Tuesday, February 23, 2016

We were perfect when we started, I've been wondering where we've gone

I finally finished Hope Olson's The Power to Name last week. And while I was sad to see it end, I really appreciated the forward-thinking ways in which Olson proposed potential solutions to the problems she identified in the preceding chapters. Though the book was published in 2002, Olson's solutions to the subject analysis problem still seem...controversial.

And can we talk about how much I love them? Because I do--love them.

Olson's solutions are based on the idea that catalogers can apply controlled vocabularies and classification schemes radically in order to center the Other who is most often marginalized in a conventional application of these systems. Her solutions are also based on the idea that while change is possible at a macro-level, change is most effectively achieved on a micro-level. Olson writes "Ameliorative change needs to come from both LC and individual libraries because universal solutions are not viable options" (234). Olson later writes "Our techniques must have the local context as the primary motivator. The far-reaching principles and the standards that have grown from them must be at the service of local, contemporary needs" (239).

I appreciate that while Olson criticizes controlled vocabulary and classification systems as broad concepts, she does not let individual libraries (and the catalogers they employ) off the hook. She notes that individual catalogers have as much responsibility for the subject analysis of the items in their collection as the de facto U.S. National Library.

Although, maybe instead of responsibility we should say agency.

I think that catalogers don't often have "the local context" as their primary motivator. This isn't always our fault, as sometimes resources aren't on our side. Libraries have begun purchasing more metadata from vendors in an effort to move material more quickly to the shelves or to make online resources more accessible on a scale not possible with item-by-item cataloging. But it's worth considering what we lose in terms of local user needs when we gain efficiency.

One of the solutions that Olson proposes is for people within individual libraries to decide what matters most to their users and set subject analysis priorities based on that. Olson writes "Local libraries could privilege different differences: gathering by race or ethnic origin is likely to be of more use in some libraries than by age" (235). Olson's argument is that while controlled vocabulary and classification systems are often inflexible, local applications don't have to be. Libraries can decide in which way they want to pull together books on a particular topic or about a particular group of people.

I think we might dismiss Olson's idea out of hand because it seems time consuming and we can't imagine devoting that much of our time to changing our cataloging workflows. Olson's proposition isn't a cheap or easy solution to the problem of subject analysis, but it does put a library's user community squarely in the middle of the discussion about how priorities for analysis are set. Imagine what it would be like if a subject specialist and a cataloger sat down and talked about what was most important when it comes to describing items in a particular subject specialty. What is most important to users in that discipline--what should I (the cataloger) look out for? Are there particular terms that are triggering to the people you work with with--what language should I avoid?

We often give our rare and unique collections this kind of treatment, but we rarely extend it to materials that are widely held in libraries. And maybe that's okay. Maybe part of considering the "local context" is deciding that not every item is worth the kind of attention to detail Olson's proposed technique would require. Maybe part of considering the "local context" is deciding that what really matters is focusing our attention on the material that only our libraries hold and hoping that the copy we find in our bibliographic utility of choice is good enough to help users get what they need.

The point, I think, is that a cataloger doesn't have to lavish significant attention on every item their library requires. But that cataloger shouldn't shy away from lavishing attention on the items that require it either. We shouldn't shy away from editing a catalog record from our bibliographic utility of choice because it's good enough. We should decide, instead, that that record does not require editing because it suits the needs of our users.

Stay positive,

Works cited:
Olson, Hope. The power to name: locating the limits of subject representation in libraries. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2002. Print.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Join me for #libleadgender!

Updated 2/24/2016 to include the chat questions!

Hello, friends of the Unified Library Scene!

Next Wednesday evening (2/24) at 8pm Eastern, I'm hosting a #libleadgender chat on building a more inclusive space in which to have the conversation about the intersection of gender and library leadership.

If you are interested in getting more information about the #libleadgender movement, you can start with this excellent article by Michelle Millet and Jessica Olin. You can follow it up with this blog post by Jessica. And, finally, you can search the hashtag on Twitter.

I hope you'll consider joining the chat on Wednesday evening. If you have questions that you'd like to ask--anonymously or otherwise--let me know!

Stay positive,

PS: The questions!
1. Gendered expectations for leaders is one version of performance. How else do we ask our leaders to perform?

2. How do you think the idea of "cultural fit" perpetuates bias within libraries? What do we look for when we consider "fit?"

3. How can we dismantle bias in our own organization without placing diversity work on the shoulders of our marginalized coworkers?

4. How could libraries give LIS students the opportunity to interrogate bias during a practicum experience?

5. (Submitted question!) What do you envision to be the difference between a feminist library and a library numerically dominated by women?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

You can get with this, or your can get with that

I read Karen Coyle's FRBR, before and after recently and I was really enamored with how often, and to what degree, the author asks us to consider users and their needs. And the point she returns to over and over again is that librarians design standards and systems without including the user in the design process. Instead, we ask users to make use of systems we design without their input. Coyle writes in the introduction:
"...making any general statement about the structure or data elements needed to describe all resources for all users of a library catalog is going to be difficult if not impossible. And yet this is what we do on a routine basis: we create records that treat all resource types the same, and for only one definition of 'user.' We also ignore or downplay many of the characteristics that are important for users (xiii)
Coyle's quote led me to consider the why of metadata creation and this is where I landed: catalog records serve two distinct purposes.

Purpose the first: inventory control--
Libraries need to have some back-end inventory control system to manage the material in their collection. It is helpful to know, at any given moment, which items in your physical collection are on the shelves and which items are not. And it's also helpful to know where (or, I suppose, with whom) the items that are not on the shelves have gone. Finally, it's useful libraries to be able to tie purchase or subscription information to the items on the physical or virtual shelves.

Metadata elements required for the purposes of inventory control of  any given physical or virtual item are fairly small and might vary depending on the library and the material type of the item.

Purpose the second: discovery of resources--
Users search our catalogs to find material in our collection. Sometimes the user knows what they want and sometimes they don't. The elements we record in our records govern how users can find the material we describe. While our systems have evolved to the point that we can keyword search entire records or drill down through results sets using facets, we are generally able to query metadata that describes our collections the basis of title, author, or subject.

Okay, yeah. So what?
I think that we conflate these two purposes more often than not. And that in doing so, we do the user a significant disservice.

Metadata reuse seems to be underlying goal of any attempt to implement standardization in catalogs. And the underlying goal of metadata reuse seems to be a reduction in the cost of cataloging. Putting metadata we purchase from vendors aside, if we put our records into a shared bibliographic utility, other libraries can download them and original cataloging of an item happens only once.

But user needs are contextual and what users require when discovering resources can vary depending on any number of factors. Reuse of metadata without human intervention is fine if what you require is a placeholder for inventory control, but what happens on the 'discovery of resources side' when the record you download doesn't have the data elements your user group needs?

This is not an argument against a shared bibliographic utility or against the reuse of metadata created by other libraries. This is also not an argument in favor of every library should catalog every item in their collection from scratch. Original cataloging on that large of a scale is financially unsustainable and, for much of any given collection, a waste of time.

Where do we go from here?
On a micro-level, we should identify and document the ways in which downloaded records can be enhanced to help users discovery our library's holdings. Chances are, you have a written procedure that your copy catalogers use when making local edits to downloaded records. Have the data elements that your copy catalogers edit been identified by users as significant for access? If not, have you at least run your document past one of your public services colleagues?

On a macro-level, we need to incorporate end users in the development phase of our cataloging and library technology standards. We should identify user tasks based on the actual needs of users. And we should get feedback from our user communities on the models we build before devoting significant resources to implementing them. By doing this, we save our precious time and build infrastructure that better serves the needs of users.

Stay positive,

Works cited:
Coyle, Karen. FRBR, before and after. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2016. Print.

Monday, February 15, 2016

all your favorite tunes ring true

We are busy people, task oriented people. A thing to do and another thing and then another thing.  I have so many thoughts about this disposition, its strengths and weaknesses. Today, however, I want to talk a little about how a person (i.e. me) in a salaried (i.e. never-off) position with both task-based and strategic or project-based work might approach the challenges of all of the individual things and all of the larger ideas all at once.

For me the first and foremost issue is working effectively -- how do I allow myself to be effective and how do I set myself up for success in structuring my work week?

There are times when I can do certain types of work very well and times when I am just banging my head against the very same task. While we don't always have the leisure to structure our workloads to coincide with our highest levels of productivity, knowing what works and what doesn't is always helpful. What I can do in the morning, what I can do between meetings, and what I can do when I'm in a bad mood or hungry or tired is very important.

I think about tasks that get me back on track when I'm not focused: debriefing from meetings, organizing and updating my project to-do lists, triaging my email.

I think about what work I have to do during the day, and what work I can do at home: do I need my dual-monitor workstation to do this project best? Can I do this project while a cat is standing on top of my arms? Do I want to create a separation where I only do research in one place? I try to have my work arrayed so I have the best access to the work best done wherever I am.

I let myself be influenced by my moods. If I am working at home and I'm being very productive, I know that groove may not last, I may not be able to replicate it the next day or even during the week, so I go with it. Have the work ready to go when you're ready to go.  I learned this from my father who worked on the road and had a very flexible schedule, and anyone with ADD will tell you the same: the groove is the payoff for all of the other trouble, so use it.

The balance between tasks and projects is a difficult one -- I find tasks to weigh on me more than projects, but also easier to lay aside. Small tasks pile up, and I need a groove to get focused and get them done. At the same time, projects require periods of focus without interruption, including the interruption of remembering all of the small tasks that need accomplished. However, both cases benefit from a mindset of "do the thing right in front of you." I make lists. So many lists.

What about you, how do you deal with all the little things and all the big things?

Keep Rockin'!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Friday jams (02/12/2016)

It's Friday, friends of the Unified Library Scene! Time for some jams!

Rachel and I (Erin) usually each post a jam, but we're in total agreement about what the jams would/should/will be this week.

First of all, Rachel and I were in agreement about how great the song Beyonce dropped on us the day before the Super Bowl is. I can't figure out how to embed the video from Tidal, so you'll just have to link out to it and come back.

Okay, you're back?

So, the artist in the middle of the song who came to slay is Big Freedia. You may know Big Freedia from the Fuse show, "Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce." Or you might never have heard of Big Freedia or bounce music before. Don't worry...we've got you covered.

Big Freedia has another awesome song you might like called "Excuse."

Finally, Rachel and I were in agreement that you might like to finish out your week with some Missy. So, let's play that Missy track again.

Stay positive and Keep rockin',
Erin and Rachel

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Which describes how you're feeling all the time

I am slooooooowly making my way through Hope Olson's The power to name. In Chapter 6, "Ite/arating Women"Olson reviews catalog records that represent books that have intersectional feminist themes.

Olson's intellectual exercise in "Ite/arating Women" points out the limits of Library of Congress Subject Headings (from this point on, referred to as LCSH) as they existed in 2002 when she wrote the book, as well as exposing the places where LCSH does not have language to express a particular concept. It also points out the limits of Dewey Decimal Classification in addressing materials with intersectional themes.

What I found shocking about Olson's critique, though, was what happened when she put the Library of Congress Subject Headings Manual (from this point on, referred to as SHM) into conversation with these catalog records and points out the ways in which existing LCSH are misapplied or, in some cases, not applied at all. In doing so, Olson makes the point that while proper subject analysis of certain materials will not solve the "inadequate language" problem entirely, it would certainly help increase access.

When creating subject access, metadata creators are asked to distill complex texts down to their essence and then assign subject headings and classification numbers to describe that essence. It is a difficult task when the book being described is on a single topic or represents a single point of view. It becomes much more difficult when multiple themes are thrown into the mix. Often, an aspect of the book is ignored or omitted due to time constraints on the part of the cataloger or because a cataloger doesn't have experience with a subject.

My takeaway from "Ite/arating Women" is that catalogers need to do a better job of understanding subject analysis--especially important when analyzing texts about people whose stories get pushed to the margins of society. While controlled vocabulary is often woefully inadequate to describe both intersectionality and issues related to marginalized people, there is controlled vocabulary that we could use more thoughtfully. The SHM provides a significant amount of guidance, but that's only if we choose to acquaint ourselves with it as part of our training (or growth) as catalogers and would be an excellent place to start. I know that I plan to spend more time understanding how subject headings are put together and how I can construct them differently to provide better access for users.

Stay positive,

Monday, February 8, 2016

to be by myself

"No, I can't, I need to be by myself."

I'm an introvert who loves people. I really do, I think it comes through in things I've written here. I love the people I work with and the people I work for, and I love my friends and I love meeting people I don't know for the most part. All of that takes it toll, though. I need a lot of down time to function at my highest levels.

Because my work involves a lot of interacting with other people, I have less people-energy for my personal life than I would like. At times, it needs to be rationed: I can spend time with friends I have, or I can do things with acquaintances, or I can spend just a little time with new people. At times, not having enough energy for personal relationships can be trying and even dangerous -- we all need people in our lives who fill our emotional needs and some of them need to live in the same town as you. So building up relationships is essential to personal and professional well-being and success. 

At the same time, I endeavor to set myself up for success, so if I've had a meeting-filled week, I know that even when I want to be with a group of friends who've invited me out, I sometimes can't if I also want to be properly restored by my weekend.  It takes some time to develop the self-awareness of when and what I can do, and it takes discipline to listen to the voice that knows if I can or if I can't.

It is a thing that I practice, though, because I want to be my best. So sometimes I can't go to dinner or your party and it's okay for you and me both.

What about you? What do you do to be your best? Let's talk about it.

Keep Rockin'

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Don't forget to breathe now

This morning I read an article about digital badges. While I suspect there could be a blog post or three about digital badges, that's not what I want to write about. What was most interesting to me about the article were the courses that the librarians taught which led to the creation and distribution of the badges.

The authors of the article developed multi-session courses in data management and geographic information systems that included a capstone project. These courses offered a comprehensive overview of the topics as well as opportunities to build skills in a hands-on way. 

In the #mashcat lightening talk that I gave, I talked about how rarely we think of ourselves as someone with something to teach someone else. We can all identify one skill we'd like to build or one topic we'd like to learn more about. And while it's easy to think of ourselves as students, I think we rarely stop to think of ourselves as teachers.

Lately I've been turning over in my mind some thoughts related to teaching public-facing librarians about things related to cataloging and the courses in the aforementioned article really grabbed my attention as a model. Rachel and I talk a lot about how the Unified Library Scene is about building community and I really want to engage public-facing librarians in the work of subject analysis and classification. I feel like multi-session classes where you could spend time talking and practicing would be really useful in teaching public-facing librarians both about the limits of subject analysis and the best ways to move past those limits. And the idea of a capstone project where a public-facing librarian could dig into a particular classification number of set of subject headings makes my heart sing.

I have been turning these ideas over in my mind, but I am slow to act on them. When I'm honest with myself about why, I think it's probably for the same reason that I can think of a million ideas for an article but I haven't published anything. I think it's because I don't see myself as a teacher. There are people who know far more about cataloging than me. And in the area of subject analysis and classification, there are people who have already spoken more confidently and with more authority on these issues than I ever could. In short, I feel like I am standing on the shoulders of some amazing giants.

When I think about the legacy I want to create in librarianship, I really do believe in the Unified Library Scene. This blog? It's not just an angle based on a clever play on a song title. This is real, and I care about it deeply. I want to build a space for relationships--between library technologists and metadata creators and between back-room and front-line folks. I want to make a space where the next generation of library leaders feel supported to stand their ground and speak their truth. I want to leave librarianship in a better spot than I found it.

So maybe it's time for me to stop letting impostor syndrome win. Maybe it's time for me to thinking of myself as a teacher. Maybe it's time for me to do more and talk less.

Stay positive,