Tuesday 31 January 2012

Library Day in the Life - day two

This is day two of my week for the Library Day in the Life Project, Round 8.

Today was my other Monday of the week - the day that I start my job in the English Cataloguing Department. It can be quite a challenge having two jobs in two departments and I sometimes feel like I have to take off my Tower Project head off on a Monday night and put on my English Cataloguing one!

Today began like every other day in English Cataloguing with some reshelving. I'm sure this is a task familiar to many librarians! I quite enjoy starting my day this way since it usually doesn't require too much thinking and so proves a nice way to ease into the day. Also, since most of my job is behind the scenes, it provides my main contact with readers. I always get quite a sense of satisfaction when I can help them find what they want. Only a couple of queries today.

The English Cataloguing Department works on three week long rotations and my team has just started the so-called 'Fast Track' cycle. This is exactly what the name implies. Since Cambridge is a Legal Deposit library we have a huge intake of English language material and it's necessary to process this as fast as possible. The fast track cycle involves less original cataloguing and more copy cataloguing - hence the fast part of the title.

The morning started with a batch of continuations which were left over from the end of last week. These are essentially books which had already had a classmark assigned and so just need to be catalogued before being passed to the catalogue. Usually the senior members of staff assign a classmark to material once it has been catalogued but continuations are part of a series so already come with a classmark. Today's batch included some slightly more complicated AV material which took a little while to sort out but I got it done in the end.

Next up was copy cataloguing of some bought material. Since we receive most of our material on Legal Deposit this mainly consists of American and European material and the selection can be quite varied! Today I came across a book about using Zotero in libraries that might be worth a read later...

Unfortunately the afternoon brought a power cut and an unexpected system downtime. Although this was disruptive it gave me a chance to catch up on some other work. I went to the stacks to fetch some books that I need to double check the details of, which always takes more time than I think it will! Next up was some entering. Each book is manually entered into a handwritten log where it is assigned a unique running number. This might seem like a slow process but it helps to keep an accurate shelf list. These are all jobs that I will finish off tomorrow when (hopefully) the computer system will be up again!

Monday 30 January 2012

Library Day in the Life - day one

This is my first post for the Library Day in the Life Project, Round 8. For anyone who doesn't know I work as a cataloguer in two departments at Cambridge University Library, the Tower Project and English Cataloguing.

Monday is the one and only day of the week that I spend working with the Tower Project at Cambridge University Library. The project originally started in order to catalogue the secondary Victorian material in the tower and has since moved on to the Edwardian period. This material was considered of limited academic importance at the time of receipt and so was stored away with little or no thought as to how it would be retrieved. The Tower Project was set up to provide catalogue records for these books and has been a resounding success.

Currently I'm cataloguing books from 1913 and that’s how my day began today. There was the usual mix of fiction, school books and religious pamphlets. These all require cataloguing from scratch since there are no quality records for the material. Today provided some interestingly titled books such as “Why Girls Go Wrong: How the White Slave Gangs Work” which was a novel featuring a cover picture of a rather dastardly man in a top hat attempting to kidnap a young lady whilst twirling his dangerous looking moustache (just to make it clear that he’s a bad guy!).

I spent most of the day cataloguing and dealing with the usual complications that this throws up. Today I had some horrid German fiction (which people on Twitter generously offered to help me with) and some authority problems to solve. The research part of cataloguing has always been my favourite part of the job. I like to see if I can solve the puzzle of finding the correct author or subject heading. Today’s selection required more effort that the usual glance at Wikipedia and took a good portion of the day.

My other main activity for today involved putting the finishing touches to this week’s Tower Project Friday blog post. We try to post a ‘fun’ item every Friday and this week it’s my turn. I spent some time correcting mistakes in the post and playing around with the arrangement of the pictures to try and make the post look appealing. Contributing to this blog has been a good way to develop my web developer and art skills! I really enjoy the blogging part of my job with the Tower Project since it allows me to do a bit of outreach and show off some of our finds. It’s a way of reaching out to the wider world and showing them what we have that I find very rewarding.

I spent some time at lunch reading through various blog posts and having some discussions with other cataloguers on Twitter. One blog post that particularly caught my eye was @millieshoes post about the value of the library MA. It's a really interesting read which has provoked a good discussion.

From tomorrow I spend the rest of the week in the English Cataloguing Department, but more about that later...

