Category Archives: Library Culture

It’s all about time

Do you know Sally Gore and her blog, “A Librarian by any other name”? Her blog is one of my favorites. Sometimes, it takes me a couple of weeks just to think about the different ideas that she addresses in her blog, which tend to be dense. Recently, she posted, “Taking Inventory“. This is an extremely positive post about transformations and transforming oneself as a librarian. Too often, change is seen as an obstacle. It causes fear, disruption, and sometimes a lot of grief. One of Sally’s points is that during her times of transition, she experienced a period of inspiration and skill learning and building. Not only that, the skills she learned in her many positions as a librarian over the years has value to her community. This brings me to another important point. These variations transformations lead up to the person she is today and the skills that she can offer her community. These changes took time. To quote Sally,

Nobody makes “The Flying Wallendas” varsity team without years and years of practice (and good genes).

This is very true. During a period where people often seek instant gratification, this might seem counter-cultural. It is not only doing our job but also re-inventing ourselves. One of my supervisor’s favorite motto is to fail fast and often. Thinking of this motto in the context of Sally’s message, this could be interpreted as “change and grow often”. I would definitely recommend reading this post. It is positive, upbeat and a much needed happy outlook on change and transformation.

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Understaffed : It’s not as bad as you think

I have written a number of posts on the disadvantages of being in an understaffed unit and/or library. Many of us work in understaffed and unfortunately underfunded libraries. So, many of us also know the difficulties faced with being a solo anything. In this post, I wanted to focus on the advantages of being a solo everything.

  • Job security: I thought I would start with something light and funny. Yes, being understaffed means there’s a lot of work that piles up. I’m not sure if this boils down to job security. However, when faced with numerous tasks and what seems to be an endless workload, one sees the work differently. In my case, as there is always work to be done, it is good to get away from the job and do what I need to and get re-energize for the next day. Of course, there are always priorities while other projects sit. I don’t always get to everything on my to do lists. I like to know that during my down time there are projects that are waiting and thankfully can wait to be finished.
  • Variety: In large cataloging/metadata units, you take care of an aspect of the process. Perhaps you’re the music cataloger, the serials cataloger, or digital humanities metadata specialist. In smaller libraries or libraries that are just understaffed, you might be the MARC cataloger and resident nonMarc metadata specialist. This means that your day is filled with different tasks. Perhaps you start with a streaming video, move on to TEI with a twist of linked data, followed by a dash of data for a data management plan. You might even end your day with regular expressions. This is definitely calls for a high level of flexibility to move from one system to the next. I have found that this type of variety inspires me to learn more about what I don’t know. This variety also helps me to better realize how metadata is really crucial for much of the research we do today. Whether it is publishing a data set, creating a digital collection or entering a bibliographic record into the ILS, metadata helps people contextualize what they are looking for and of course helps people access, discover and find what they’re looking for.
  • Independence: It is often the case that in understaffed units you are left to your own devices. This is simply because everyone in your small unit has the same problem as you, a lot of work. Everyone is pretty much very busy. As a result, you are left with the great advantage of thinking out of the box, on your feet, and taking on perhaps more leadership in roles than in larger libraries. This is not to say that in larger units staff on the ground don’t take on leadership roles. Of course not! However, in a small library, you are most likely the resident expert. If you’re like me, that’s a scary thing because I certainly don’t feel like an expert. But this means that you make decisions that affect library wide decisions. It also means that in addition to doing actually work on the ground, you also are more than likely developing best practices for your shop! What an experience.
  • Always learning: I spoke to a colleague who worked in a very small library before his current job. He did a little bit of everything and almost became the interim director. I’ve also had the opportunity to work in many areas of the library. This is great and invaluable experience. Because of that, I can help out at the iDesk or with reference questions where I work now. I think this type of experience is also helpful to understand what your colleagues do in a larger institution, which in turn creates more of a community of understanding.

Of course, there are limits to being a solo everything. Some libraries are so understaffed that some of the work just doesn’t get down or more critically the library closes. Thankfully I work at a medium sized library. Though I now work in a unit, I still get to help out in various other areas and continue to promote that community of understanding. And I still get to learn.

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Open Library

As you might have heard the relaunch of the Open Library is now complete. What does this mean? Well for starters, a really nice welcome page. Then, you can browse by author or subject. There is a pre-coordinated list to search from or you can do your own search. Basically these features and others are familiar to us because they show up in many websites from Amazon to our OPACs. What’s a little different is the Library Thing spin among others. Users can help build the library, participate on the blog, edit pages and more. It seems so far to combine several web 2.0 social tools that encourage users to participate and be active members of the project.

The goal of the Open Library is to create a webpage for every book published. I’m hoping that this project will expand to other formats and have a webpage for streaming videos, music, or even artwork.

Here’s the Open Library’s philosophy statement:

To build Open Library, we need hundreds of millions of book records, a wiki interface, and lots of people who are willing to contribute their time and effort to building the site.

