Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Night Off

Last night after work, I was completely unplugged - no homework, no email, no blogging (reading or writing), no internet surfing, no work from home, etc. It was wonderful - and just the thing to recoup from the homework assignment that I had due on Monday. But now, it is back to cyberworld!!!

Monday, June 26, 2006

To Get Personal or Not?

As a rather introverted person, I often share very little of my personality with those people who I do not know well. This isn’t necessarily intended - I’m simply tend to be very quiet. I don’t often talk to people unless they talk to me first (not because I think this is right, just because). In junior high school, I was voted “most quiet” and only escaped that title in high school when the powers that be decided they would prefer to have more innovative “most likely to” lists (a fact for which I will forever be grateful). However, in one class during my senior year, the teacher had everyone pick another student’s name out of a hat and write a synopsis of that person’s life for the next 10 years. The person who picked my name wrote a rather hysterical piece about “my quiet existence.” It was predicted that I would marry a mute and due to the lack of verbal conversation eventually stop speaking altogether. Fortunately, despite my quiet nature, I have a great sense of humor - and probably found this synopsis funnier than anyone else. I am happy to say that I did not marry a mute (Don’t many people marry opposites? This is also partly because I don’t often talk to quiet people) and actually do enjoy talking to people - just not in crowds. The point of this, is that when trying something new (like blogging), I am often unsure and tentative. It usually takes time for me to feel comfortable enough to open up about myself or to participate. This is one reason why I have added very little of a personal nature to this blog.

However, I have to say that some of my favorite blogs have a great deal of personal information that makes one feel as if they are getting a glimpse of the person behind the written word. Much of this introspection was prompted by a really nice post by Mark Lindner at . . .the thoughts are broken . . . who lets a great deal of himself shine through in his blog. I really identified with his comment that “This whole web thing is so very odd.” It seems very odd that one can create a web presence and people actually do read it. Much like Mark, I spend time looking at feed stats and web stats and often wonder about those who read my blog. Given that I initially created this blog as a way to document my progress through graduate school with content in which only I would be interested - and possibly my professors or advisors since I plan to use this as the base for my eportfolio - I am often amazed that there are people who do visit the site. I generally don’t obsess about it - but mostly because I don’t let myself think about it. But again, “This whole web thing is so very odd.”

Anyway, Mark (since you asked), I find your blog very fascinating and enjoyable. You often have a different perspective on topics than I do, but I am a firm believer that this is how we learn, expand our own knowledge base and gain the confidence to form our own beliefs. I don’t often read your posts about the music you are listening to or the movies you have seen, but have come to understand that these are important parts of your life. Don’t change a thing!

The other post of a personal nature that I really enjoyed is Meredith Farkas’ post You may not be the person you think you are from Information Wants to Be Free. The past couple of years have been (probably just the start) of a journey of self discovery for me. Returning to school has been part of this whole process where I have been trying to challenge the “safe boundaries” that I have set for myself throughout the years. Meredith put it better by asking what if you aren’t the person you think you are. While my story is of course different than Meredith’s (I have always been very happy with the person I am), I took comfort in her story. Despite being happy with the person I am, life throws curve balls at incovenient times that can make one doubt one’s selve. So, we have to throw some of our own curve balls back at life - and I think that trying to look at ourselves in different lights may be part of this. Thanks Meredith!!!!!

Ultimately, these two posts made me realize that the addition of personal information helps to add tremendously to one’s blog. Without a doubt, my favorite blogs contain a great deal of personal reflection. I also think the personal reflections are an important part of my journey through graduate school - and through life. Sometime, I will share the story of why my biggest fear in life is blue toilet paper (yes, it really is!).

First Assignment Completed

I just emailed my first assignment for ILS506 (Information Analysis and Organization) to the professor. I have to say that I am incredibly nervous and stressed out about this one. We were given 5 titles to catalog and were asked to cite the rules from AACR2 that supported our decisions. Now, I am pretty familiar with MARC formatting, but this assignment was killer. I can’t even say how many times I changed my mind about what information should be put where. I spent the entire weekend with my face buried in AACR2. I feel as is I have a great grasp on the rules, but not always how to implement them in situations that are not clear cut. Additionally, my classmates were asking questions in the class discussion area all weekend about specific rules, etc. I had to stop reading their questions because they were making me question decisions that I had already made (and thought I was fine with).

