doing my utmost to learn from, although I have never met him, comes from T. Scott Plutchak. “What Do you Call “Success”?” comments on a recent Library Journal article by Roy Tennant about the future of academic libraries.

The three challenges that he speaks of are to “reconceptualize the role of the library,” acquire “agile, imaginative staff,” and get our hands on “new tools.” Seems pretty straightforward. But I worry just a bit when he goes on to say that, “In the end, we all came away from this meeting with a profound sense that things must change.” I sure hope that wasn’t new news to any of the participants.

….

We provide the ways and means for people to find entertainment and solace and enlightenment and joy and delight in the intellectual, scientific and creative work of other people. This is what we have always been about. For all those centuries, the way that we could best do that was by creating places and collections — but along the way we lost sight of the fact that those were only tools. We allowed our tools to define us.

For an interesting look at “Euro search” see 3 Quarks Daily on “Countering Google and Anglo-Saxon Cultural Imperialism.” Be sure to click through to the actual Guardian article; the blog post is more of a pointer than real commentary.

Lorcan Dempsey of the eponymously named Lorcan Dempsey’s weblog talks about “Emergent knowledge and intentional data.”

I am prompted to caricature those portentous lines of Eliot from The Rock often raised in library conversation (where is the knowledge we have lost in information, etc). We might well ask ourselves where is the data we have lost in information management, and the knowledge we have forsaken thereby.

Jennifer Macaulay of Life As I Know It asks “Should Tech Support Be An Explicit Library Service?” in response to an earlier post by Laura Cohen. Be sure not to miss the comments.

Ultimately, libraries need to decide whether they will provide technical support to their clientele. I personally think that if we offer technologically-driven services, we should be obligated to provide good, reliable and consistent support for them. Going further, we should not provide any service to patrons that we cannot support. Currently, I don’t think that we are doing a good job of providing technical support – specifically because we are still providing accidental tech support in a rather haphazard and inconsistent manner.

Pegasus Librarian, Iris Jastram, comments on various recent commentary by others on not liking to use their local libraries in “Being a Library User.”

Not all that is old, small, or dark is bad. The trick is figuring out the difference. The challenge is acting on the difference to improve the roles we play in people’s lives.

Christopher Harris at Infomancy has a very interesting post in “Introducing: FISH,” which is about replacing the OPAC.

FISH: Free (as in kittens) Integrated Search Handler.

inkdroid [Ed Summers, thanks to Lorcan Dempsey in the comments] (sorry, I could only find a first name) tells us about OCLC’s Linked Authority file in “identifiers and authority records” and the potential such capabilities could give us.

All in all it’s an impressive mix of technology, standards and practice. It is not entirely clear to me how this work relates to the Virtual International Authority File. Perhaps LAF wasn’t considered a good acronym?

Sebastian Mary at if:book uses “the play’s the thing” to discuss atomization and “the canon.” Be sure to read the comments and go read the post on atomization (and its comments) that prompted it.

So if the canon is this problematic, either adopted or rejected, then what replaces it? Aimless fooling around on messageboards? This atomised culture in which you cannot ever assume that you have any points of reference in common with anyone? Perhaps. Perhaps ’twas ever thus, and the literary canon was a convenient (body of) fiction papering over the cracks.

Well folks, the elephants are getting antsy and are ready to start pulling up the tent stakes. Thank you for visiting the Carnival of the Infosciences #62.

Submissions for the next Carnival can be made at the contact form at LIS :: Michael Habib.

Carnival is coming back to town

The 62nd Carnival of the Infosciences is coming to town on Monday, January 8th. This means posts from tomorrow, 25 Dec 06 through (early) 7 Jan 07 will be eligible. So, get to writing yourself and please feel free to send suggestions.

I am currently “reading” approximately 130 library-related blogs. There are 100s more in many area of librarianship that I am not reading. Please help feel bridge that gap. All areas of librarianship are important.

