Thursday, November 26, 2009

The subterraneans

Some companies have what is called "casual Friday", where employees can come to work dressed less formally, what is considered "smart casual" or "business casual" -- dressing in such a way to appear professional yet relaxed. Where I work, everyday is casual day and there is no dress code. Some might dress formally, others very informally -- t-shirts, shorts, etc.

I work on the second floor of our library, yet it is one floor below ground level. Actually, it is split level, in that the west side of our floor is on the ground level with very nice windows, but the east side is not. All of us work in cubicles, called "stations," even the top supervisors.

I am not complaining about either the lack of a dress code or the location of our work. But it is representative of the fact that most of us in technical services do not engage professionally with the public. Like the ship engine mechanic below deck, we in technical services are the ones who provide the foundation to keep the library and all its branches functioning, but we are not the public face.

What I describe may be more true here at a large university library than in smaller libraries, where catalogers and others in technical services might perform a larger variety of tasks. Of course, we have plenty of interaction among ourselves, and meetings to attend, but in the end, cataloging is for the most part a solitary task. It can be intellectually challenging at times, other times the work can be dull or frustrating. Sometimes it gives one the feeling of accomplishment. But it is different than working as a reference librarian, for example, or in the circulation department where one engages in frequent contact with the public.

All that said, I would recommend to anyone starting a career in the library world to spend some time working as a cataloger, if possible, because it helps establish a good understanding of how the library is organized, where one might find particular items, and how to search for them.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Searching for records

The first purpose of searching in OCLC when cataloging is to find a record that is an exact match for the library item in hand. After finding such a match, the next step is to make sure the book (or other item) is not a duplicate of an item already in the library. In our library system, a duplicate is acceptable if either it was ordered as an additional copy or if it is for a different library branch. Before exporting the book record from OCLC into our library database, I adjust the call number if necessary (more on that in a later entry) so it fits properly within the local library catalog; and add any additional local notes, such as purchase order number.

Here at UC Berkeley technical services, we are supposed to search for the record first within our library database, and then search for it in OCLC. This is necessary primarily because there might be an order record for it within our library system which needs to be inserted into the local note area of the OCLC record before exporting it; also to see if we in fact have that book, or an earlier edition.

The first search is normally done by title, and that is because there may be earlier editions of the same title. Searches can also be done by author, title, subject heading, ISBN number, publisher, or any other access point. If the title is very common I might choose one of these alternative methods, or restrict the title search by adding another access point. I will discuss this more later too.

In determining if the book is an exact match, the main details I would check would be pagination and height, title, author, publisher, and date of publication

If there is no exact match, then I would derive from a similar record, either an earlier edition or a book by the same author or with the same subject heading. Since most books I catalog are from foreign countries, I would also try to derive from a book record that is from the same country, to cut down on the amount of data I would have to enter. Sometimes, especially with the Spanish-language books, I will find information through Google searches on the web, even if there is no record for the book in OCLC. In a later entry I will discuss various ways to create a new record or to upgrade an already existing low-level record.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The call number

The purpose of a call number is to establish the exact location where a library item is shelved and can be retrieved, and to establish a logical order for its location within the library.

There are two parts to a call number: the classification number and the cutter. The classification number represents the first subject area, while the subsequent cutter or cutters represent either subtopics within this classification or, if it is the final cutter, the main entry of the item, i.e. the title or author. In the case of books and monographs, the final cutter also includes the year in which it was published.

There are two main library classification systems employed in the U.S. -- the Library of Congress system, used in most university libraries, and the Dewey Decimal system, used in most public libraries, and in libraries outside the U.S. The difference in appearance is that the LC classification system is alpha numeric, while the Dewey classification system is numeric.

At this point I will talk only about the LC system as that is what I work with daily, but for more information on the Dewey classification system click here for a listing of Dewey classification numbers, and here for a brief history and description.

The LC classification, as mentioned, is alpha numeric. Usually there is either one or two letters, followed by numbers; in the K series for law, it is often three letters, the three letters representing the country. Here is an example of an LC call number, for the book, Ho Chi Minh, by William J. Duiker, published in 2000:

DS560.72.H6 D85 2000

DS560.72 is for biography of North Vietnamese political leaders, H6 is for Ho Chi Minh, D85 is for William Duiker, and 2000 is for the year in which this edition was published. DS560.72 is the classification part of the call number, while H6 and D85 are the two cutters. Note that under this classification, all books whose primary subject heading is biography of Ho Chi Minh would be shelved in one section and within that the books would be arranged alphabetically by author, and for the same author the books would be listed chronologically, usually reflecting a newer edition.

Classification numbers are determined by the subject headings, with some exceptions, most notably literary works, where the classification is first based on country and then by author. For example:

PL4378.9.V86 S6213 2002

This is the call number for the book, Dumb Luck by Vũ Trọng Phụng, originally published in Vietnamese as Śô đỏ. PL4378.9 is for individual works of Vietnamese authors, V86 is the cutter for Vũ Trọng Phụng, and S6213 is the cutter for the original title, Śô đỏ, with the number 62 for the title, and the number 13 representing the fact that it is an English translation.

I will discuss this more later but in the next entry I will talk about searching for books in OCLC.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The catalogued record

The purpose of cataloging is to establish a record for a library item which includes a brief description and (usually) a call number, which in the case of printed materials are either placed on the spine or, if too thin, on the upper left corner of the book or periodical.

The description of the item would normally list the title; author or editor; publisher, along with place of publication and publishing date; physical description, i.e. how many pages, if it is illustrated, and how high in centimeters; notes, if it contains a bibliography or index; series, if it is part of one; and subject headings. Literary works, that is, poetry, fiction, drama, etc., do not normally include subject headings unless its topic is central enough to be listed, a historical novel, for example

The description of the item appears in different formats. What is called the brief view or the full view is what the patron normally sees at the library website, and is similar to what is usually found on the inside verso page, known as "Cataloging in Publication" data (more on that later). For example, this record in full view form from the Library of Congress website:

LC Control No.: 85019329
LCCN Permalink:
Type of Material: Book (Print, Microform, Electronic, etc.)
Personal Name: Pike, Douglas, 1924-2002.
Main Title: PAVN : People’s Army of Vietnam / Douglas Pike.
Published/Created: Novato, CA : Presidio Press, c1986.
Related Titles: People’s Army of Vietnam.
Description: vii, 384 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.
ISBN: 0891412433 : $18.95
Notes: Includes index.
Bibliography: p. 362-378.
Subjects: Vietnam. Quân đội nhân dân.
LC Classification: UA853.V48 P55 1986
Dewey Class No.: 355/.009597 19
Geographic Area Code: a-vt---
CALL NUMBER: UA853.V48 P55 1986
Copy 1

-- Request in:
Jefferson or Adams Building Reading Rooms
-- Status:
Not Charged

This is a full view of the record, the brief view is the default mode in the LOC website. But the cataloger works with a different format, which can also be found at the LOC website by clicking "MARC tags":

PAVN : People's Army of Vietnam / Douglas Pike.

LCCN Permalink:

01026pam a2200277 a 450

001 1525312
005 20090828140631.0
008 901203r19911986nyu b 001 0 eng
906 __ a 7 b cbc c orignew d 1 e ocip f 19 g y-gencatlg
955 __ a pc05 to ea00 12-03-90;ea15 to SCD 12-04-90; fg05 12-04-90; fm22 12-07-90; CIP ver. bd65 to SL 05-07-91
010 __ a 90026264
020 __ a 0306804328 : c $14.95
035 __ 9 (DLC) 90026264
040 __ a DLC c DLC d DLC
043 __ a a-vt---
050 10 a UA853.V48 b P55 1991
100 1_ a Pike, Douglas, d 1924-2002.
245 10 a PAVN : b People’s Army of Vietnam / c Douglas Pike.
260 __ a New York, N.Y. : b Da Capo Press, c [1991], c1986.
300 __ a vii, 384 p. ; c 22 cm.
490 0_ a A Da Capo paperback
500 __ a Reprint. Originally published: Novato, CA : Presidio Press, c1986.
504 __ a Includes bibliographical references (p. 362-378) and index.
610 20 a Vietnam. b Quân ḍoi nhân dân.
740 0_ a People’s Army of Vietnam.
920 __ a Do not acquire

These numbered fields and coded letters in each field are necessary so that the records are properly exported to the computerized library database. MARC stands for MAchine Readable Cataloging. A MARC record can be viewed at library websites by clicking either on MARC or "Staff view". The numbers for each of the fields represent different categories: 050 or 090 is for call number; 100 is for author (if there is one); 245 is for title; 300 is for physical description; 440 or 490 and 830 are for series, if the book is part of one; 500 is for notes and 504 for noting if there is a bibliography; the 600 fields are for subject headings (600 for personal names; 610 for corporate names including organizations; 650 for topical subjects; and 651 for countries); 700 is for added entry personal names (such as editor) and 710 for organizations involved in the publication. The 900 numbers are for local notes. These are the main fields used by a cataloger, but there are many more. For more descriptions, see the Library of Congress description here.

As a cataloger, I will sometimes go to the website of a library which has the book I am cataloging, and copy and paste sections of the MARC record into the OCLC record I am about to export, if the OCLC record is incomplete.

I have discussed here only a monographic record, as that is what I work with daily. Serial records and electronic resources might look slightly different. In the next entry I will discuss the call number, which is divided into the classification number and the cutter number.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Starting work, part 2

I began cataloging with very little knowledge of what was involved in the process. At the Indochina Archive where I worked, we had a classification system for our files, which can be found by clicking here (scroll down past the serials), a task I assumed after my supervisor left for Texas Tech in 1997. While I had done my share of library research in retrieving materials for the archival collection, this consisted primarily of going through serials and microfilm.

The system of cataloging books has changed greatly in recent years, with the advent of internet. Previously all library items were listed on individual 3 by 5 inch cards and placed in drawers. I don't know how much original cataloging people would have to do at that time. By the time I started cataloging in 1999, there were two main electronic databases catalogers would use to find records for books -- OCLC and RLIN. Both databases were based on the concept of cooperative cataloging, that is all member libraries would be able to catalog records and those records would then be posted in the database for catalogers from other libraries to use. Most books we received would have already been cataloged within this system.

So with a good record, the cataloger would basically have to ascertain that the record in OCLC or RLIN was an exact match for the book in hand, and secondly that the call number would fit within our library (if not the call number would be slightly modified, or "tweaked" for our library). After that, it is just a matter of inserting the barcode, writing the call number in the book, and if there is other data for our library, such as a purchase order, adding that to our record too before exporting it into our library catalog. When I first began working here, most books, excepting the Vietnamese books I worked on, would go through a few stages -- first search, often done by work-study students in which they would catalog exact matches only; then books sent to the copy catalogers; then books to original catalogers, which either had no record at all, or very low level records with major work required. Since I was the only one who could catalog Vietnamese books (when first hired), I would do all these steps, even though technically I was just a copy cataloger.

As stated at its website:
"In 1967, the presidents of the colleges and universities in the state of Ohio founded the Ohio College Library Center (OCLC) to develop a computerized system in which the libraries of Ohio academic institutions could share resources and reduce costs....n 1977, the Ohio members of OCLC adopted changes in the governance structure that enabled libraries outside Ohio to become members and participate in the election of the Board of Trustees; the Ohio College Library Center became OCLC, Inc. In 1981, the legal name of the corporation became OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc. Today, OCLC serves more than 71,000 libraries of all types in the U.S. and 112 countries and territories around the world."

RLIN is the database of RLG libraries, a system originally established in 1974 by three university libraries and the New York public library, and grew to include many other university and research libraries. It joined with OCLC in 2006 and hence no longer has a separate database.

When I first began cataloging OCLC was the main database used by catalogers, not many used RLIN. But I was also trained in RLIN as many Vietnamese books were in RLIN which were either nonexistent or in low record format in the OCLC system. This is because most of the Vietnamese books we receive here at UC Berkeley library were similar or the same as books received by a few other university libraries which had already created records, particulary Cornell, the University of Washington and the University of Michigan. Now all the records can be found in OCLC.

In my next entry I will discuss the basic elements of a cataloged record.

Starting work

Eventually I will get into the nitty gritty of cataloging, but if the reader will bear with me, more on my personal background:

I applied for the cataloging position a few years before I was hired,with no clear idea what I would be doing if hired. I figured it would be a boring, data-entry job, which would nevertheless serve to supplement the meager income from my part-time work at the Indochina Archive.

The interview went well. At one point the supervisor asked how I get along with others at work, and my answer seemed to satisfy her. She then handed me some kind of flyer which seemed to have been written by the university library human relations office, about how people should get along with each other. I said it looked very interesting asked her if I could keep it. But the question that stood out was in regard to the previous person who had been cataloging books from Vietnam, a Vietnamese refugee, who reached a point where she told her supervisor that she could no longer continue in that work because the communist propaganda was too depressing. Asked for my reaction, I said that while I could sympathize with her feelings, it was very unprofessional, it is not for us to judge which books should be in the library. Besides that, from my own experience, if one wants to understand conditions in a society, even a very closed one, it is necessary to rely on a variety of sources, including that of the ruling party and government.

Friday, November 13, 2009

How I got this job

How does one become a library cataloger? It isn't normally an option advertised at high school career days. Personally, I had no idea I would end up doing this work, or working in libraries, until it happened. But if I could turn the clock back, I would have gone to library school to obtain a Masters degree in Library Science, as libraries and being around books in general have always been my love. This is probably true for many who work here. Even in high school, being shy, I would often spend most of lunch period reading through magazines at the school library. In college, I found browsing through the library stacks to be more interesting than doing the assigned work for my classes.

My original goal was to teach high school social studies and to coach cross country and track. I obtained a basic teaching certificate, and even went back to graduate school to obtain a Masters degree in teaching secondary social studies. But the job market was overcrowded with applicants, and I was easily discouraged, so I spent several years working part-time as a substitute teacher and part time at other tasks, just to get by.

Frustrated by the lack of fulfilling work, and having developed close friendships with some Vietnamese refugees, I started a newsletter focusing on human rights in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. This was in 1979. I sent copies to well known people, and received some positive feedback. This led to my moving back down to the San Francisco Bay Area, where I worked with Ginetta Sagan (while teaching Vista ESL classes) on a human rights report in Vietnam. Through this I came to know Douglas Pike, a well known government expert on the communist leadership in Vietnam, who had retired from government and opened up the "Indochina Archive" at the University of California at Berkeley. Mr. Pike hired me as his assistant in August 1983 and I have worked for the university since then. From 1983-1997, when Mr. Pike moved to Texas Tech and relocated much of his collection there, my work included assisting visiting researchers, cutting and pasting news clippings for the files, and assisting in the writing, production and mailing of our quarterly newsletter. My work was much more varied at that time than now, but my job was never reclassified, and I was forced to put in much unpaid labor, as the project depended on dwindling foundation funds.

After Mr. Pike left in 1997, I continued to work part time at what was left of our collection, which has now also been moved to Texas Tech (for which I am happy -- more on that later). In 1999 I was contacted by the university library's technical services to ask if I would be interested in cataloging books from Vietnam. I said yes, but added that I was not fluent in the language. I was told that was fine, I only needed a rudimentary knowledge as I would be copy cataloging. So for the next few years I split my work time between cataloging books at the library and working at the archive. When it became clear (in 2002) that the archive would run completely out of funding, I was able to get on full time at the library.

So that is how I got this job. My duties have branched out to include many other kinds of books, and cataloging books from Vietnam is now only a small part of my workload. I will discuss this more in the next entry.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

First entry

I have been cataloging books for ten years now, at the University of California, Berkeley library. I am in the copy cataloging division of Technical services. Catalogers are basically divided into two main categories: original and copy; and from there divided between those who do monographs and those who do serials. At most libraries, a Masters degree in Library Science is required for an original cataloging position, not so here at Berkeley. Most of the catalogers here, whether in original or copy, are hired more for their skills and experience, especially foreign language, than on the basis of their degrees. That is in part because we have many books in foreign languages, and we are a huge academic library. I was first brought in because I know Vietnamese to some extent, although not fluent, and that was considered sufficient for mostly copy cataloging of the large number of books we receive from Vietnam.

It is late tonight, so more in my next entry.