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.