Sunday 29 January 2012

Coming up this week

Just a quick reminder that I'll be taking part in Library Day in the Life starting tomorrow. I've been looking forward to it, I just hope that I can think of some interesting things to say! Since (dare I say it) I'm actually making some progress on the dissertation, I think I'll be able to stick to my plan of daily updates.

I don't have anything out of the ordinary planned for this week but that's probably a good thing since it will help to give a more realistic picture of what I do all day. Almost seems a shame that I catalogued the 100% official Justien Bieber story last week though. That would have been 'interesting' to blog about.........!

Monday 23 January 2012

What I've been reading this week

The Libraries @Cambridge blog has listed a number of blogs by Cambridge library staff about the conference. There are a good selection of views expressed and the posts cover everything from single sessions to thoughts on the conference as a whole. There are some really interesting views expressed and the posts make interesting reading. The blogroll can be found here.

Another issue that I've seen a lot about on Twitter is the current restructuring that is going on in Harvard University libraries. There's an excellent blogpost on Daily Kos which explains the situation from a cataloguers point of view and makes for troubling reading. Some good points are made about cataloguers and their role though, such as: They [cataloguers] may not being doing exactly the same job in exactly the same way, but the role of mediator, who stands between the user and the collection and manages the discovery of its materials (in all formats) remains vital.

I think that this is an important point to remember. I have been reading a lot about how libraries must change and offer new services in order to survive. Whilst this is completely true I think that some libraries spend so much time thinking about how they should change that they don't always wonder if they should. From a cataloguing perpective there are plenty of things that could be improved but I don't think that getting rid of traditional methods of service delivery is always the answer.

I've been talking to a number of colleagues about my dissertation, which aims to measure the impact of social media marketing on users of an academic library. Basically: do our users want us on Facebook, Twitter etc. or do they think it's a waste of time (and resources)? Time will tell. The thing that almost all of my colleagues say is that it doesn't seem to them that users want these new services. All they want to know is where their (more often than not) actual physical book is and when they can borrow it. Another colleague recently posted on Twitter that there were two holds on a physical copy of a book even though users had access to the ebook.

I don't know what the results of my research will be but it seems from asking people in the front line that a number of users are happy with the traditional services that libraries provide. They may not be the largest group or the most vocal but they are still there and using the library. This is not to say that libraries don't need to change and adapt, but I think we have done pretty well so far. Hopefully there is a happy balance between old and new that we can continue into the future.

Saturday 14 January 2012

Library Day in the Life - Round 8

In the spirit of keeping my New Year resolutions I've finally signed up for the Library Day in the Life project. For anyone who doesn't know, this is a project organised by Bobbi Newman which allows library and information professionals in whatever sector to explain more about their day to day lives. This can be done using blogs, Twitter, YouTube or whatever the librarian feels comfortable with.

I've been meaning to sign up for this project for the last few years since I think that more cataloguers need to let people know about their jobs. I also think it would be great to see what others do all day so we can get some ideas about acquiring new skills! Unfortunately the last few cycles have coincided with periods of "professional depression" for me which meant that I wasn't feeling very warm and fuzzy towards my job and so didn't really want to share. Happily this situation seems to have (somewhat) resolved itself so this time I feel able to contribute. I also think that it will help encourage me back into regular(ish) blogging.

This cycle of the project begins on January 30th and runs until February 5th. I'll aim for daily updates with possibly a reflection at the end but I do have a literature review that I am supposed to be writing so this is subject to change!

Thursday 12 January 2012

Libraries@Cambridge 2012 - some thoughts

My unofficial New Year's resolution is to use this blog for more frequent updates. I really did mean to continue it after cpd23 but real life (and my dissertation) got in the way and I couldn't find any inspiration.

However, today I attended the libraries@cambridge conference and I thought that I'd share my thoughts on the day. Having recently bought a new phone which is actually capable of Internet access (!) I did some tweeting from the conference which can be seen on my Twitter account, @ces43 . Please remember if you read these that this was my first time tweeting from a conference and I've only had my new phone for three days which means I don't know where all the buttons are! This all means that there are probably more mistakes than useful comments. Since I work in cataloguing I'm going to pick out the points that appealed to me as a cataloguer but please remember that this is just one perspective.

