Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday Jams! (7/31/2015)


As I was writing my post yesterday and thinking about the catalog one of the questions that crossed my mind was "can we rebuild it?" Which of course, led to this,

Which, of course, leads to Kanye.

I know that I normally post new music and tell you a story. But it's been a really long week, you guys.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

All My Daydreams are Disasters

Erin talked recently (and all the time) about how catalogers and technologists need to include public services professionals and patrons in their discussions of the library future. It got me thinking, again, about The Problem With The Catalog. This isn't a "the OPAC is dead" post, and I have to admit that I don't even know what "the OPAC is dead" discussion is about because I've avoided it because it seems entirely off-base to me. However, I think that a return to basic principles is in order when we think about the post-MARC world and how library catalogs have worked (or not worked) for us in the past.

The basic question I like to start with is "what are we trying to do here?" It is a question that gets overlooked far more than we're aware and way more than we should be comfortable with. I have some theories as to why that is, but we'll leave that for another day. What are we trying to do with a library catalog? What are our purposes?

Let's take a look at the many and varied things that we try to do with the library catalog, based on the audience.

Library Staff
Library staff use the catalog as inventory control, a complete and comprehensive list of items in the building at any time, a complete and comprehensive list of items that the library owns. Most systems also use the integrated library system (I'll note that it isn't necessarily the catalog, but the linkages are essential to how we function these days) as a customer management system, tracking interactions with users including lending, money owed, renewal dates for borrowing privileges, and a host of other things. Many libraries also use the integrated library system as an accounting system which encumbrances, expenditures, budgets, renewal dates for continuing commitments, and an archive of fiscal functions.

Other Libraries
We use library catalogs as a means of communicating with other libraries, an extension of the inventory control function of the catalog. In communicating with other libraries, the need for complete and comprehensive coverage of the exact physical item is reiterated. We communicate with other libraries through both our catalogs (through Z39.50 as well as union lists) and through union listing of serials holdings in places like the OCLC database. All of this facilitates interlibrary lending to the end of providing more and better materials to our users and to the users of other libraries.

Library Users

I put this last because it often seems to come last in how we think about our catalog. We, naturally, think of our professional needs before our service needs. Our thinking seems to be along these lines:
Well we obviously need to have a catalog that has a well designed inventory control and a good accounting system and that will work to talk to other libraries. Doing that obviously gives the users the information they need -- a comprehensive and complete listing of library items here and at other libraries and a way to get access to them. We've been taking care of users all along!
But library users aren't using the catalog in the same way we are, they're generally looking for things. Looking for things takes on a number of guises, but I don't know that any of those guises is exactly inventory control.

An important wrinkle in the story of the library catalog is shared cataloging. I would argue that shared cataloging helps library staff and communicating with other libraries, but is of questionable value to the library patron. After all, I really am not sure that a librarian at Harvard or Duke or even the Library of Congress knows best the description of the item that is both accurate and facilitates my users at Rural State University or Large Public Library or Tinest Library Ever looking for a thing. (this same discussion could be happening about subject cataloging, for instance).

I'm not sure that's a complete list of the things that we're doing or at least trying to do, but those are the main things I see. Let me know in the comments if I've left anything out.  This look at what we're doing start the conversation.

My original question is what are we trying to do here?
Let's break that down into an examination of what's already going on:
  • does it make sense for us do each of these things?
  • does it make sense to us to try to do all of these things together?
 From there, we can expand the scope:
  • are we trying to do the same thing that we were trying to do when we set all this up?
  • are there things that we're trying to do that are wholly unaddressed?
To me, this seems like the basis to start a discussion that involves everyone and aims at building a common understanding based on our collective goals instead of what is going wrong with what's happening right now. What do you think? What questions would you add to the discussion? Let me know in the comments.

& Keep Rockin'

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Stuck between stations

As we move toward a post-MARC future, there is an increasing interest in bringing into alignment the metadata creation community and the library technologist community. This interest seems to be based on the understanding that the way in which we describe our resources needs to be in alignment with the way in which we build our systems to manipulate that metadata.

I have written before about metadata and user experience and the relationship between metadata creators and library technologists. I'm definitely in favor of finding areas of mutual concern between these two communities and leveraging that to build a more collaborative future. In fact, I think if you demanded that I tell you what I think the Unified Library Scene is about, I would probably say it's about building a collaborative future built on areas of mutual concern. I write and talk about that past the point of ad nauseam.

So, yes. Let's do that. Let's build a collaborative future based on areas of mutual concern between metadata creators and library technologists.

But do you notice who is absent in this discussion?

We cannot take users out of the equation when we're creating metadata and designing systems to manipulate that metadata. We are not building library systems or creating metadata for ourselves. But if we want to build user-centered libraries, it should matter at least as much to us (and probably more) what our users require from our metadata and our systems than we want them to be able to do.

The best way to understand user needs is to talk to users. But in situations where that doesn't work, our public services colleagues can certainly act as a conduit of information. They can teach us about the points of pain that users face when they try to access library resources using our metadata and our software. And from there, we can understand what can be easily be fixed in-house and what needs to be addressed at the developer level.

This isn't a new idea. Agile software development uses this method in developing user stories. User stories are useful because they give voice to user needs. In a post-MARC development world, a public services colleague can be a valuable resource in developing user stories about metadata and systems use.

This is a good time for us to pause and acknowledge that certain aspects of our metadata and our systems are, in fact, built for us. We need systems that do inventory control and request fulfillment. And some of the metadata we create is administrative. And those needs come with a certain set of specifications that are separate from what users require from our systems. But let's not confuse creating standards and software that support librarian needs from creating standards and software that support user needs.

Turning our attention toward actual user needs instead of perceived user needs has the potential to be uncomfortable. It may require a redesign of our standards and systems which may, in turn, require a reallocation of our staff efforts locally. But I think this is where we can learn something from software designers and the agile software development movement. If something isn't working, agile software developers move with changing requirements until is does work. Because creating software that doesn't meet user needs is essentially a waste of time and money. And so it is with libraries. Throwing staff time and resources at metadata creation and systems development that aren't working is essentially a waste of time and money.

I think that a good starting place is to involve our public services colleagues in conversations about our post-MARC future. By allowing them to help us understand user needs, we can begin to create metadata and systems that support them. Even if that metadata and those systems aren't what we expect them to be.

Stay positive,

Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday jams (07/24/2015)

Hey, so it's Friday. Rachel is on vacation and I am holding down the fort over here on Constructive Summer. I hope you had a good week and that you have awesome self-care activities planned for the weekend.

Rachel's jam is Madonna's Holiday. When I was searching for it on YouTube, I found this version of the song performed by Madonna and the Roots with help from Jimmy Fallon. It's missing the over-produced quality of early Madonna, but I think it makes up for it in whimsy.

I thought about trying to come up with a Friday jam that goes with this theme of vacation. But I ended up going with the Jimmy Fallon theme instead. Please enjoy Harry Potter, er, Daniel Radcliffe performing Alphabet Aerobics.

Stay positive,

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Running long before I learned to crawl

I am enamored with stories and with the storytelling process. I was an English major with a creative writing concentration, so I'm as enamored with my own stories as I am with the stories of other people. My love of storytelling is at least of part of what compels me to blog. I like taking an idea I've been wrestling with and shaping it on the page. And writing helps me interrogate my ideas like nothing else.

This short piece from the Psychology Today blog talks about why we find stories so compelling. As humans, we crave certainty. With their narrative arcs, stories help us make sense of the world. They are how we're wired. Most importantly, stories bring us closer to other people because they evoke emotions. My favorite part of that Psychology Today piece:

Through stories we share passions, sadness, hardships and joys. We share meaning and purpose. Stories are the common ground that allows people to communicate, overcoming our defenses and our differences. Stories allow us to understand ourselves better and to find our commonality with others.
Stories are the vehicle through we which we share our lived experience. And they help us build community by finding common ground with people who are nothing like us.

The other useful part of storytelling is that stories have the power to change the attitudes and behaviors of the people who hear them. This article from the Harvard Business Review lays out the science behind successful storytelling as well as why it is effective as an advertising tool. Our brains react to the narrative arc in a certain way. And advertisers use that to their advantage. A good advertising campaign stays with us long after the ads stop airing.

Think about the power of compelling stories when it comes to selling your library and its services. All parts of the library collect statistics. We metadata creators are especially good at collecting statistics about the number of items we've described in any given span of time. And yes, those statistics on their own tell a story. But I would argue that an anecdote about the rise in usage of a hidden collection after is cataloged is more compelling than a spreadsheet with the total number of items cataloged in the last fiscal year when it comes to selling administrators on the value of metadata creation to the library. More's the better if you can couple a compelling anecdote with statistics to support your claim.

Last Tuesday I gave you my elevator pitch for the value of metadata. I think that elevator pitches are tiny stories. The require you to distill the entirety of your work into a paragraph's worth of information. And, if you're really disciplined, you can force yourself to leave out all of the jargoned language that you use in your specialty.

The next time you have a point to make or data to convey, think about how you can mold your idea or your data into a compelling story.  You'll make a stronger connection with your audience and they will think about your ideas long after you are done conveying them.

Stay positive,

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Be what you're like

The problem with anonymous surveys is that you can't ask the respondent follow-up questions to provide clarification and/or context. So the words of the respondent have to stand on their own.