As a point of departure and to get you all thinking, how about writing about what you would really want for the world of libraries and information in 2007 if you could just wiggle your nose and make it happen.

Anything from software that just works; e.g., a citation manager that can “read” all the pdfs on my hard drives and extract all relevant bibliographic metadata (an impossibility, I realize for older pdfs; maybe doable for newer ones) to an open, supported standard(s) for ILS modularization. What would make your world or the world of your users better? Small or large ideas welcomed.

I have a few I’ve recognized recently (e.g., citation managers) that I hope to stumble across again as I have been considering this myself as a post. Myself, I think I’ll be focusing on smaller, eminently doable things. But feel free to consider widely.

Who knows, maybe our collective lists will motivate someone to do something useful.

Anyway, not to constrain you … submit what you like of your own or others for the 62nd Carnival of the Infosciences coming here 8 January 2007.

Submissions can be made at my contact form (preferred) or emailed to me at mark (dot) lindner (at) insightbb (dot) com.

I hope everyone enjoys whatever holidays they may be celebrating and that as dysfunctional as the family you have surrounded yourself with may or not be that you take the time and effort to appreciate them, and to ensure they know it. Most of us may be born into a family, but everyone of us is at liberty to create our own. The “family” you create is probably the most important thing any of us will ever do in life.

welcome to
something like elation when you first open your eyes
just cuz it means
that you musta finally got to sleep last night
welcome to
the precipice between groundlessness and flight

Ani DiFranco, “welcome to:”, evolve

May we all learn to fly in the next year!

Carnival has moved on

I see that the Carnival of the Infosciences has a new administrator. Chadwick Seagraves at InfoSciPhi has taken over administration duties from Greg Schwartz at Open Stacks.

I’d like to personally thank Greg for all he has done for the Carnival! Also, thanks to Chadwick for taking it over. I’m hopeful that the new every other week schedule will help it become what I’ve always thought it could be.

Now that the “pressure” of every week is off now, how about making a submission or recommending someone else’s piece, or maybe even hosting. While it is a bit of work, I can personally vouch for the fun of hosting a Carnival. And not that this is the most important thing in blogging, but it will also seriously drive up visits to your blog. It’ll be up to you to keep them, though. ;)

So that I can’t be accused of preaching, I just asked Chadwick to sign me up for hosting in January. Hopefully, I’ll get the week before classes start. Otherwise, the week after classes start won’t be so bad, maybe. And honestly, if you have never hosted you best keep your preachy thoughts to yourself. It’s not worth counting, but I may still be in the lead for number of times hosting, #6, #9, #25, and #42.

So, c’mon folks, do your part. Submit, recommend, host. There are a whole lot of interesting things being said by bloggers in this arena. No one can read everything, or even just all of the “good” stuff, so help us point to the “best,” the “interesting,” the “useful,” and so on so that we may all benefit.

I was going to comment on “A-Listers” getting in on the Carnival, too. But I have very ambiguous and dichotomous views on this. I think it is (may be?) good for the Carnival generally, but I don’t like it either. And that is probably too much said already. So, whether you are your only subscriber or you have several thousand, please help the Carnival and get in on the fun!

Aside on captchas

I tried to leave a shorter message at InfoSciPhi but the captcha thing kept failing. And, yes, I saw the message about refreshing. Four times. Every time typed exactly correctly. Every time failure. Maybe it’s a specific browser issue, or some other malady. But these things really only work to shut down conversation. I realize that many feel they are a necessity with the hordes of evil spammers out there, and maybe they are. But they are also something besides necessary; especially when they refuse to work! [And yes, I mentioned this to Chadwick when I emailed him. This is not a rant about InfoSciPhi, but captchas in general. In the specific case, maybe it’ll alert him to some issues with his implementation.]

Again, a very big round of applause and huzzahs to Greg and Chadwick for past and future work on the Carnival!

Update: I got the 8 January slot to host the Carnival!  So please do us all a favor and make some submissions or recommendations.  Let’s keep this thing alive.