Wednesday 29 February 2012

CILIP membership - why I'm going to continue

Today my CILIP membership renewal form arrived. When I first joined a couple of years ago as a student member I fully intended to give up my membership when I finished my degree since I didn't think I could justify the fees.

Over the last few months however I've changed my mind on this. I'm renewing my membership, with the intention of going for Chartership when I've finished my degree. I honestly believe that this will be worth the money even though I don't expect to get a new job or a pay rise out of it (although I wouldn't say no if the boss is reading!). The reason I'm doing it is that I feel that I get a lot out of being a member.

I've been lucky enough to win grants to attend two CILIP organised conferences. These conferences have given me confidence in myself and helped me enormously with my dissertation research. I've also been involved in writing for a couple of CILIP publications and have attended some events. These activities have all helped me to increase my professional knowledge, which I think adds a lot to my day-to-day job. Being a member has also led, indirectly, to my participation in the CPD23 programme which has been invaluable to me in many ways.

The most important thing that I feel I've gotten from my membership is contact with a lot of wonderful people. This has been both in person and online. I've been having quite a tough couple of years, both personally and professionally and talking with like minded people has really helped. CILIP members are a friendly and welcoming bunch and are working really hard to stand up for their profession in tough times. The bottom line is that I think CILIP really does offer a great chance for both professional and personal development.

I know that circumstances are different for everyone and some people have been quite vocal over their desire to leave CILIP or never get involved in the first place. I used to be one of them. I would say, don't let the fees alone put you off. Although I do think they are high for what is not generally a well paid profession, I think it's worth looking at what you could potentially get out of membership. Try it for a year and if you don't think it's worth it then there's no pressure to continue.

The important thing to remember is that you will get as much out of membership as you are prepared to put in. It takes work to make professional bodies a success and this includes all members. If you get involved in any way, no matter how small, then you will start to see the benefits. I think a lot of people just join professional bodies expecting all the work to be done for them and this isn't the case. Something as simple as following CILIP and/or its various groups on Twitter can lead to a wealth of information about ways to participate. It doesn't have to be big and it doesn't have to be scary.

I don't really know why I am writing this (probably something to do with avoiding the half finished dissertation that is crying out to be completed). It's just something that I felt I had to say, which is part of the joy of blogging I suppose! So, for better or worse I'm hitting the publish button. Thanks for reading to anyone who has made it to the end of this long and slightly rambling blog post!

Sunday 26 February 2012

#uklibchat - Cataloguing and Classification

Last Thursday I took part in the uklibchat on cataloguing and classification. For anyone who doesn't know, uklibchat is a Twitter chat which is held once a fortnight and discusses a wide range of library topics. Information about the chat, future topics and agendas can be found here.

Probably the question that caused most discussion was do you think that library schools should teach cataloguing and classification or is it best learnt on the job? There were a mixture of answers to this but the general consensus was that library schools should certainly teach at least the basics. More in depth knowledge could be learnt whilst in post but several people mentioned the idea that cataloguing is a fundamental part of our professional identity as librarians. This means that it needs to be an integral part of the library school curriculum.

I agree with these statements. When I took my cataloguing and classification module at library school I was already an experienced cataloguer and so there wasn't that much that was new to me. I have to say though that I sympathised with others who struggled with the module, having had little or no prior experience of cataloguing. Cataloguing is a very difficult subject to teach 'dry' without any practical experience. It is definitely a skill that needs to be practiced to be appreciated. Having said this I am aware that there are fewer cataloguing posts available than there used to be, with a lot of the work now outsourced. This makes studying the topic in library school even more important since it may be the only introduction that many people get. This also highlights the need for enthusiastic cataloguing teachers. I was lucky that my lecturer was able to make what could have been quite a dry topic very interesting due to her enthusiasm, but I appreciate that this might not be the case for everyone. This is especially true if people are learning on the job with a line manager who already has their hands full!

An interesting question was how can catalogues and their content be made more social? My suggestion was maybe the introduction of more user tagging. I think though that this may be more a case of libraries doing what they think their users want rather than what they actually want. There are too many inconsistencies for them to be the basis of information retrieval but they could provide an added extra. I know that in my job I am sometimes cataloguing books (such as complex maths or science books) that I have problems coming up with subject headings for. A user who is actually a specialist in the subject would have more of an idea what others in the field would be looking for and so could provide valuable subject ideas. I still think that traditional subject terms should remain the main way of indexing works.

Another question asked was what is the best way to get into cataloguing? The most popular methods seemed to be volunteering or asking to shadow someone who actually works in a cataloguing department. I think this is good advice, even to those of us already in cataloguing posts. There is always more to learn and new ways of doing things. Visiting others in the profession is a great way to update your own skills and I hope to be doing some of this myself in the near future. Just not sure where/how I am going to fit it in!

The issue of how to help people who have the desire to learn cataloguing but no opportunities to do so was raised. I'm fortunate enough to have the option of visiting others but I know that for many this isn't practical. There were many suggestions for some kind of online training and it sounds like CILIP CIG is on the case. Hopefully this will lead to more opportunities for people to learn cataloguing and classification.