The surveys on the Hiring Librarians website can be completed anonymously. The anonymity is good because it gives respondents the freedom to answer honestly. The surveys published on Hiring Librarians have served as the catalyst for some hard conversations with some of the librarians I know. And the survey posted on Monday on the site is no exception.

The last two questions in the survey ask if the respondent believes that libraries are dying and why or why not. This particular respondent has what I think is a smart answer in that we (librarians) can ensure our survival by being careful not to latch onto those parts of our professions which are naturally dying off based on the needs of our constituencies.

The respondent then goes on to say:
I think if we’re focusing all our efforts on things that computers do better than we do (or will – like cataloging), then we’ll disappear. But if we focus on services that people need that the didn’t before (like better instruction, student services, digital humanities, etc.) then there is a place for us.
This quote has caught the attention of many of the catalogers I know and sparked yet another discussion about the ways in which administrators do not understand the value of well-formed metadata to library services.

Disregarding whether the assertion that computers will at some point be better at creating metadata than humans is correct, I wondered if the person who wrote this understood how their statement sounded to people who create metadata--specifically catalogers. I wondered if the reference to cataloging was made in passing, or whether the respondent considered the value judgement inherent in their statement about cataloging.

Talking to your stakeholders in a way they understand is not a new theme here at Constructive Summer. I have written before about the importance of creating a compelling narrative about the value that technical services adds to library services. And it seems frustrating to have yet another person suggest that metadata creation is an antiquated library service.

Yesterday, several people asked if I ever went back and wrote the elevator pitch I mentioned in the "On metadata and user experience" post. And this seems like as good a time as any to revisit that notion of a jargon-free elevator pitch.
Well-formed metadata is an information literacy issue. In order to develop information literate people, library resources should be discoverable. And that discoverability comes from well-formed metadata. Well-formed metadata allows library resources to be discovered through a variety of searching methods and a variety of platforms. In addition to making purchased collections discoverable, well-formed metadata uncovers hidden local collections that bring prestige to the organization. While many metadata creation tasks can be automated, successful metadata creation--the kind that makes resources discoverable--requires human intervention. Well-formed metadata, and the people who create it, are the foundation upon which library instructors build their instruction. Metadata creation is a public service.
Ultimately, I agree with the sentiment expressed in the quoted passage above from Hiring Librarians. It is important that we build services that meet the evolving needs of our users. Let's create and implement instruction that makes information literate people. Let's support the evolving field of digital humanities. But let's also build models for acquiring and describing resources that support those emerging services. I don't think that resource description is antiquated, nor do I think it's in danger of being eliminated--even in a post-MARC would where we link to data outside of our library resources in the descriptions we create. Let's do this--let's build an awesome, collaborative future. Together.

Stay positive,

Friday, July 10, 2015

Friday jams (07/10/2015)

Yesterday the good people of Toronto made lemonade out of lemons when Animal Services took more than 14 hours to pick up a deceased raccoon from a city sidewalk. They made a makeshift memorial to the raccoon including flowers, candles, and a donation box. Buzzfeed captures the story well, and with a tone befitting such an event. Hat tip to Cecily for pointing me to the story.'s to you, #DeadRaccoonTO

I listen to the same music over and over and over again. As you might imagine from my classic weirdo indie hits on the Jams. I've taken, the past few weeks, to listening to Richard Thompson's Across A Crowded Room, an album from my parents' record collection.  The whole thing is really fantastic and I can't recommend it enough. Richard Thompson may be best known to you from the cover of Oops, I Did It Again that was part of his one-man show chronicling the history of music. (gotta love a man with ambition, right?)  For today's jam, I Ain't Gonna Drag My Feet No More.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

In Your Own Back Yard

As I mentioned, I have just recently bought a house and put all of my stuff in the house or adjacent to the house. People keep asking me about the house. I'm always tempted to respond, "it's gonna be great... once I change everything." It's not that the house is bad. The house is entirely serviceable and serves its housely functions admirably for the house it is. I'm telling you, though, I have plans for this place. It's gonna be so great and so amazing and so perfect. When I'm done replacing everything. I mean, everything is possible.

Thing about my grand goals is that there is no way that I can make them all happen at once. I don't have the time or the money or the will to make it all happen right this moment. What I can do is plan, do what I can right now, set the stage for the future. For instance, after I paint and put out the room-sized carpet, I'll feel a lot better and be able to move in. Even that, though, is a temporary solution, because I'm going to have to move everything out to put in the wood floors later. I'm getting new appliances, but I might have to get different things when I remodel the kitchen. Each step, though, each step, even if it seems slightly off direction, is a step toward the goal, toward the Great House which I've got my target on.

The same happens in our organizations. We have great plans for our programs, our institutions, even our organizational culture. It's impossible to take it all out and put in a new one. We work with what we've got, and there are always limitations. But one step at a time we make changes to ourselves, our plans, and the circumstances. I see three main things that I, personally, have to focus on to keep my heart happy and my eyes on the prize.

1) know your capacity
Part of what we have to do to live with what we've got right now is what Erin talked about, knowing what we can and can't do and setting the stage for success where we're able. I (probably) can't fix everything in my house. I really don't want to spend a week in my crawlspace changing the plumbing. But I can make my goals clear to a plumber. I can also talk to the strategic planning committee about what I think would work best for our organization, and let them do the rest.

2) do what you can; track progress
Just because you can't do everything now doesn't mean you can't do anything. It is essential to keep moving forward with intent. Even if you keep running (sometimes literally) into walls. Take small steps. When things go exactly like you'd planned they'd go in the ideal library, shout for joy and tell the world. When I finish the new deck you know I'm having a big big party. Look at what we've done, how far we've come. More to go, but much has been done.

3) be patient
Things. Take. Time.
You can't do everything. You are one person. You have to sleep.
I remind myself constantly to be patient with, well, everything.
People take time, thinking takes time, changing takes time. Figure out how to work on it in a way that builds, but also builds capacity for more change. Figure out how to reward yourself or your organization for the progress you've made. Know that you can only do so much, and that that is okay. Because if you fail trying to do too much, you're further behind than when you started and heartbroken too. So do what you can. And take a deep breath.

I found myself staring at the piles of things in my garage for who knows how long the other day. I have almost no idea how I'm going to get to the house I see in my mind from what exists in reality. I know that I will get there, though, because I mean to. It will take a while, but it is starting now, and I get to be here to watch it happen.

Keep Rockin'

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The best you can is good enough

I recently began my year-long tenure as Chair of the Continuing Resources Section of ALCTS. I am really excited about this opportunity and l hope we can produce programs and initiatives that are relevant to your interests, dear reader.

There are a bunch of committees, interest groups, and award juries that work in the Section. And as Section Chair, I'm ultimately responsible for the work those groups produce. The way I figure it, the buck stops with me. As the Section Chair, I feel like it's my job to provide those volunteering in CRS the support and resources they need to be successful. But it's also my job to step away after I've done that and let them do the work they want to do, trusting that the volunteers I placed are capable of doing amazing things.

When the buck stops with you, it's easy to feel the pull toward inserting yourself in every. last. detail. of whatever process you're responsible for. And the tighter the deadlines, the more it feels like it would be easier to do a job yourself than delegate it to other people.

In some ways, I don't think that pull toward micromanagement isn't as different in cataloging as it is in leadership.

We often pull records into the local catalog from the national database and begin tinkering with the metadata because it isn't recorded in a way that suits us. We reformulate notes or change capitalization because we want a record to look pretty, even though the majority of the fields in metadata records are formulated in such a way that they can be indexed by our library software.

Shana McDanold blogged about this topic back in April and I think her advice is sound. When editing metadata records locally, put your efforts into fixing what is wrong and adding value in the form of controlled data elements. Tinkering with records to "make them pretty" should be given lowest priority.

I think catalogers feel a pull toward editing records because we feel that what we put in our local library software reflects on us. The buck stops with us, and we want the metadata we present to our users to be of the highest quality. Accepting records that do not contain incorrect information as-is gives us more time to add value to those records or, if no value can be added, focus on creating metadata records for resources that have no records. And I think that uncovering hidden collections is one of the most compelling pieces of value that a cataloging department can add to a library.

I attended a pre-conference at ALA Annual about real world applications of linked data. Our first speaker, Jenn Riley, talked about this desire to locally tinker with metadata. In the linked data world, libraries will be linking to data that we didn't create. And we won't have the option of tinkering with that data to make it "pretty." So, as Rachel reminded us back in April, you have to get used to this.

In my role as CRS Chair, I have committed to not micromanaging my Section's volunteers. I will give them everything they need to be successful and then give them the space to be awesome. I'm certain it won't be easy, but it's what I've committed to do. I will also make sure I am not micromanaging metadata. I will fix errors and add value and then move on. Maybe you would consider joining me?

Stay positive,

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Housekeeping (7/2/2015)

Happy New Year!

Erin is busy recovering from the ALA Annual Conference, and preparing for her rule of terror as Chair of the Continuing Resources Section of ALCTS. (look, it is for real).

I am busy moving house and wrapping up fiscal close at work, and have literally no thoughts to spare.

Other than this one:
Please fill out the Librarianship and Critical Theory Learning Community interest form. You know, if you're interested in the Librarianship and Critical Theory Learning Community. Otherwise cool. I'm really excited about it and thinking really hard about it and am probably going to post a thing about it soon.

Until Then: