Wednesday, March 15, 2017

You're pretty good with words, but words won't save your life

Next week at ACRL, I'm going to be on a panel about gendered expectations for library leaders with a bunch of really wonderful and brilliant people. I wrote a bunch of words that I originally thought I might use on this panel, but which I am not going to use because I am going to use different words. I thought these words were still worth sharing, so here you go.

Stay positive,

An anecdote: in 2015, I attended my first ACRL conference in Portland as a recipient of a mid-career scholarship. While ALCTS, ALA’s technical services division, is my home within ALA, I wanted to attend ACRL to nurture those parts of my interests that are more centered in front-of-the-house academic librarianship. I attended a session and when the convener asked the audience to pair up to discuss a set of prompts, I talked to a very nice library administrator. When we had exhausted the prompts, our conversation turned to the kind of small talk that you make at conferences: where are you from? What do you do?  When my conversation partner learned that I am a cataloger, their response bordered on what I can only describe as incredulity. The conversation concluded quickly after the person said “The catalogers at my library would never attend an event like this.”

While my job duties throughout my career have been centered squarely in cataloging, I have an interest in instruction. In my first job out of library school, the instruction coordinator invited me to teach a library orientation class for a section of our first-year Composition students because she needed more librarians to help carry the load of teaching a lot of classes in a very short amount of time—a feeling that those of you who schedule these kind of classes can probably identify with. I had been a cataloger for several years and while I feel comfortable with my ability to teach people about the search process, I wasn’t sure how good I would be at teaching. While the initial classes I taught were….rough, to put it kindly, it turns out that teaching is something I enjoy. I am fortunate the instruction coordinator was willing to work with me, helping me design lesson plans and feeling confident in the classroom. Seven years later—give or take—and I feel like I’m finally hitting my stride. And I feel lucky that the instruction coordinator for the first-year Biology students at my current library felt comfortable allowing me into the classroom.

When I talk to librarians who work in public-facing roles about my interest in instruction, I hear some variation on the theme of my being an outlier within the cataloging community. Much like in the anecdote I told earlier, they tell me how the catalogers they know would never want to be in a classroom setting or working with students. And while I think they mean well, I’m not sure that these librarians in public-facing roles know how much it makes me feel like an other in the instruction spaces in which I find myself. In July 2014, I wrote a post for Jessica’s blog—Letters to a Young Librarian—in which I described the stereotype that exists about people who work in cataloging, people like me. I wrote that they are seen as being “socially inept, change averse, unfriendly, rigid, detail-oriented to a fault, bad communicators, uncompromising, rule-bound, and territorial.” What I imagine the librarians in public-facing roles who tell me what an anomaly I am are actually saying is, it’s okay that you’re a cataloging because you’re not that kind of cataloger.

Every time that someone points out that I am an other in the instruction spaces in which I find myself, I feel self-conscious. And my sense of being an other in those spaces definitely impacts how I exist in them. As I prepare to teach classes, I worry that my lessons aren’t pedagogically sound enough or that my activities won’t hold the attention of the students I’m working with. When I talk with the other librarians at my library doing orientation for first-year Biology students, I defer to them because they have far more classroom experience than I do.  I think it’s fair to say that more often than not, in instruction spaces, imposter syndrome gets the best of me.

Add to that the fact that I identify strongly with how Jessica and Michelle described themselves in the article they wrote for In the Library With a Lead Pipe: two women who do not fit the stereotype of overly warm or nice but both consider themselves to be empathic, kind, and effective. I know my strengths—I am empathetic and wonkish, caring deeply about process and about the places where processes and people intersect. And while I am sometimes not the best communicator, I am an engaged listener who loves hearing people’s ideas and finding ways to connect those threads. But when I enter these spaces in which I am an other, I worry about how my not being overly warm translates to those with whom I interact. I worry that I come off as aloof or standoffish, so I go out of my way to be kind.

I want to pause to acknowledge the places where my gender intersects with my more privileged identities. Being white, cisgender, able bodied, and middle class means that I don’t face systemic oppression in the same way as colleagues whose intersecting identities mean that they are members of marginalized communities. In fact, it’s my privileged identities that allow me entry into instruction spaces when those activities when they are not part of my job duties.  And while it’s hurtful to be reminded that I am an other in the instruction spaces in which I find myself, I cannot, and will not, compare the way I’m treated as a cataloger in instruction spaces to the microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidations that our colleagues from marginalized communities face for simply existing in LIS spaces.

Honestly, my experience as a cataloger in instruction spaces has been filled as much sunshine as gloom—more, even. The librarians I have met in instruction spaces have been gracious with their time, their knowledge, and their resources. I can’t begin to count the number of times I have talked through a lesson plan with Michelle and incorporated her feedback to improve the class. So here’s what I would say: to the librarians in back-room roles (IT, collection development, technical services) with interests in traditionally public-facing tasks—you belong in those spaces. You have good ideas an work experiences that will be beneficial to your public-facing librarian colleagues, so share them. And to public-facing librarians—welcome your colleagues from back-room roles. Be gracious with your time and your knowledge and offer radical hospitality.  There is room in the conversation for everyone.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Trying hard not to get too obsessed with it

At the end of February, a post to the BIBFRAME listserv linked to an essay by Jeff Edmunds that enumerated the reasons why the author believes that the standard will not be widely adopted by the GLAM community. There has been much conversation in various parts of the cataloging community about the merits of the arguments that Edmunds lays out in the essay.

Throughout the essay, Edmunds suggests repeatedly (and in various ways) that those who are engaged in the work of developing BIBFRAME have gotten so in the theoretical weeds that they have lost track of the realities of resource description in the modern age. Toward the end of his essay, Edmunds suggests that the greatest challenges facing metadata creators today are:
"the utterly unwieldy immensity of the bibliographic universe, the ongoing and accelerating decline in the quality of bibliographic metadata, competition for the organization and delivery of information by non-library entities (Wikipedia, Google, Facebook)"
I should say that while I wasn't a fan of this essay, I don't actually disagree with Edmunds' assertions about the challenges facing metadata creators. I think he does a fine job of surveying the current landscape. What was apparent to me when reading this essay was that it points to a growing rift in the cataloging community that will only continue to grow as we move toward a crisis point related to the adoption of BIBFRAME as a standard. And as one side on that growing rift, it's representative of an argument that I've heard being made in the cataloging community.

There seems to be a growing tension between those engaged in the theoretical work of developing BIBFRAME as a standard and those who are still currently working on describing the resources their library owns in MARC. And in some ways, I think his boils down to a tension between those who have the means to innovate and those who don't.

There is a large contingent of the metadata creation community that has invested resources in the development and modeling of BIBFRAME as a standard. This work is ongoing and while I understand very little of it, if we're being honest, it seems like this work is driven by a belief that there is a future for BIBFRAME as a standard within our community. I think it's important work, but I also think it's worth being transparent about the fact that this type of work requires material resources. And those institutions who have stepped into the role of early adopter are often entities with the ability to devote those material resources to standards development.

For other libraries, there are simply not enough material resources to devote resources to standards development. There are too few staff and not enough money to devote to both the quotidian work of resource description and the theoretical work of standards development and modeling. Because choices must be made strategically about how to spend resources, these libraries find themselves on the outside of the theoretical work of standards development and modeling looking in.

There is a very real tension between these two sides, which leads to each one being defensive and suspicious of the other. And it is easy to see the other side and not find value in their work. Those who are invested in BIBFRAME development see people who are suspicious of it as change averse and negative. People who are suspicious of BIBFRAME development see those who champion it as being too caught up in the theoretical and divorced from the practical.

One thing I have grown more certain of as I have seen BIBFRAME development is that I am out of my depth. While I am on the younger end of those who are currently cataloging, my education was based in the AACR2 environment and sometimes I have a hard time pulling myself out of the quotidian work of metadata creation to find the value in the development of future standards. But I make myself do it, because I don't want to be the person who is so stuck in way of thinking that I outlive my professional usefulness.

I think that, as a community, we have to have a conversation about the merits and drawback of making the intellectual shift from a siloed past to an interoperable future. And there's room for people on both sides of this conversation. But the longer we allow this rift to grow, the less likely it will be that such a conversation will be able to happen respectfully and with acknowledgement of the value of both sides of the conversation.

Stay positive,

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Waging wars to shape the poet and the beat

In 1994, the Program for Cooperative Cataloging emerged from the work of a group called the Cooperative Cataloging Council. The founding documentation of this movement toward a national-level cooperative cataloging initiative came as the result of the work of a group called the Cooperative Cataloging Council. This group identified potential goals of a cooperative cataloging program and then charged task groups with writing recommendations in each of these areas. A short monograph, Towards a New Beginning in Cooperative Cataloging, includes both background documents and the final reports of each of these tasks groups. The six task groups reported on record creation and reuse, availability and distribution of records, authorities, standards, cataloger training, and foreign MARC. At 76 pages, it's a quick read. And one I would recommend if you're curious about the history of the PCC. It felt especially timely to look at the PCC's original strategic plan in light of the fact that the group will soon be embarking on a new strategic planning cycle.

Task Group 1's final report, titled "More, Better, Faster Cheaper," proposed a new model for the cooperative cataloging of non-serial materials. The group contextualizes its argument by stating "they [current cooperative cataloging efforts/models] fail because they are based on the belief (or hope) that any library can, and will, create a cataloging record that will be fully usable by other libraries. In fact, no single library can create such a cataloging record. Or, perhaps more accurately, it won't-nor should it be expected to" (30). Task Group 1 goes on to argue that the non-serial cataloging community should see the cataloging process as iterative in the way that, at the time, the CONSER program did. "Rather than focusing on cooperative cataloging, CONSER has focused on cataloging cooperatively, if you will: on cooperative creation and maintenance of cataloging records" (30). Task Group 1 then went on to propose that the cataloging community "should be putting its efforts into fostering an environment in which cataloging records are 'vouched for' or 'authenticated' and made part of the national database for subsequent use and emendation as necessary" (30). One can imagine that Task Group 1's report served as the foundation for BIBCO. And it gives us the basis for our current understanding of the record creation and reuse model that we know and love today.

As a serials cataloger, I feel really connected to the idea that cataloging is an iterative process. Because a serial record covers the entire life of the publication, our work on a record representing a serial title is not done as long as the serial continues to be published. And I like that other communities took seriously the idea that it makes more sense to build upon the work done by others rather than continue to duplicate their work. The current record creation and reuse model is a smart one, built on collegiality and on enhancing the work of others.

I'll be honest, though, I bristled a little when I read the title of Task Group 1's report. And it's the same reason that I struggle to accept the current record creation and reuse model. If our motivation for accepting this model is for cost savings and efficiency, how much does the cataloging community truly build upon the work done by others? How often do we accept the records we find as being good enough for our local context when our local context might vary significantly from the one where the record was originally created?

And this, I think, is where I find myself feeling stuck when it comes to thinking about the current catalog record creation and reuse model. I don't think it would be a wise use of our resources to go backwards in time to a place where catalogers at many libraries created records for the same title. I think that thinking of cataloging as an iterative process where one cataloger enhances the record created by another, leveraging each one's strengths makes much more sense. But our motivation for cataloging cooperatively in any format should be to create records that others can not only reuse but can also enhance.

I also think that part of the record creation and reuse model has to incorporate a consideration of the context of users in any given library. Records downloaded from a bibliographic utility or purchased from vendors should be evaluated to ensure that their metadata reflects the needs of a particular user community. This may mean enhancing those records in any number of ways, including additional access points or additional subject analysis. This requires a commitment to well-formed metadata that goes far beyond a more/better/faster/cheaper way of thinking.

I felt grateful to read this book because it helped me understand the ideas that undergird so much of our modern ideas about catalog record creation and reuse. And it helped me better understand and articulate my feelings about that process. I think we should continue to think of the cataloging process for all formats as iterative, and think about how our local processes could change as a result.

Stay positive,

Works cited:
Towards a New Beginning in Cooperative Cataloging. Washington, D.C. : Library of Congress Cataloging Distribution Service, 1994.