Saturday, June 5, 2010

Interesting books II

Cataloging books in a library can be like browsing in a bookstore. Of course, the difference is that catalogers supposedly look through the contents of a book to determine its nature, including its physical dimensions, publishing information and possible subject headings, not for the enjoyment or curiosity that one might experience in a store. Otherwise, we would find ourselves processing the incoming books at a much slower rate.

But it can be a pleasure of the job, if nothing else, to see the diversity of books that come through a library. Among recent examples of books I catalogued was one published in 1946 by an electrical company on the new modern house based on electricty -- dishwashers, washing machines, dryers, lamps, radios (no television yet), etc. It was filled with drawings of the ideal family living in the ideal home, actually quite well done, even if it might be considered camp by today's standards. Another book, and we get many of these, was a book of architecture and the home, filled with beautiful photos of homes I could buy only if I won the lottery. Some books are on arcane subjects intended for our specialty branch libraries, such as brand advertising (for Business library). We also get many foreign language books, novels, histories, etc. Some of our books also have accompanying materials, such as CD-ROms or DVDS.

Anyway, one has to find something interesting and even enjoyable to peruse in the books to be cataloged, even if just for a fleeting moment. Otherwise the work would be too monotonous.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Interesting books

Cataloging books at a university library I often come across books that look interesting, but sometimes I also wonder why we would purchase certain books. For example, I just cataloged a French translation of a book originally written in English about the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. We already have the English language book in the library. So what is the point in getting a French translation? Although we have many foreign students here, I doubt there is a great need among our library patrons to read a French translation of this work originally written in English, especially when it will be sitting right next to the original English copy on the bookshelf.

Of course, translated works can be very valuable, as well as foreign language works, of which we have many. But the point of obtaining a book in its original language, even if a translation is available, is because sometimes the original nuances gets lost in translation. And the point of having translated works is to make the books more accessible to the library patrons. But to obtain a translated copy of a book originally written in English does not make much sense.

Sorry to belabor the obvious. In any case it is not my job to choose books for our library, only to catalog them.

Also sorry I have been away from this blog for so long. I will try to post more often.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Library of Congress Classification Web

When I first began cataloging in the library here at UC Berkeley, I would often need to go back to our printed schedules in order to determine the classification number of an item I was cataloging. Now I rarely have to do so, as we have online the Library of Congress Classification Web, which matches LC subject headings with LC and Dewey classification numbers; it also matches LC and Dewey classification numbers, or provides approximate matches. The main subject area that still requires me to go back to the printed schedules is Law, that is the K series. Perhaps there is something I don't know, but it seems that Classification Web does not provide the kind of detailed correlations for subject headings in this area that it provides in all other subject classifications.

I will probably discuss Classification Web more in a future posting.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

OCLC online guide

I was once asked by a library student, how much did I rely on the Anglo-American Cataloging rules in cataloging? Very rarely was my answer. Among my colleagues, there might be some who rely extensively on this guide, but, perhaps in part because I am in copy cataloging, I don't have much need for it. From my perspective, it is like a dictionary or a grammar book.

What I rely on instead is the OCLC online guide. When I first started cataloging here in 1999, I relied on a large looseleaf binder of materials put out by OCLC, but now, I find the same information by right clicking on a particular field, and then taken to that section of the OCLC website. Of course, OCLC operates within the context of the Anglo-American rules, but does so within the MARC format; the MARC format being numbered fields. Some of the Anglo-American cataloging rules might seem almost inexplicable, if minor, for example why a space before and after the colon separating the title from the subtitle of a book? In any case it is important to follow the exact format, particularly since the catalogued items are created in the form of digital records, which must then be integrated with all the other digital records of the library system.

I find the online OCLC guide to be very helpful and easier to consult than the hardcopy version I once relied upon.

Correction: the OCLC guide is actually titled Bibliographic Formats and Standards. Thank you to Dodie Gaudet.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Surfing the web at work

The invention of internet and its use in the workplace has been, for the most part, both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it is a wonderful tool of research and for connecting with various sources and professional colleagues. A curse, at least from management's perspective, because it can become a great distraction, taking valuable time away from the drudgery of work, first email, now youtube, facebook and so on.

I recall when I first began accessing the internet in the early 1990s, with my Mac SE, my 2400 baud dialup modem and "gopher" as my way of navigating the net. This was in the unix based, pre GUI (graphic user interface) era, like the stone age compared to now, where everything was in text format only (hence not that slow even with a 2400 baud modem). Other than finding various sources of information, mainly library or government based, the main features were email and discussion forums either as listservs or on usenet. Yet it could still be quite fascinating and time consuming to discover all that was out there in exploring the internet.

Of course the internet has expanded greatly since that time. Many more people have access to the internet, and now it is possible for virtually everyone to themselves become sources of information through creating their own websites or blogs, such as this one. We can watch television shows, movies or short videos on the net (perhaps eventually leading to the demise of cable television), make phone calls, listen to most radio stations, lectures and various talks, archived music or concerts. We can get instant machine translations, download books onto our portable ebook readers, order from most companies, or put our own company on the web. The list goes on forever of the many conveniences provided by the advancement of internet technology over the last two decades.

As catalogers we spend most of our time before the computer monitor, using an electronic database, OCLC, to find records of books we have received which need cataloging -- if found, we then send those records on into our own electronic library database, with necessary modifications; if not found, we create a record in OCLC for the item, which is then made available to other OCLC users.

When I first began cataloging, OCLC and RLIN were the two main databases. Most catalogers used OCLC, but at that time we could also use RLIN. I found RLIN often had records for Vietnamese books which were not in OCLC, because libraries such as the University of Michigan were creating their records there, but not in OCLC. All this changed with the merger of RLIN into OCLC a few years ago.

However, while OCLC is now the only cataloging database used, one can still find more complete information about a particular record by using the web. I often go to the web to check the records of other libraries listed in the OCLC record of holding a particular item to see if they might have a more complete record than what is posted in OCLC. In the older versions of OCLC, I would check holdings and then go to the websites of the libraries listed. With OCLC Connexion, I just go to Tools then click on Find libraries. From there I see the libraries listed and by clicking on the respective library am usually taken directly to the record, or I am just taken to the library website and then type in the title. I often find more complete records this way than what is in OCLC, in particular subject headings and call numbers. If the records seem good I will then copy and paste the call number, subject headings or other additional features into the OCLC record before sending it on into our library database.

I also occasionally use machine translation programs, such as Alta Vista Babefish, to get a clearer idea as to what the item I have is about. Of course these are very primitive translations, but helpful for getting the general gist of the book. Another place I sometimes go is to the website of the book publisher where often brief blurbs on the book along with other basic publishing information are posted. I sometimes will type the title or author of the book into Google and find information that way, even in some cases blogs written by the authors of the books I am cataloging.

Those are a few practical ways to use the internet in cataloging. What about the diversionary aspect? I won't go into how one can get sidetracked by email, for example. A good manager would recognize that some of this just has to be accepted as email is -- at least here -- a way for workers to communicate with each other. But I also like to listen to music, the radio or even videos while working. Of course, if it is a video I can't be watching it, but I can listen as long as I don't get too distracted. Sometimes I will listen to Don Rickles on Youtube, KPIG radio, Fresh Air on NPR, webcast class lectures from UC Berkeley, music from Pandora. I have become accustomed to listening on the headphones at work. I know for some people this would be too distracting, for me, it helps make the time spent at work a little bit more enjoyable. I have to be careful, of course, not to let myself get so involved in listening that I take my mind off the work at hand. That is why I prefer music, comedy or light interviews to anything more heavy as listening material.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Librarians and library assistants, part 2

I mentioned in one of my opening entries how I became employed in my position in the U.C. Berkeley library. I began working for the university in August 1983 at the Indochina Archive, under the supervision of Douglas Pike, a retired foreign service officer who had moved with his large collection of Indochina (particular Vietnam) materials. I was hired not because of any training related to archival or library work, but because I had come to know Mr. Pike through my use of his collection in research for a report on human rights in Vietnam; also because I had sent him my newsletter on the same subject in recent years. In the subsequent 26 years, I have worked at the University of California under the job title of "library assistant".

Those who apply for positions or are employed as library assistants are probably aware that the job title library assistant will generally have several levels of classification, with higher pay and more complicated duties as one advances upwards. Here at UC Berkeley, there are five levels, Library Assistant I through V. At the Indochina Archive, where I worked until 2002, the last several years part time, I was alway a Library Assistant I, my classification never changed. This despite the fact that my job duties were much more wide ranging than now -- in some respects more cerebral activity required, in other respects less. Compared to my present workplace, the Indochina Archive was more like a mom and pop grocery store. I was the only full-time university paid employee, other than Mr. Pike himself, but we also had help from other people, some work-study students, and at least one Vietnamese working under different funding sources. My work ranged from cutting and pasting news clippings to helping visiting researchers to assisting in all aspects of writing, editing, printing and mailing our quarterly Indochina Chronology.

The reason why my classification never changed was partly my fault -- I did not pursue a reclassification despite encouragement from some at the parent institute to do so -- and partly because our funding was "soft", i.e. relied entirely on foundation support, which eventually ran out. In August 1997, Mr. Pike left with much of the collection for the Vietnam Center of Texas Tech, while I stayed behind, working part-time at the archive, until 2002, when I left to work full-time in the library.

