Monthly Archives: May 2012

Cataloging for users and usability

A few days ago I ran across a presentation by Emily Clasper, entitled “Cataloging for usability” (which should be preaching to the choir, shouldn’t it?). It deals with the question: “Why do we need multiple bib records for one title?” She argues that a lot of times, there are clues that may lead to a separate record – but it’s not a matter of blindly following the rules. Rather, it’s important to use your common sense and keep in mind how the user searches for and retrieves information about the item s/he wants (also considering display on mobile devices).

This reminded me of the article “User-centered serials cataloging” by Wendy Baia in Radical Cataloging (2008). One of the practices she criticizes the most is “successive entry cataloging” which creates separate records for things like title changes or change in corporate body name, potentially resulting in the user having to look through endless lists of titles which could conveniently be combined into one record. However, Baia wisely mentions the conflict between your own local practices and consortial or national standards: “It is important to distinguish between the positive benefits of creative solutions to problems in one’s local catalog rather than problem-causing creativity in a cooperative national or consortial database in violation of agreed-upon standards.” This is a dilemma I face time and time again myself: tweaking rules is far more difficult if you catalog into a consortial database which has to adhere to a set of agreements and rule interpretations so as not to cause confusion and inconsistency. I just can’t quite “do what I want” in this environment (even if I was consistent in not complying with standards). Yet I try to be guided by usability and by what retrieval via the OPAC/discovery layer looks like for the user when I make decisions within the scope of shared cataloging standards.

After all, “every decision we make affects how people experience the library. Let’s make sure we’re creating improvements” (Emily Clasper).

Filling gaps

Terry Reese’s recent post “A Sense of Service: Service outside of the public eye” suggests the “idea of a service of gaps and a notion that service is a fulfillment of an obligation to step in and fill needs”. Well, I notice this “philosophy of gaps” applies to my situation, too – in two ways, in fact.

Most of my colleagues are DBAs, sysadmins, programmers, systems librarians. Granted, some of them used to be catalogers, but they don’t do it on a daily or even regular basis anymore, so over time they lost touch with the ins and outs and would have a hard time giving practical advice. But we realized that we need a certain amount of cataloging expertise in-house. So, although I kind of branched out and got systems librarians training, for the time being I stick with cataloging, partly in order to fill a gap of know-how: I spend some of my working day on a recon project with a colleague, but I also share my cataloging expertise and act as a kind of informal consultant to my tech colleagues.

There’s a second way in which my organisation and I have seen gaps and pragmatically fill a need that resurfaces time and time again. As I said in my last post, the new authority file GND was introduced. From a cataloging point of view, our partner institutions had to be trained to enable them to use and work with the GND. Big university libraries identified people to be “disseminators”, i.e. to get trained and then train catalogers at their library. But what about small institutions like special libraries or one-person-libraries that are part of the consortium? We set up training sessions for them where I also encouraged them to contact me with any cataloging-related issues they have. Mostly they are all on their own, with no colleagues to ask, so it’s good for them to know who to turn to. Again, a gap of service that I’m happy to fill because it means you see the needs of your clients, take them seriously and respond to them.

Filling gaps can make you more confident in your skills because you realize they are appreciated by those you serve or work with – you realize you have something important to bring to the table, and what you take for granted may have added value for others because they just don’t have the time or know-how to fill that specific gap.