To date, we have gathered over 20 million records from a variety of large catalogs as well as single contributions, with more on the way.

Open Library is an open project: the software is open, the data is open, the documentation is open, and we welcome your contribution. Whether you fix a typo, add a book, or write a widget–it’s all welcome. We have a small team of fantastic programmers who have accomplished a lot, but we can’t do it alone!

Open Library is a project of the non-profit Internet Archive, and has been funded in part by a grant from the California State Library and the Kahle/Austin Foundation.

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NETSL’S Spring Conference

Just posted from NETSL, their spring meeting at Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. NETSL’s spring conference always has something for everyone. This year the focus is on looking towards the future and the relationship between cataloging and metadata. The program looks great so far.

Mark your calendars for the NETSL Annual Spring Conference Program 2010: Crosswalks to the Future

When: Thursday, April 15, 2010

Where: College of Holy Cross, Worcester, MA


*     Dr. Barbara B. Tillett, Chief, Policy and Standards Division, Library of Congress.

“Building Blocks for the Future: Making Controlled Vocabularies Available for the Semantic Web”

*     Jon Orwant, Engineering Manager for Google Books, Google Magazines, and Google Patents.

“Creating a trillion-field catalog: metadata in Google Books”

Watch for announcements with further program information and registration details coming after the first of the year.

Questions, suggestions, or other feedback? Contact Amy Hart at

NETSL: New England Technical Services Librarians is a section of the New England Library Association. For more information about NETSL see

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An Open Reply to Thomas Mann

Some time ago, Thomas Mann’s published to the web his article, “What is distintive about the Library of Congress in both its collections and its means of access to them, and the reasons LC needs to maintain classified shelving of books onsite, and a way to deal effectively with the problem of “books on the floor””. It has already made the rounds of many blogs and listservs; to access the PDF version, click here.

Recently, Jim Weinheimer, from the Cooperative Cataloging Rules and an active participant on the NGC4LIB listserv, published a reply to Thomas Mann called “An Open Reply to Thomas Mann”. The pdf can be found at:
Jim offers delivers some good replies to Thomas Mann. Two that stand out are:

  • Jim explains that Mann argues that: “We cannot do new things because we are too busy doing old things.”
    • Here, Jim objects to the view that librarianship is experiencing a small “bump” as he calls it. After this curve in the road, things will return to normal. I agree with Jim. Librarianship is not experiencing just a bump in the road. Librarianship is radically changing in ways I don’t think we even understand yet. Sticking to the routine or to how things have always been done will not help us prepare for these changes.
  • Jim argues against libraries and librarians being “custodians of the printed materials”
    • Libraries have long since regarded themselves as solely in the print business and storing print materials. For one, it is extremely expensive and not many institutions have a budget that would allow to buy, maintain, and store a host of printed materials. Also, in order to serve their communities, it has long been known that libraries need communities services, outreach programs, services for computers, wi-fi, etc. This means that libraries are more than storage units for printed materials. What makes them come alive is their array of services that include print materials and much more.
  • The old days of librarianship are over.
    • Technology is changing ever so rapidly. The way people interact with that technology to inform themselves is also changing. It is not that print materials are not a way to become informed. But it is not the only way now. Given the variety of how people seek, gather, and obtain information, libraries need to be thinking of how to meet these needs, namely how to change to meet these needs.

Jim’s reply is not long (7 pages). It is worth reading.

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Thomas Mann on LC’s Distinctive Role

Thomas Mann’s article, “What is distintive about the Library of Congress in both its collections and its means of access to them, and the reasons LC needs to maintain classified shelving of books onsite, and a way to deal effectively with the problem of “books on the floor””, has already made the rounds of many blogs and listservs; to access the PDF version, click here. As always, Thomas Mann presents a good read and persuasive arguments against transforming the Library of Congress into something it isn’t.

To back up, the mission of the Library of Congress is:

The Library’s mission is to make its resources available and useful to the Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations.

This is from their mission and strategic priorities 1997-2004. The document goes on to list four priorities that touch primarily on how LC is to acquire, organize, preserve, maintain, secure, sustain, make available to Congress and the American people for present and future use the collection of human knowledge and creativity.

It is unprecedented in human history — and a uniquely American offer — to open public access to an institution that is in many respects the working library of a government and a de facto national library.


What does Thomas Mann suggest the Library of Congress is turning into? In short, he is criticising a report by Deanna Marcum called “The Meeting on Digital Strategy”. His argues that Deanna compares LC to Google, newspapers and their for-profit business model, and Amazon and their business model of making a profit rather than promoting scholarship. In this sense, Thomas Mann suggeststhat Deanna Marcum is one of many who want to turn the Library of Congress into a for-profit business that purports to provide “easy” digital access to current and quick information. It is a striking commentary. However, Thomas Mann provides some persuasive arguments about why LC cannot do this.

  • Preservation
    • From reading LC’s mission statement as well as Thomas’ summary of it, it is clear that LC strives to preserve past and current knowledge and human creativity. It receives as part of this goal millions of free books thanks to the mandate that all copyright books in the US be deposited in LC. In terms of providing access to these resources, LC is unique in that it provides sometimes the only copy of that item. Because not everything has been digitized and items still in copyright are not digitized, this means that LC is the only place to consult these materials. If this stopped, then access to these resources would no longer be available. As Thomas Mann points out, this would be a serious blow to scholarship.
  • Scholarship
    • LC has in its mandate to provide resources for scholars as well as Congress and US citizens. In this sense, it is not just a question of finding quick and easy information that may or may not be relevent. The one stop search box and search results based on keywords is not practical. Thomas Mann gives a good example. What is a person is looking for a document about square footage and population statistics. But the document does not have such keywords as square footage, sq. ft., population, statistics, stats, or some variation of those words. Then any search with these keywords will not yield the wanted document. However, with the amount of results that such a search on Google would turn up, the person probably wouldn’t know the existence of such a document. The key to LC’s way of organizing information is that it does not rely on keywords but a classification based on a hierarchy of subjects as well as a classification alpha-numeric string denoting the primary subject. So if the document does not have any keywords of population or statistics, this would be reflected in the subject headings. Thomas Mann argues that this type of information allows scholars to find relevent information.
  • Access to scholarship and quality of cataloging
    • Given the last example, Thomas Mann points out that easy access to information depends on the quality of cataloging. He was able to find the resource needed because the catalogers at LC put in subject headings and a call number. Unlike Google or Amazon, LC describes each resource and provides several ways of accessing that resource (author, subjects, title, …).
  • Non commercial
    • Another aspect that Thomas Mann sees as separating LC from other libraries is that it is non commercial. Given its mandate to preserve and provide access to human creativity and knowledge, LC is going to collect and make available resources that simply are not current, do  not fit into any business model, and will not make a profit for LC. In fact, Thomas Mann says that without the help of taxpayers money, LC would have folded years ago because it is not in the money making business.

Thomas Mann asks us to question the drive to digitize collections in terms of what is being digitized and the type of access provided with online resources. He also asks us to look at what libraries are and what the Library of Congress means to the United States. If it is a de facto national library, should this be clearly stated in its mission? This is an interesting article and well worth reading whether or not you agree with Mann.

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Are User Tasks Outdated asks NGC4LIB

The whole question of the relevance of the user tasks set out in FRBR and adopted by RDA came up in several threads on the listserv NGC4Lib. The actually thread is rather short on the topic itself, which can be found on the NGC4Lib archives for the month of October.

This thread originated in another discussion, namely that on the Cooperative Cataloging begun by Jim Weinheimer. If you are not familiar with Jim, then go to his newly created website and project called the Cooperative Cataloging Rules. In a post to the NGC4Lib listerv, Jim explained that the user tasks from FRBR were outdated and do not reflect what his users want or do in his library. Remember that these user tasks are: Find, Identify, Select, Obtain.

As a separate thread, Shawne Miksa asked why these user tasks were outdated. This began a short but informative take on user tasks and how individuals search and use documents as well as information.

Here are some highlights:

  • Do users look for documents or information?
  • What do users do after finding a document or information?
    • Karen Coyle highlighted that it is not so much of interest how users find information but what they do with it afterward. How do users use information? If we have an idea how users use information or documents to gather information, then it will be easier to develop technologies that help them during this process. In response to this, the fact that libraries never worried about how users used information was brought forward. Yet, libraries say that they are in the information business. So, users do not want to only find a book on a subject. This is just the beginning. Determining how this book came about and how this subject relates to others is important. This is a process of making connections -links to other related sources of information. Of course, the discovery process cannot be done entirely by a third party. With the Semantic Web, there are ways to create links and transform the way we use information into new and exciting ways.
  • Why put so much effort into cataloging items if this data isn’t or can’t be used?
    • Library catalogs tend to have an enormous wealth of information. This data is stored in a format that is not web friendly. In many cases, much of the data is not even displayed to the user since this is a separate step to get to more details or more information. Though not all the information appeals to everyone, I think the effort put into cataloging should not go into systems that are not web friendly. We should be able to get our library data out there on the web where it can be used and re-used by others in ways librarians never thought of.
  • Do libraries have information or documents with information?
    • Libraries are much more than places with documents or even information. They have become community centers vibrant with events, support systems, documents, information, and opportunities. What I think libraries have not done well is to transform that vibrant community that is live and in person to the online world of the web. For a long time, many libraries have created a web presence based on their library catalog. Does the OPAC convey the richness of the services provided by the library? In this sense, users are seeking much more than just information and documents with information at libraries. Libraries need a web presence that responds to this need as well.

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