I was hired to work at the UC Berkeley library in 1999 copy cataloging Vietnamese books (despite my limited knowledge of the language). Upon hiring I was immediately reclassified to a Library Assistant II and not too long afterwards was reclassified to a Library Assistant IV. The reason for this is that the supervisor noticed I was cataloging many new, previously uncatalogued items. At that time, unlike now, our department did not create partial records in OCLC, we either copied full records, put a "reject" flag in the book and put it back on the shelves to check later; gave it to the original catalogers; or we would catalog it ourselves as a full record. Since no one else catalogued Vietnamese books at the time, it was left to me to create new records for the previously uncatalogued items.

In retrospect, I was fortunate. If I were to do the same now as a Library Assistant II (or III) I would be reprimended rather than rewarded, as I would be working above my job level description. Because of serious funding problems, our library has imposed a hiring freeze, with a few exceptions. Along with that reclassification has also become virtually impossible.

Most of the copy catalogers here are either Library Assistant IIIs Library Assistant IVs. The LA IIIs are much more constrained in the nature of their cataloging, in truth, not because they are any less capable of performing the same work as an LA IV, but because if they did so, and recorded it as such in their weekly statistics sheet, then they would be in a position to demand reclassification. As for me, while I still create new records, it is preferred that I create "level 2" records (records with call numbers but no subject headings). If I do create a full record, technically it is still considered copy cataloging, not original cataloging, as I am deriving from another record.

I credit our library director for managing to steer our library through a difficult state fiscal crisis without any layoffs up to now, but this position against reclassification does not make sense, especially given that many of our co-workers have retired in recent months due to incentives, and now the rest of us are left with more work. The pay difference between an LA III and an LA IV is not significant enough to warrant the current anti-reclassification policy. Keeping some of us at an artificially low level imposes greater burdens on all of us and hampers the overall workflow. It is my hope that our library can remove these job classification ceilings on the nature of our cataloging and allow for more upward mobility in the workplace.

I may discuss this more in a future entry.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Librarians and library assistants

About eight years ago, I became involved in a debate within an online forum of the American Library Association (ALA) over whether or not the ALA should publicly support the independent library movement in Cuba, basically a movement started by dissidents to establish their own libraries outside government control. I sided with those who felt the ALA should, but there were others who strongly opposed this movement, arguing that the individuals involved in this movement were "fake librarians" and "professional dissidents" working in collusion with the U.S. interests section to undermine the Cuban regime.

A question was posed to the forum: does the Cuban government have an official policy of forbidding certain materials, and if so what are those materials. I responded by citing legislation in Cuba's penal code that clearly outlawed a wide range of dissent. As a result, I came under the first of many attacks from an individual well known within ALA forums both for his invective and for his vocal support of those oppressed in capitalist countries. I don't wish to rehash the debate, but what struck me at the time was that I would be attacked for citing Cuba's own legislation in addressing what materials might be officially banned in the country; and more germane to this blog, that I was referred to throughout his denunciation as "library assistant Denney", as if my job title was a pejorative term, a mark of inferiority, making me less qualified than an actual librarian to address the issue of censorship in Cuba.

"'Of that which you are ignorant, be silent', or at least do not pretend to knowledge which you do not have. Especially before a group of librarians and research professionals," he concluded.

The reason this individual knew I was a library assistant is because I signed myself as "Steve Denney, library assistant, UC Berkeley," as I often do as a way of identifying myself when posting to professional forums. It is my job title, nothing to brag about, maybe, but nothing to be ashamed of either.

Judging people by their job titles or educational degrees they hold can be very misleading. I don't doubt that one can learn much in an MLIS* program, but to me, the chief value of the degree lies more in the professional doors it opens than in the knowledge and training it provides. Essentially, it certifies that one is qualified to perform library work at a certain level, but those lacking the degree are not necessarily less qualified to perform the same work. Much less does the degree make one wiser in other areas that fall outside the realm of library science, such as how a government represses dissent, or how to behave toward other people.

Among my fellow copy catalogers, there is a wide variety of educational and professional backgrounds -- from our staff of about a dozen at least two hold doctorates (but not in library science), another graduated from a university in the Soviet Union with a degree in library science and worked as a librarian there before emigrating to the U.S. Others went straight into cataloging after graduating from U.C. Berkeley.

Here in technical services, most of us work under the job title of "library assistant." There is, for the most part, no sense of superiority or inferiority, but rather a sense of collegiality among us. Nevertheless, we work under a pecking order imposed from above. This has affected the cataloging workflow among other matters, and has been aggravated by the state budget crisis. I will discuss this problem more in my next entry.

* Masters of Library and Information Science, generally required from an ALA accredited college graduate program in order to qualify as a librarian in the U.S.