What developments do you expect in how library catalogues are presented to users? Most people thought that Google style interfaces would become more the norm and I think that we are starting to see this in more and more libraries. It's what users are used to and what they expect and I think that this is one trend that librarians are going to have to accept.

A question which got me thinking was what is the best classification scheme for an academic library? Many different suggestions were put forward on the best scheme and I don't think a consensus was reached. Cambridge has its own unique system and it's the only one I've ever used (as a cataloguer). The question did get me thinking about the pitfalls of a library having its own system and multiple systems being used in libraries in general. Does this prepare users for finding information? Students at Cambridge have to use multiple schemes across different college and faculty libraries and I'm undecided about whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, if they only had to use one system this may make it easier for them to find resources across the libraries. On the other hand, having different systems can encourage them to actually use subject indexing to look for the resources. I'm sure there is no one perfect answer and the best method is something which makes it as easy as possible for users to find what they need.

There were other topics covered but I feel that I have gone on long enough! ukclibchat posts excellent summaries of their chats so I advise anyone interested to have a look there for a more thorough discussion of the issues.

Saturday 11 February 2012

ALCTS Eforum - What Does Advocacy Mean for Technical Services?

Earlier this week I was lurking on the ALCTS eforum on the advocacy of technical services. I say lurking since I didn't really get up the courage to make many contributions but I did find reading the incoming emails very interesting. This was my first experience with an eforum (being technologically slow) but I don't think it will be my last. They seem to be an excellent way to talk to others that you would otherwise have no interaction with, even if the time difference did make things a little complicated! I just wanted to touch on some thoughts that I found particularly interesting.

The first question asked to the forum focused on a definition of advocacy. Many good definitions were proposed but the one that stuck out for me was submitted by Cynthia Whitacre of OCLC. She highlighted how important it was to advocate not just to the outside world but also to others within our institutions. She says: we need our colleagues within the library to understand the crucial role that we play in making sure the library is a smoothly functioning organism.

This was a call that was echoed by a lot of other posts such as Kristin Martin’s observation that before one can begin advocating for the department, one needs to be working and demonstrating expertise to colleagues throughout the library. This was something that struck a chord with me. I’m currently trying to get a blog started in order to promote the work of the Cataloguing Department, and the rest of the division, to the outside world. I’ve had a lot of encouragement from librarians outside my library but I have to say that I’ve been disappointed with the reaction of some of my colleagues. No one has been actively hostile towards it but the most common response has been: who would want to read that? Well actually, quite a lot of people! I also worry about how many people will want to contribute to the blog. It’s meant to be a division wide project but at this point I can see it being run by only a dedicated few. If people in my own department can’t see the point of this sort of advocacy, then will anyone outside the department? If anyone has any advice on how to inspire others to get involved in projects like this then please let me know!

Heather Jardine, from City of London libraries, called for everyone who works in technical services to promote their work at any opportunity. She encouraged us to never be apologetic about our roles. I know too many cataloguers who do this, including myself on occasion. I actually really enjoy my job but sometimes I feel that cataloguers are seen as the poor relation in the library world. This is a misconception that advocacy can help to change.

Another excellent point was made by David Moody, Cataloguing Librarian at the University of Detroit Mercy. David pointed out that just because cataloguing is not a user facing service, this doesn't mean that it doesn't serve users. He makes the point that we might be serving the public indirectly, but that's still the motivation for what we do. This point was echoed by many others on the forum. Cataloguing is at its heart a user service. If the books are not catalogued then they cannot be found by users. End of story. Lauren Noel made the point that cataloguing is the first step in the reference process. If the book is not properly catalogued and indexed then how is the reference librarian supposed to know that it's there? Others pointed out that so-called ‘technical services’ help to provide the infrastructure of the library and make it possible for people to find the resources that they need. I think that this is a point that sometimes gets lost. Cataloguers tend to be perceived as stuck in a back room somewhere far away from human interaction. Whilst this might be true to some extent, I don’t think this makes what we do any less valuable. Without us the library would be a lovely building filled with resources that no one would have a hope of actually finding!

Duncan Stewart said that my experience is that most administrators are very much aware of the COSTS of tech services, but not always the benefits. This also rang true with a lot of other people on the forum and is a major reason why advocacy of cataloguing has become even more of a pressing issue. Unless cataloguers can prove their worth I'm afraid that we will be amongst the first in the firing line. The time for assuming that everyone understands the importance of what we do is long over and we need to compete with other departments to show our value.

Following on from this, several contributors talked about how to demonstrate the value of cataloguing. I'm currently researching impact (although not of cataloguing) for my MSc dissertation so this was interesting to me. I know through my own research that impact is an EXTREMELY hard concept to measure. Suggestions made by the group included a lot of statistical references that I'm afraid went way over my head, but it was an interesting concept which merits further discussion.

Several suggestions were made of ways in which cataloguing departments could promote their department. These included newsletter contributions, orientation tours for new library staff/faculty members which include a look at what the cataloguing department actually does, visits for outside librarians and various social media efforts.

One of my favourite discussions of the forum was about the 'elevator speeches' that cataloguers gave when describing their jobs in short. There were many wonderful suggestions which showcased the importance of our work but the best was from Tricia Jauquet who described working in cataloguing as basically what people think magic elves do. This has to be one of the better job descriptions that I've ever heard! But maybe it is time for the elves to come out of the backroom and show everybody else the magic?

The parting shot of the eforum was: LIVE LONG AND ADVOCATE! The forum gave me lots of ideas which I hope to be able to feed back to the advocacy group that I work with. I think that this discussion highlighted many reasons why advocacy is now a vital part of any librarians role rather than an added extra. Whilst some of the stories of woe in technical services departments didn’t make for very cheery reading, it was reassuring to know that we all seem to be facing the same problems. Hopefully now we can work together to solve them!

photo credit: JonathanCohen via photopin cc

Friday 3 February 2012

Library Day in the Life - day five

This is my final day of the Library Day in the Life project. It's been an interesting if somewhat tiring experience writing up what I do each day!

Today was very much like any other day in the English Cataloguing Department with the usual mix of tasks that I've outlined in my previous posts. In addition to these, today I catalogued some music books. Although we have a music department the responsibility for cataloguing so-called secondary music books falls to us, for example biographies of musicians or music textbooks. The music shelf can always be guaranteed to turn up some gems, such as "Elvis and his Pelvis" or today's biography of Boyzone!

My favourite book in the department today has been one that I didn't personally work on but I think still deserves a mention. "Knitted Dinosaurs" is one of those books that everyone wants to look at and one reason why we are so keen to start a department blog. I also think it does a good job of showing that not all the material that we process is the standard academic type that most people expect. I've said it before but the diversity in the material is one reason why I really do love my job.

At lunchtime today I watched the live chat at the Guardian website which focused on "The Evolving Role of the Higher Education Librarian". There was a lot of interesting discussion and I hope to go through the chat later and maybe write up my thoughts. I wish I could have contributed but I felt that everyone else was already saying what I was thinking and in a much more eloquent way!

I hope that anyone who has stuck with me for the past week has enjoyed reading my posts. I know that I've enjoyed discovering a little more about what people do in their different library environments each day.

Thursday 2 February 2012

Library Day in the Life - day four

Day four of my contribution to the Library Day in the Life project has been pretty similar to the last few days. Cataloguing is a repetitive job by nature but this doesn't mean that it has to be boring. One advantage to working in a Legal Deposit library is that we get a huge range of books so we can be dealing with the latest celebrity biography one minute and a book on quantum physics the next. This helps to stop the work becoming boring, for me at least!

Only a couple of differences in today's work flow. As well as the usual fast-track procedures I catalogued some periodicals. Whilst this is usually the job of the (you guessed it) Periodicals Department, some of the issues are classed as needing separate cataloguing. Usually this is because they are special issues such as conference papers.

The other new activity for today was a brief discussion about starting a blog for the Collection Development and Description Division at the library. We want to explain more to our users and other librarians about what we do and a blog seemed like a natural way to do this. I'm pleased to report that things will hopefully be progressing soon so we had a (very) mini brainstorming session about how to move forward with it.

Tomorrow is the last day of my libday8 week - hopefully I can still find something interesting to say!

Wednesday 1 February 2012

Library Day in the Life - day three

Welcome to day three of my Library Day in the Life!

Since today is another English Cataloguing day I started off with some reshelving. Thankfully there wasn't too much today and only one reader query so I was back to my desk fairly soon. The next task was to finish off the work that was left unfinished as a result of the computer problems yesterday. This involved updating the records of the books that I had fetched and passing the entered books to the catalogue before taking them to the Labelling Department.

Another job of the fast-track cycle is to upgrade the basic BNB records that we download at the time of the books receipt. These basic records are on our system with the expectation that they will be overwritten by the full level record as soon as it becomes available. This happens in almost all cases but there are always a few that get missed for one reason or another and require some cataloguer intervention. Usually this is because the book is a reprint or a new edition and the system is not one hundred per cent sure that it matches. These records only require minimal editing so the job didn't take too long. There were a lot of sports books in this batch though - not really my favourite area!

My next task of the day was to work through some series queries. Cataloguers on the fast track team get periodic reports of records that have entries which claim to be series titles and need manual checking. This is a really straightforward process since almost all of the time the problem is that there's a slight difference between the series form as it appears on the book and its authorised form. For any non-cataloguers out there here is an example: an edition of Pride and Prejudice by Penguin may have the series "Modern classics" on the title page. The authorised version is actually "Penguin modern classics" and so this would need to be reflected in the record. Again, this is just a quick job which can be done with one click of the mouse but requires human eyes to make sure that everything goes where it belongs!

For anyone still with me (and not yet in a coma from my description of cataloguing!) I'll describe my final couple of jobs for the day. I did some copy cataloguing of a batch of bought material (see my day two post for a description) and finished off the day by cataloguing some audio-visual material. This was mostly CD-ROMs which come with the books and require a little extra attention.

And that was pretty much it! One small extra that I did at lunchtime was to read a couple more libday8 posts by fellow cataloguers. There is an list on the excellent HV Cats blog for anyone who wants to read a far more interesting account than this has been!