At this point, I am thrilled that I am done - and trying to not worry too much about the grade (which is 25% of the overall grade). There isn’t anything I can do about it now. I definitely need some space from AACR2, MARC tags and all of the rest of this cataloging stuff!!!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Homework is Going Well

I have been faithfully spending time every day working on homework - and this is definitely a necessity with cataloging! I have started work on the assignment that we have due on Monday evening - an assignment to catalog 5 different books with full descriptive cataloging. So far, AACR2 rules for title statements (245), edition statement (250 - this one is way easy), publishing information (260), and physical description (300) are perfectly clear. Well, admittedly, sometimes the title statement can get tricky - especially with translated works, works attributed to material by others, etc. The 4XX and 5XX fields are becoming a bit clearer. Obviously, they are still complicated for items with many notes or bizarro series titles - but, I'm getting the hang of it. I haven't been working that long with main and added entries. As such, I need more time exploring how to create these. However, I'm feeling as if I have a good basis for the upcoming assigment. And that is a relief. Four days ago, I was getting nervous because I was still very confused. Anyway, my head is filled with visions of MARC fields - and I think that means I'm done for the night!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Fun with MARC Fields

Well as resolved, I did immerse myself in homework last night - immersing myself in AACR2 rules for the 245, 250, 260, 300, 4XX, and 5XX fields. This week, we are focusing on access points (main and added entries), but I did think I could use some refreshing on the 245, 260, 300, 4XX and 5XX fields (the 250, I have down). I feel like I have a good handle on them (well, much better than I did yesterday). I will admit the whole 440/490 - 830 thing will take some work to get down. But, I know I was getting tired while trying to master the question of figuring out the appropriate Series Title and then deciding whether to index it or not. And then the decision about indexing the title in a different format in the 830??? My head was spinning before I gave up to watch the Red Sox dominate the Washington Nationals. (I like big leads - watching the game is much more relaxing that way).

So, I think that spending some time on this each day will be essential to keep up. The good thing is that much of the work is cumulative. Each week, we catalog several new documents - and that helps keep the earlier stuff fresh in my head. Anyway, I feel much better about this class than I did even a week ago. Repetition is key to much of these principles and rules. I will admit that reading and interpreting AACR2 is no fun!!! On to main and added entries . . .

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Back to School Work

Ok, I pretty much just lost the post that I wrote under this heading - my first blogging mishap. ARGH!! I'm thinking that the loss of the original post may be a sign that since I was writing about my need to buckle down and do some homework, I really should not worry about it. Unfortunately, that won't work. I have been spending a great deal of time thinking about, reading about, writing about and thinking some more about OPACs and how to make them better. While this has been great for helping me come to grips with this issue, it hasn't been so great for my school work.

So, I resolve to :
  • dedicate my entire evening doing homework - committing AACR2 rules to memory (ok, that may not happen)
  • dedicate some time every day to working on homework
  • get cracking on my cataloging assignment that is due on June 26th
  • end my blogging addiction. Fortunately, help is available.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Additional Thoughts on the OPAC

Helene Blowers at Library TechBytes points out that we, in the library community, share responsibility for the state of our ILS systems. She suggests that we have demanded that ILS vendors create specialized systems that are tailored to our individual organization with little thought of flexibility. I would agree. I think that today's mind set of being able to customize programs and interfaces per library, but more importantly per user, is a relatively recent concept. Helene also points out how difficult it is to change people's habits. Again, I agree. Many library people are not unhappy with their ILS systems and/or OPACs. They may accept them because "this is the way it has always been done," because they actually don't find a problem with it or for any number of other reasons. Many people do not like change - they will accept something the way it is simply because they prefer the devil they know to the one they do not. Overcoming this attitude is hard. It requires agents of change who can gently handly many types of personalities. Only when a group is ready for change, can we move forward. Achieving this desired change requires a great deal of self-examination (library as self). Re-examining circulation and collection procedures should definitely be revisited. A natural part of Library 2.0 (or just normal evolution - I like Meredith Farkas am not a big fan of labels) should always about questioning existing policies and procedures on a regular basis.

So ultimately, we aren't just looking at ways to improve our OPAC. I think we are looking to improve our libraries and our way of business. Most of our policies and procedures were developed before the internet, before the advent of full-text resources, etc. Maybe we should be starting by looking at our mission statements, reexaming our services, question everything, think about all aspects of our day-to-day business. Only when we truly understand ourselves can we even begin to try and understand our patrons. Hopefully, if we do it right, we will be better able to deal with future changes in a more timely manner.

The OPAC Debate Continues. . .

John Blyberg over at put together a wrap up of recent blog conversations about the state of the library ILS/OPAC. This is a great post and worthy of a perusal or two - there are some good comments too. On the first subject regarding difficulty with ILS vendors, I feel compelled to keep silent. I do work in systems in an academic library - with a vendor supplied ILS. However, this blog is not associated with my place of work - and my opinions on the matter are only my own. Decisions about our ILS and our OPAC are made by a larger group of which I am but a small part (I may have more influence as the sys admin, but I do not work in a bubble). I do believe it is not fair for me to discuss my opinions of our vendor in this particular forum. I will say that blogs are revolutionizing the ways in which customers can do research about companies and their products. Vendors (as well as customers) need to be aware of the implications of their actions - especially those actions that deal with trying to stifle or intimidate people's right to free speech (or for customers - actions that may unfairly malign a company name).

As for OPACs, John's summation of Peter Murray's Is the Writing on the Wall for the Integrated Library System? got me thinking about several things. Like John, I agree with Peter that the "ILS/OPAC" is an an asset management system tool - one which the library needs in order to operate. I would also agree that OPACs do get used - and add that this is the case in academic libraries as well. Students do tend to gravitate towards database aggregators to find full-text articles first, but they do use OPACs to search for materials with remarkable frequency (remarkable given that recent debates often give the impression that OPACs are unusable). In the library where I work, we could not survive without our OPAC (sucky or not). This does make the OPAC a useful tool as an interface into our ILS. It may not be the best interface and it may not even be the right solution to meet the needs of our users, but right now it is really the only window into the ILS that we have.

Additionally, this post really made me think about the tendency to lump our criticisms of ILSs and OPACs into one bundle. I wonder if this is a mistake. The user doesn't care one bit about our ILS and what it does (or doesn't do). It cares about the interface and the ease of finding information. Users don't want to restrict their search to just our asset management system. As such, I think it would be helpful to separate the two discussions. What we want from our ILS vendor or open-source systems is very different from what our users want/need in our interface into that system. I also think that by lumping the ILS/OPAC together, people tend to focus on the problems with the OPAC rather than on the back end of the interface. To build a better system, I really believe that we need to think of these two entities independently - because they both need revamping. Determine what the user needs. Determine what the library needs. Then, make sure your ILS the information required by both. Anyway, it helps me tremendously to think of the ILS and the OPAC as separate entities.

I do also like John's take on my post Are We Really Ready to Say Goodbye to the Sucky OPAC? From my perspective in a small academic library, we are only just starting to develop the "vision, passion, and courage" that is necessary for change. Right now, I feel like the most important thing that I can do is to help get those I work with to develop a vision, a plan and a purpose. I've said before that without buy in from those with whom we work, we would only be imposing change - which I can only see as hurting the end user. Meanwhile, we work on small change within our current infrastructure - and this is the best thing that we can do for our users at the moment. Some have suggested that spending time on broken systems may be a waste. However, I can't agree. Current OPACs can be made more usable. And I think this is also an important step in this whole process. If nothing else, it helps us define and refine the user experience.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

What Doesn’t Work So Well Online

This summer, I am taking ILS506 - Information Analysis and Organization (aka the cataloging class). Only in the third week of class, it has become incredibly apparent to me that this is one class that would be much easier in a traditional classroom setting. I have a reasonably good background in MARC format, indexing rules, LCSH, authority work, etc. I worked as a government documents assistant and did copy cataloging of said government documents for several years. Despite this, reading and figuring out AACR2 rules on your own is a highly difficult task. Online classes take self-discipline, but a class with incredibly detailed oriented (and confusing as heck) rules requires more than simple self discipline. I have read the relevant sections of AACR2. However, reading them is no way to get the intricacies of creating Title statements / Statement of responsibility in MARC 245 fields. I would think that working through examples in a classroom setting with guidance from the professor would be wonderful!!!!!

This is in no way a criticism of my current class. The professor has provided detailed answers to the exercises and notes based on discussion questions raised by students. I think he is doing a great job so far. This is just an observation - and is the first time I have missed the face-to-face interaction. I really need to sit down and spend much more time doing the exercises. I think that repetition will be the key to getting some of this stuff down pat. And, yes, I so badly want to look at official cataloging records in OCLC - but I will persevere in order to learn this stuff!!!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Academic library 2.0 concept model

Wow! I love this model. I think it is right on - and a great way to envision the role of the library. I guess I've never really thought about libraries sitting physically between the social and academic parts of the student experience in college. It seems like such a simple concept - yet not one that everyone grasps. I think many academic libraries identify solely with the academic part of the college experience - and this might account for some of the hesitation in adopting social software. Often if something doesn't support the academic mission of the college, it gets vetoed. However, it would be difficult to argue that libraries are not social spaces - just social spaces in which academic endeavors take place. Michael Habib argues that libraries have traditionally straddled the social and physical parts of a student's life. With some thought, I agree - but I'm not sure many library people think about libraries in this light. A big thanks to Michael Habib for posting this.

Image from habibmi - Flckr
Michael Habib's blog entry -
Conceptual model for Academic Library 2.0

Are We Really Ready to Say Goodbye to the Sucky OPAC?

Comments** from Jane from A Wandering Eyre on my last post started me thinking about what our expectations for the OPAC and its reincarnation are (and even what they should be). I am extremely excited about the conversations taking place about library catalogs. They are a great step forward in the evolution of library systems. I personally believe that the OPAC needs a complete overhaul, but is this a realistic expectation for the immediate future? From my perspective working in systems in a small academic library, I am positive that our OPAC will be our main interface for the public for the forseeable future. This means that regardless of what we think our systems should be, we need to deal with the situation at hand. So, this leads me to ask - are we really ready to say goodbye to the sucky OPAC?

While I know that there is a whole group of library bloggers who would shout YES to this question, I really can't imagine that most libraries would be able to ditch their OPAC in the immediate future. Most of us are not at this point. First of all, there isn't enough buy in from library staff. And this is a big point. As much as forcing change on users is not a good idea, it isn't any better to force it on library staff. Second of all, major changes require planning (many people have commented about the pace of change in libraries) be it for budgetary support, technological support or just for good implementation. And at this point, there isn't a good consensus about what it is that we need in place of the OPAC. There is no system in place from which we at smaller institutions can use to build upon. Third, the amount of money we have invested in our current library system means it isn't going anywhere soon. Regardless of whether this should be the case, it is.

So, this is why I think it is important to spend time tweaking our current systems to make them more usable. Just because the system is sucky doesn't mean that we should just accept it until we come up with something better. I think just giving up on our current systems would do a disservice to our users.

Ultimately, for those who think we need to chuck our sucky OPACs out the door and move on, I would be incredibly interested to hear their views on what would replace it. What is the vision? How does it work? How do we implement it? Do we even know what it should be? (I know I don't know enough about the users needs and search habits at my library to think I have a handle on this.) I'm obviously still formulating my thoughts on this issue - and haven't gotten far beyond the realization that our current systems are not cutting it.

Update to Post - 6/15/06
**Jane's comments were posted to my wordpress blog - additional comments on A Wandering Eyre

The Main Reason I think OPACs are a Problem

Adding the discussion about why OPACs suck, Jane from A Wandering Eyre elaborated on her belief that her OPAC sucks with some solid reasons why (in a post entitled Actual Reasons Why My OPAC Sucks). All of her reasons are right on the money. I would have to add that the Main Reason I Think OPACs are a Problem is simply because it isn’t clear to most users what they are designed to do. We certainly point them to the catalog to find hard copies of materials, but users do not come into the library understanding how this works.

The function of OPACs is not clear to average library users.

Anyway, I like this part of the “Sucky OPAC” debate the best. In order to find ways to improve our systems (or build better ones), we have to have a solid idea of what we need (or at the very least what we need to get rid of). We can’t fully predict what funtionality would make our users think more often of using library systems. For many of us, it is apparent that we need to do something in order to provide better service to our patrons.

The theoretical debates about OPACs are somewhat centered around the perfect system to replace OPACs. However, I think that we need to be seriously thinking about what we can do to improve the situation with our current systems. My OPAC is not going away, so I need to try and figure out creative ways of working with it to provide better service here and now.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Motivation Behind the Search

In reading different blog posts, articles, listserv emails, etc. about problems with library search mechanisms, one will inevitably come across conversations regarding the debate over dumbing down library web sites. There are many who believe that users need to be taught to use library services and that we are "dumbing down" our systems if we remove or reconfigure little used functionality. While I personally understand the arguments on both sides of the debate, I find the overall debate to be a bit off-putting. A recent post by Iris at Pegasus Librarian included the following phrase:

. . . "What's Better? Dumbed Down or Loaded with Functionality" (don't get me started on the ideology of "either-or" that's inherent in this question).

This phrase made me realize that I am bothered by the debate because of the inherent "either-or." Trying to make search mechanisms easier to use for our patrons isn't dumbing them down. By the same token, there may be some things that a user needs to learn to use a library effectively. We can't expect users to learn complicated systems (subject searchine with Library of Congress Subject Headings comes to mind immediately), but they will probably be able to learn how to use intuitive and friendly systems with decent interfaces. People do learn how to use search sites such as Google, Amazon and Ebay - even though they may not realize they are learning as they search. This makes the learning process seemless to the patron - something that we should strive for in designing library systems.

Iris makes another point about the motivation of the user. Someone who believes that a system has the information they need may well make several attempts to find the answer. The problem here is that the majority of library users don't know or don't believe that our library systems have any information they need - but they do believe that Google has answers. While I am not specifically trying to say that users would be able to successfully use our systems if they knew what they contained (we still need better systems), I do think that this highlights the need for better marketing. Better marketing is an integral piece of this whole puzzle.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Unit 2 - Descpritive Cataloging & MARC Structures: Part 1. AACR2, Chapter 1-2

Lecture Notes

Descriptive cataloging & different formats for bibliographic description: ISBD & MARC.

ISBD Areas:
Area 1: MARC 245 field (subfields $a, $b, & $c) - Title & statement of responsibility
Area 2: MARC 250 field (subfields $a & $b) - Edition statement & statement of responsibiity fo edition
Area 3: Not used in bib description of books
Area 4: MARC 260 (subfields $a, $b, $c, $e, $f, & $g) - Place, publisher & date
Area 5: MARC 300 (subfields $a,$b,$c, & $e) - # of volumes, pagination, illustrative matter; dimension, accompanying material

Descriptive cataloging - allows user to find title, publisher, data, & # of pages. Based on rules from 1st part of AACR2.

ISBD & MARC record are different representations of a bibliographic entity. ISBD cards can be generated from MARC data.

Area 1: Title Proper : other title information / statement of responsibilityOne of most complex areas of cataloging record.

Readings & Assignments for Unit 2:
Review & consult AACR2 (1.0-1.1g4 & 2.0-2.1G2).Work through Manheimer's cataloging examples (pp.9-19).2 cataloging assignments based on MARC 245 & 300 fields.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

What I Want From a Library - I’m a User Too!!

I have spent a great deal of time thinking about libraries and how they can be improved for our users. This morning (while doing homework), it dawned on me that although I work in a library, I am also a student who uses a library. Maybe I need to step out of my work persona and think about how I use the library as a student - think about what works well and what doesn't. Using a library as a remote user has been a new experience for me - as has enrolling in a distance education program. From a distance, my interaction with the SCSU library has been very different from my previous experiences as a library user.

In this vein, I came up with several observations about what I need from the library in order to support my graduate learning experience. In a nutshell, my first big revelation is that as a distance education student, the library as a physical space doesn't interest me at all. I will never set foot in the library on SCSU's campus, so to me it doen't really exist as an entity. The actual collection of print material is unreal to me - my entire experience of the library will be virtual. The library should silently support my learning experience - in the background. [As a side note, the library does offer great support. The library staff has been excellent at supporting the needs of its distance education students. I have been very impressed. However, I think that migrating library resources into WebCT would offer better service to the students.]

As a student at SCSU, I have at least three different systems that I have to log into: MySCSU - where I read my email and access the student services systems (for registration, grades, etc.), the OnlineCSU system - the WebCT portal where online classes are held, and the library proxy server for off-campus access to resources. All three have different usernames and passwords which is cumbersome. Ideally, I would like to have one interface. I don't want a separate library interface - I think it should be included in one SCSU interface. Since the library isn't a real entity, I don't really want to go to it directly. Access to the library would work best if I could search for information directly from my class portal.

Interlibrary loan is something upon which distance education students have to rely heavily. This is something that I think should be accessible from the WebCT class portal - as opposed to being a separate form accessible from the library's web site. ILL is one of the major services that I need from the SCSU library (along with access to online full-text resources). Ideally, I would also like to be able to have a system that would populate my personal information (name, address, etc) automatically. Currently, I have to fill out a form for each ILL request and type in my name and personal information each time.

Podcasts (or some other type of audio/video feeds) would be wonderful. Faculty could make some of the lectures that they give in traditional classes available to distance students and/or different programs offered on campus could be broadcast. This might make me feel as if I had some type of connection to faculty members and to my fellow students. This would also allow me to feel as if I was a part of the campus community - not to mention some of the programs sound very interesting. Obviously students in a distance education program cannot participate in meetings, clubs and groups without some type of technological wizardry. I believe that if a school is committed to a distance education program, the powers that be need to find alternate ways to make students feel as if they are part of the campus community. (Note to administrators: Such inclusive programs might help students feel as if they are an important and vital part of the school. Think about alumni contributions down the line. If I feel as if I was an important part of your university, I might be more tempted to contribute financially.) How does the library fit into this? I'm not sure. I don't really care what their role is - if they even have one. I just want it all to work well.

I'm sure there will be other thoughts that surface on this issue. For now, I feel as if looking at library services from the perspective of a student has been an eye-opening experience. I can't believe that it took me this long to remember that I work in a library, but that I am a library user and that my experience as a user is can help me make my library a better place for patrons. Wow - where I have been??? This allows me to think about the library where I work in a whole new light.

Anyway, the bottom line is that the library itself is not important to me. The services they offer are important, but I think they should be offered in one central portal with audio/video services to make me feel as if I can participate in campus events.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Library Web Site Redesigns

Dorothea Salo just posted a really great piece about The dreaded redesign over at the TechEssence.Info blog. As my library’s web manager (who just finished a “minor” home page revision), I read this post with extreme interest. I really like Dorothea’s message about breaking down the web site to just content. Looking at sites this way should enable people to focus simply on the content and not get too bogged down in presentation (We often think about the presentation way too early in the design process - sometimes even let the design influence the content). The point about needing to weed material is important also. We often have a tendency to leave material on our web site forever once it is created. Weeding is always a difficult task, but I think it can help eliminate the problem of page bloat.

One of the best things that I got from this post is the idea that we need to be thinking about our sites in their entirety rather than on a page by page basis. Given time restraints, changes to library services, man-power issues and a whole host of other factors, we often have to edit pages without regard to how they fit into the overall picture. We have a design that may or may not work well for our current infrastructure. However, once we make changes to that infrastructure, our web site may become choppy. Things may start to lose their place and the overall design of the page starts to suffer. I personally do not think that this problem will go away until we start to think about how library decisions will impact our web site, our services and how we present material to our users (and get decent content management systems - we are not even close to this point where I work).

I’m really looking forward to the promised future posts about information-architecture tools and techniques. I find web site management to be one of the most challenging aspects of my job and really feel as if these types of discussions help me become better at it. Thanks for taking the time to write about this Dorothea!!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Users: How Do We Understand Their Needs?

In many library blog conversations, one of the central themes is the user - tailoring libraries and library systems to users - viewing our services through the eyes of the user in order to determine how best to improve them. A post by Eric Schnell, What Library Customers Want Vs What They Do? from The Medium is the Message got me thinking more about this issue. Schnell writes:

The issue is not a gap between what librarians think our current customers need and what they think they need. In fact, we are pretty good about understanding our current customer's basic needs (yep, they need everything online so they can print it off!).

Instead, the gap is between what our customers think they need and what they are actually doing! This question is what ethnography tries to answer.

I agree that we are good at understanding our patrons' basic needs (and being able to access everything online so they can print it is highly important at my library too). It is the third sentence that I think we need to think much more about. Ultimately, there is often a definite gap between what users say they need and what their actions imply they may need. In the reference class that I took last this past semester, there were several readings about how reference librarians need to carefully listen to the user and often times negotiate with the user to better understand what the user is asking for. Librarians need to pay attention to body language, mannerisms, etc. in order to hear what may not be explicitly stated. These points were heavily stressed in the readings and especially in the textbook.

I'm wondering if this is why we often make unconscious assumptions about what users want. It seems that we rely heavily upon our own interpretation of events when it comes to the users and have been taught to do so. If it is necessary to make interpretations when helping users with reference questions then it seems to me that we must also make interpretations about what users say they need in terms of library services and systems. How do we do this without imposing our own biases, knowledge-base or without unconsciously deciding what we think is best? How do we truly get a clear picture of our users and what they need?

I think it is obvious that usability testing and studies is one of the main ways that we can figure some of these things out. Users don't always articulate their needs accurately - I think this is because they are often asked to tell us there needs in an artificial situation (a survey). Actually watching them try and find information, answer questions and use services can tell us much more about their habits and about what roadblocks they encounter along the way. I'm actually interested in reading more about the ethnography approach. This sounds like a very interesting way to learn more about users and how to make meet their needs more efficiently.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Unit 1 - Intro. to Info Analysis & Organization - Readings

Lecture Notes

Cataloging work generally takes place behind the scenes. Cataloging is a technology because it is comprised of procedures, machines, conventions, and knowledge. It is a complex procedure.
Information analysis and organization makes up the foundation of information dissemination and use. There are four main activities: acquistion, organization, storage and dissemination of information. The principal responsibilities of the professional librarian are 1)to establish, develop, and maintain information centers to preserve human knowledge, 2)to classify and organize human knowledge, and 3)to make human knowledge accessible.

Cataloging is part of field of bibliographic control which aids in location and retrieval of information - all types of information, not just print resources. Catalogs usually represent one institution's collection.

In 1961, IFLA defined the author/title catalog as one that allows user to figure out if a library has a book based on 1)its author and title 2)its title alone if there is no author or 3)a suitable substitute for the title.

The 1961 Paris Principles required that an author/title catalog allow users to determine which works by an author and which editions of a work were in the library.

Holistic vs. prescriptive technologies:
Holistic technologies - those that allow one to control the procedures and the processes. Prescriptive technologies - transfer control from the individual to the external agent. Cataloging is a prescriptive technology.

Cataloging - 3 activities:
1. description of physical object - based on physical examination - determined by Chaption 1 of AACR2 - need knowledge of AACR2
2. development of access points - main vs. added entries - primary and secondary authorship of work - use of cross referenences (see references and see also references) - use of rules in Part 2 of AACR2 - assignment of topical/subject headings using controlled vocabulary - not covered by AACR2 - use of LC Subject Headings
3. classification - pointer to physical location - allows for browsing - assignment of classification number based on subject and other identifying information to create call number - in class will concentrate on LC call numbers
Importance of LC in support documentation for cataloging.

MARC - Machine Readable Cataloging - LC is responsible for maintaining MARC standards

Chapter 1 from Lois Mai Chan's Cataloging and Classification: An Introduction

Bibliographic control - consists of indexing, classification & descriptive & subject cataloging.
Authority control - use of uniform terms for names and topics (as access points).

Bibliographic records - 2 parts
1) identifying data
2) atleast 1 access point

Main Entry Vs. Added EntriesMain entry - has full description - chief access point - usually the author/corporate body - useful to have standard convention for citation
Forms of Catalog:card catalogbook catalogmicroform catalogonline catalog
Arrangement of Records in Catalogalphabetical vs. systematic (or classified) - shelflist is a variant of a classified catalog

Cataloging Files
1) bibliographic file - represents library holdings - bib record for every item with multiple access points - 2 types of cross references (see and see also)
2) shelflist - subset of bib file arranged in shelf order - usually call number - for inventory control and to facilitate call number assignment - contains additional information like library holdings, notes
3) authority file(s) - standardized forms of names and topical terms that are used as headings (access points and their associated cross-references

Cataloging Procedures
1) descriptive cataloging - preparationof bib descriptions & determination of bib access points - drafting bib info (title, author, edition, place, date of publication, publisher, physical description, series info & notes - deciding on main & added entries as access points - deciding upon proper form for names and titles - done according to accepted standards (AACR2R)
2) subject analysis -subject cataloging - heading assignment & classification from authorized lists (LCSH or Sears)classification - fiting primary topic of work into classification scheme in use (LC or Dewey) - choose appropriate class number & add book number to form call number3) authority work - determination of standardized forms of subject terms and names - entails both descriptive & subject cataloging - access points are normalized and standardized - uniforms headings - headings are established when used for first time - cross-references are provided to allow access to variant names and for linked references (related headings) - authority work is considered to be most time-consuming & costly aspect of cataloging

MARC tagging
3 digit numerical code or field tag - subfields are id'd by alphabetic or numeric subfield code

The User Certainly Isn’t Broken - But Neither is the Library

Last week, K.G. Schneider wrote a very thought provoking post entitled THE USER IS NOT BROKEN: A MEME MASQUERADING AS A MANIFESTO on her blog, Free Range Librarian. I have to say that I spent all weekend pondering this article, thinking about it, and regurgitating it. She has some awesome points: “The user is not broken, ” “The user is the sun,” and my personal favorite, “The most significant help you can provide your users is to add value and meaning to the information experience, wherever it happens; defend their right to read; and then get out of the way.” All of her points are worth a read - and worth further discussion. (Jane, over at A Wandering Eyre, added some of her own suggestions in a post entitled “We Are Broken, Not “Them.”)

I do have a serious problem with the comment that “Your system is broken until proven otherwise.” I am by no means trying to say that library systems are user friendly, intuitive or even ok the way they are. However, nothing is broken - not the user, not the library, not the people who work in the library nor the library systems in use in the library. Without a doubt, we need to be looking at how our users find information and how we can overhaul our search mechanisms to make our collections accessible. But we do have something in place - and I would go so far as to argue that our systems do actually work. People do find materials that they need - on a regular basis even. I honestly think that our OPACs do exactly what they should do - reflect the data that we have entered about the material that we own in print. Period! Given that users are often frustrated in their searches, OPACs do not work at making our information accessible to the user. So maybe OPACs aren’t the answer at all.

Before these problems can be fully solved, we have to have a clear understanding of users and what they are looking for in the library. I would venture to guess that this will vary greatly from one type of library to another and even from one institution to another. Certainly users expect very different things from a public library than they do from an academic one. One of the biggest problems that we have in my library is that students rely primarily on full text articles - and do the majority of their searching to find such articles. Our OPAC is not an appropriate place to search for articles, and they do not understand why that is. Here is a major point of disconnect - we provide tools that don't do what the users expect them to do.

So what is it exactly that we are hoping to provide to our users? Do we want one search interface for everything that we posess? How do we adequately distinguish between virtual items and tangible ones? Is it realistic to expect one system for books, articles, online material, archives, multimedia and more? Do we plan to provide everything online? Have we clearly defined what we can offer our patrons? Do we even know the full extent of our resources? Where does interaction fit in with all of this? Will the ability to post comments and reviews in our systems help the user find what they are looking for? If we remove library jargon from our web site, what do we replace it with? If a user doesn’t understand the term “interlibrary loan,” what would a good alternative be? I struggle with these questions daily. I haven’t found too many good solutions yet - but I keep trying.

In the meantime, we work hard to help users make sense of it all. We work to be friendly and helpful in the ways that our systems aren’t. Our patrons do come back and they think very highly of us. We are not broken at all.

More Grades are In . . .

My grades were posted a bit earlier than expected. The school lists June 5th as the day grades become available online. However, I was psyched to see them listed earlier. Fortunately, I passed both classes. It is kind of nice to see 9 credits towards my degree. That makes me 1/4 of the way done. YEAH!!!!! While I can't quite see the light at the end of the tunnel, I feel as if I am more entrenched in the program.

And on another happy note, my book for my summer class finally came in on Saturday. Now, I feel like things are complete for the summer.