The conference began with a key note address by Deborah Shorely of Imperial College, London. The theme of her talk was the survival of the fittest and it made for some harsh listening. It wasn't anything that we haven't heard before but still got the conference off on a downbeat note for me. Some of Deborah's points I was on board with, such as the crucial need to get information to people. She said that we need to find what users need, how and when and then find ways to give it to them. Not exactly news since libraries have been doing this for centuries, admittedly sometimes with more success than at others. Today this might mean electronic resources but libraries have traditionally done this with books for a long time now.

I did feel that Deborah was overly critical of the role that cataloguers have to play in the future of the library. She described them as being like "turkeys at Christmas", nice and traditional but not always worth the fuss. To give her her due she did say that some of her comments might offend but I was a little worried to see the nods coming from around the room at this statement. I think that the role of cataloguers in libraries is seriously undervalued and attitudes like this don't help. Cataloguers have been around pretty much since the invention of libraries and some would say this makes us an outdated species, but I would argue that there's a reason that we've been around so long - we are needed.

Yes, I take the point that too much duplication of effort in cataloguing is a waste of time but things can and are being done to improve this. There is also a definite issue of quality. Some of the catalogue records out there are extremely poor or just plain wrong. Having more than one source check them helps to correct errors and can add more knowledge about subject headings etc. which can only add to the 'findability' of an item. Just blindly downloading or accepting records does our users no favours at all. Different libraries know their users and their needs and can adapt the cataloguing processes accordingly. I think that some things do need to change but there are several people trying to change them. Maybe the problem is that this attitude is not always projected outwards so many people still see us as the ancient dragons in the back of the library that are redundant. Hopefully projects such as the High Visibility Cataloguing Initiative will help to change this view.

Deborah also said that owning collections was not the point of libraries, promoting them was. Again, here I would argue that cataloguers have a valuable role to play. The catalogue record is the most basic form of promotion for an item. If it isn't catalogued, and catalogued well, then users won't be able to find it. Overall I was disappointed with the keynote speech but maybe that was because it hit on some unpleasant truths that I would rather not have to face?

I also attended the session which focused on the digital library. For an excellent summary see the official conference blog, which also features live blogs on the other two parallel sessions. The session outlined the progress of the Cambridge Digital Library project and then moved on to guest speaker Christy Henshaw of the Wellcome Trust, who talked about the ongoing project to put the Trust's medical archives online. One of the most interesting points that she made was about the need to protect sensitive materials during the digitization process. It was explained that the team have so much to digitize that they don't have time to go through all of the documents page by page. Instead, they rely on the metadata that accompanies the item to determine if there could be any cause for concern. This process relies very heavily on the quality of the cataloguing and highlights the importance of the process. I have always thought when hearing people talking about digital projects that they were missing this very fundamental point - any digitization project starts with a catalogue record. If there is no record then material cannot be found to be digitized. I was relieved to see someone bringing up the importance of quality cataloguing in this session.

The afternoon session again made some positive points about cataloguing. It focused on the library from the users point of view. Several members of the academic community were invited to come and talk to a room full of librarians about what they wanted from the library. I think this was a brilliant idea and I don't know why it doesn't happen more often! One of the points made was that the variety of digitization projects increases the pressure on libraries to actually look at what they have and catalogue it in preparation for digitization. This links back to the point made above that digitization projects have to start with a catalogue record as a way to find the material you want to digitize. The fact that this came from a library user was very positive.

Another point made in relation to cataloguing was that libraries who supply copy specific information in their catalogue records actually enrich the research process for the user. This was referring more to special collections in terms of things like former owners and notes, but still has some relevance to what I was saying above about different libraries needing different things from a catalogue record. The actual phrase used was that cataloguing the intricacies of individual copies "can unlock the buried potential in works". I think that this is an excellent point which is well worth making. Catalogue records can provide a way into information and enrich the source in so many ways. Without proper subject analysis in a record the book may never be read since the title seemingly bares no relation to the topic. Someone just browsing titles may end up missing the resource with that vital bit of information that they need. This again for me highlighted the importance that cataloguers continue to play in libraries and that it came from a user was very heartening.

Overall I came away feeling much more positive than I thought I was going to after the opening sessions. I think that what people forget when looking at all the new innovations in the library world, as wonderful as they are, is that you have to start somewhere. We cannot view cataloguers as outdated in a modern world just because they have been around a long time. Maybe the reason that they have been around so long is that they are more important than people think?

photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc