Photoblog: Chap Books & Tracts

Chap Books & Tracts

In our last photoblog, we showed you a unique cookbook which temporarily resided in the CATALOGUING CUPBOARD (think of a vault, a scary vault, not from IKEA). This time we bring you Chap books and tracts.

A tiny little treasure trove of interesting things, this book includes poems, tracts, stories, a dream dictionary and an oraculum that may answer questions like, ‘where did I put my keys?’, ‘what did I come into this room for?’ and ‘do I need so many books?’ (oraculum says yes, always yes).

Probably intended as a bit of disposable pop culture, this item has luckily lived past its sell by date and is now a part of the Guildhall Library collection. Do take a look inside by visiting our Pinterest page, or an even closer look by visiting Guildhall Library.

Contributed by: HD

Advertisements

FRBR for the Terrified : a workshop at the University of Kent, 25 March 2013

FRBR for the Terrified : a workshop at the University of Kent, 25 March 2013

Another report back from a course that one of us has attended.  This time Chris braves the terrors of FRBR.

This course was arranged by the Cataloguing and Index Group of CILIP. It had already been run at several venues and the intention had been (and still is) to put at least one on in London, but since the opportunity came up of attending it in Canterbury, I clutched at it.

A Powerpoint display had been put together by various members of CIG. This formed the basis of the workshop that Robin Armstrong-Viner, Head of Collection Management at the University of Kent presented.

FRBR, the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records was published in 1997. It is not a format (like MARC) nor a set of cataloguing rules (that is RDA) but is an abstract model for cataloguing that underpins RDA. It says fundamentally similar things to previous sets of principles, like Cutter in 1904 and the Paris Principles in 1961 but uses more general terms and itself comes from outside the library world and from database models.

There is a lot of new terminology in FRBR that you either like or dislike! The early part of the workshop took us through a lot of this – entities, attributes, relationships. This was all reasonably familiar to me but it was good to hear it explained right through and the first exercise involving one sheet of blue paper and two sheets of white was useful. We were required each to think of some invention (however implausible). We were then asked each to write our idea in a sentence on the blue sheet and pass it to our neighbour who then copied the sentence, first onto one white sheet and then onto the other. Finally we were required to tear off the corner of one of the white sheets. The explanation of this crazy party game was that the idea in our heads was the “work”; the writing it down on the blue paper, the “expression”; the writing of it on the white sheets was the “manifestation”; and we ended up with two “items” one of which (the torn sheet) was a damaged item – in my case particularly so because I had been scribbling notes on my sheets not realising they were to be props for an exercise!

If the first half of the workshop was about the terminology and structure of FRBR, the second was almost entirely about “relationships”. This is the very heart of what FRBR is trying to achieve – making clear to the catalogue user the relationship between this film and the book it came from and the music which was composed for the film and the translation of the book into Punjabi – even the Lego kit which was brought out based on it. These relationships are many and sometimes complex. FRBR aims to provide a kind of structure which enables these connections to be made and visualised. We were shown a disambiguation page from Wikipedia as an example of how an FRBR-ised catalogue should look – each different thing differentiated (and “disambiguated”) and then a link for you to follow.

The final exercise of the day was mind-bending, involving placing different bibliographical concepts (eg. “free translation”, an “annotated edition”, a “facsimile”) on a spectrum of whether it was equivalent to, a derivative of or descriptive of the original work. Your decision affected whether you would look on it as being a new “work”, a new “expression” or the same “expression” as the original. Some of us staggered for the door at the end!

Introducing our new partner : St Bride Library

Everyone who visits the St Bride Library falls in love with it. It is an amazing collection of books and journals, type specimens and printing presses, anything and everything to do with printing, typography and graphic design, housed in a higgledy-piggledy beautiful building of 1891.

St Bride 1

Between 1992 and 2004, St Bride Library was part of City of London Libraries. We made a big effort to retrospectively convert the existing catalogues and 34,264 monograph records, 11,000 in-analytic records and 3,300 serials were put online.

Then, in April 2004, St Bride Foundation took over the running of the library and the ownership of its collections. Although their holdings were still contained and still displayed in our catalogue and although a limited number of records continued to be added, it was not nearly enough to keep pace with the Library’s acquisitions and a considerable backlog built up.

But now we are beginning a new project to catalogue as much as possible of that backlog and make those new acquisitions available to the enthusiasts, experts and students who use the library. Thanks to the generosity of the Foyle Foundation, a lucky cataloguer has been appointed to work part-time for a year on the project. These are some of the things we have catalogued already, in our first two weeks – books and pamphlets, old and new, in a variety of languages St Bride 2– and soon they will be available to St Bride Library staff and users.

I hope to update from time to time with reports on our progress and news of especially interesting treasures we discover, but in the meantime click here to see the latest additions to the catalogue.

Contributed by: Heather

Photo blog: cookbook

Item catalogued for Guildhall Library

Recently we had a cookbook pass through BSS on its way to Guildhall Library, a delicate tome filled with recipes written over the years, in pen and pencil, and on pages and scraps. It’s an immensely interesting piece of human history (interesting is interchangeable with yummy here), something we thought would be worth photoblogging.

Many wonderful items pass through BSS to be catalogued. Some of these take up a short residency in THE CUPBOARD (feel free to imagine this as a large dark towering oak monster vault), usually items which are rare, fragile and expensive. Most recently Tottell’s 1556 Latin edition of the Magna Carta had a short stay in BSS, where it was catalogued before being handed over to Guildhall Library.

Our office has its own history too, hiding old catalogues, shelves with names like Arthur’s Bin, and some papery things. Admittedly, this place has an interior that would only look good on radio, but we thought it might be fun to do the odd photoblog, whether it’s of things passing through or some forgotten corner with a dusty librarian rocking back and forth whispering, “You can’t beat card catalogues. You can’t. You caaaaan’t.”

TLDR: Pretty pictures on this blog sometimes.

(Contributed by: HD)

Changing rules, changing roles: being a cataloguer in 2012

Changing rules, changing roles: being a cataloguer in 2012

The text of the paper that Heather Jardine delivered at the 2012 Cataloguing and Indexing Group Conference in Sheffield

The one thing that everyone is agreed about is that change is the new normal, which makes for anxious times.  

The first sort of change that we are facing is changing rules.  Rules have always changed – before AACR2 there was AACR1, and before AACR there were rules which have replaced each other down the centuries, all the way from the Library at Alexandria. The same is true of formats – we’ve seen UKMARC change to MARC21, and now we are anticipating the end of MARC altogether. So changes to rules and formats are nothing new, and although they are uncomfortable and unsettling, as professional cataloguers we can cope with them.

The second change is in the sorts of things we are cataloguing and, again, we’ve always had this kind of change.  I remember when everyone was fearful about what we then called “audio-visual materials”, when we were wondering what we were going to do with sound or (even worse) video cassettes. Today this sort of material is mainstream, and we don’t think twice about cataloguing a Blu-Ray or a Playaway or any of a wide range of formats. Now we are facing a challenge in cataloguing everything “e-“ – but we’ll survive, we’ll cope, as we did before.

The next kind of change has happened before as well, but it is different in that we can’t control it because it’s not happening within our world, but happening to our world as a result of influences from the wider world outside. Very often the immediate driver is a restructuring and the immediate effect is that we are required to play a different role within the organisation to the one we were used to.

Restructures almost always result in an overall loss of staff, which means that there are fewer people to do the same amount of work or, to be more precise, to achieve the same outcomes. However much it is possible to streamline and review workflows, it still means that everyone finds themselves doing tasks that they are not familiar with, and these can be regarded variously as an unfair demand, a challenge or an opportunity.

A very common outcome is that bib services are combined so that acquisitions work is integrated more closely with cataloguing, under the same manager and with the tasks spread more widely across the whole bib services team, so that cataloguers find themselves doing acquisitions. Of course, if we had wanted to be acquisitions librarians, that is what we would have chosen to be, so there can be a certain amount of bewilderment and resentment.  Of course there is a lot of sense in mixing acquisitions with cataloguing, because it isn’t like the old days, when the acquisitions team created paper records and then passed the books across to the cataloguing team, who created a whole different set of paper records.  We’re all joined up now with an integrated LMS and probably accepted long ago that acquisitions staff have to learn a certain amount about cataloguing in order to create or download bib records. The real problem with cataloguers doing acquisitions, though, isn’t that we don’t all like it, but that when we are doing it, we are not doing cataloguing.

Of course it isn’t just bib services that lose posts and people in a restructure.  So, as we struggle to keep on top of a growing burden of work, and perhaps we don’t do it very quickly because we’re learning it as we go along, our colleagues need more than ever that we get it right, because they too have less time and fewer staff to pick up any errors. Unsurprisingly, this leads on to a loss of tolerance and a loss of engagement.  Just as we are facing changes to rules (RDA in place of AACR2), changes to data structure (whatever follows after the end of MARC) and changing materials (e-everything),  my colleagues would probably say that none of this matters to them as long as it doesn’t affect the speed with which we get their books onto the shelf. We’re not going to have a great long intellectual discussion about any of it. Even the best-intentioned people don’t have the time or the energy to be interested.

After acquisitions, the next logical area for bib services to take on is management information, especially when library systems teams are also reduced or done away with altogether. And it makes sense, because we create the database, we put the information in, and we know how to get the information out. We also understand the business, in a way that centralised IS teams don’t (and can’t be expected to). If we run a query and find out that one of our libraries had 39 borrowers, we know that there is something wrong with the query, whereas a central IS team wouldn’t necessarily recognise it as odd.  I think we’re well qualified to take over the management information, because we know what we’re talking about.

Speaking personally, I have got the best team ever. They can and will turn their hand to almost anything, they rise to challenges and they enjoy doing new stuff. I could not have taken on all the new work that we have taken on, if I had been dragging a reluctant and resisting staff behind me. I also think that as managers, in the current climate, we have a duty to give our staff as many transferable skills as we can. The only problem is that when we’re providing management information, we’re not doing acquisitions and we’re not doing cataloguing.

It would be nice to think that system management would be the next area to be passed to bib services because it was recognised that we had the best, the most adaptable, the cleverest, the hardest working, the most logical staff, with the most creative solutions, in the library service (which is true).  More often it will be because , once everyone realises that handing it to over central IS isn’t a good idea for the same reasons that apply to management information, they also realise that bib services staff will do it for nothing, whereas outsourcing it to the LMS supplier would cost several thousand pounds a year. While our colleagues in the libraries may not have time to care about RDA, they most certainly care if books are issued for the wrong period of time, or attract the wrong charges, or if overdues aren’t sent out. Therefore managing the LMS will make a bib services team more crucial to the running of the service, and more involved with it, and makes us seem a bit more relevant to the day-to-day business, which is certainly a benefit for everyone. The disadvantage is, of course, that while we’re doing system management, we’re not doing management information, and we’re not doing acquisitions, and we’re certainly not doing any cataloguing.

Because any restructuring, or hint of it, or just the general economic situation and the fears of redundancy, make us all feel uneasy, we cannot afford to neglect advocacy and all it involves. We must explain what we do, how we fit in, what we contribute to the service and how we support it, because bib services can be an easy target when the axeman comes a-calling. We must promote ourselves to fellow professionals and the library community at large, and to our immediate colleagues, and as well as persuading them that we are essential we must persuade ourselves, because too often we believe the poor opinion that others have of us. Therefore we take on a range of different activities – blogs, Twitter accounts, behind-the-scenes tours, anything and everything that makes us more visible (including going to conferences and speaking at them).  If we can make ourselves look like big beasts, we’ll be harder to take down.

It also includes working more closely with our colleagues – getting ourselves on working groups, doing 1-1 training, going to their staff meetings.  Every time someone sends in a complaint, whether justified or not, we to try to send back a polite and reasoned explanation. Put very simply, we’ve got to win hearts and minds. But when we’re blogging, or tweeting, or writing those polite replies, and it all takes time, we’re not doing any of the other tasks.

And then there’s income generation, the besetting requirement of the public sector nowadays.  As a result, along with everything else, we’re trying to sell our skills either by providing training, or by cataloguing other people’s collections. The money we can bring in does two things – it demonstrates that our skills really do have a market value (in other words, if other people are prepared to pay us, we must be worth something) and it offsets some of our staff costs. After all, there is really no way that you can reduce the cost of a bib services section without cutting staff, as we have no materials budget to take the hit.

Does it matter if we lose staff – aside from the human cost, that is? Yes, it does. Our bib services staff are hugely skilled and hugely knowledgeable about our collections, how to exploit them and how to get them into the hands of the people who need and want them. That skill, that knowledge, once lost can’t quickly or easily be replaced. And those skills and that knowledge are exactly what we need in a time of cuts to minimise the effect on the service. We must do all we can to retain skilled staff, who can make the best of the lean times and be ready when the cycle turns (and the cycle will turn) to get back immediately into growth.

So here we are, in a period of reduction and restructuring, with bib services taking on all kind of new tasks and responsibilities. As well as all the hard work, anxiety and stress, there are a lot of good things coming out of the changes. Firstly, we have learned new skills and tried all sorts of things we’ve never tried before – and mostly we have enjoyed it. We have certainly taken on a more crucial role in delivering services and we are working more closely with our front-facing colleagues. We are demonstrating that our skills are relevant and even marketable. We have come out of the shadows and become visible. We have even embraced social media. These things have not destroyed us but made us stronger.

Of course there is a downside too. The workload has increased for all of us, the constant pressure makes us irritable and we can’t often find the opportunity to think, to plan, to look forward.  We spend our time fire-fighting, and not even putting the fires out, just  damping them down before we have to rush off to the next one, knowing they will flare up again behind us. And we don’t have enough time to spend cataloguing.

That is the real risk, because all the jobs that we have taken on, we have been able to take on because we have good and accurate data and because we have been able to exploit the skills that we have as cataloguers. If we neglect our cataloguing, if we cut corners and start to get slovenly, the whole house of cards will come tumbling down around our ears. If the data is wrong, then the management information will be wrong. If the data is inconsistent, then the LMS will not operate reliably. If we make mistakes, then when we get those books sent back to us with complaints, we will not be able to explain anything, we will just have to apologise.  Our colleagues will lose confidence in us and we will lose confidence in ourselves. And we certainly will not be able to sell skills that we cannot demonstrate that we have.  So whatever else we do – and for sure we will be doing many other varied tasks – we must continue to catalogue accurately, consistently and with good judgement and imagination. However tempting it may be to do so, we must not cut corners and we must never think that “good enough” is good enough, because it is not.

So, whose catalogue is it anyway?

So, whose catalogue is it anyway?

Contributed by: Heather

Back in the day, before all this high-falutin’ technology came along and spoiled everything, catalogues and cataloguers knew their place. They were solid and reliable and the question of design didn’t really arise with either of them. The catalogue was a sizeable piece of furniture, unchanging down the years, demanding no maintenance beyond the occasional tightening of a rod, the waxing of a drawer to make it run smoothly or a little light dusting. Maybe we got the polish out at Christmas, I don’t remember. Cataloguers were the people who created the cards that went into it, and their guiding principles, whether writing or typing, were legibility and neatness.  Happy the typist who could produce stencils for a spirit duplicator with a lightness of touch that did not result in the centre of letters like o and g falling out and resulting in an unsightly blot!

Microfiche catalogues followed the same principles of clear layout with no fuss or frills. They were plain, simple and serviceable. Legibility became even more important as we were all convinced that poring over microfiche all day long would end in us going blind. Little did we know what the future held for us in the way of computer screens and blinking cursors (and you may read “blinking” in either its literal or colloquial meaning).  Early online catalogues followed suit, looking pretty much like the fiche catalogues they replaced.

Nowadays it seems that design is king. We want to apply design both to the way the catalogue looks, and what it does, and sometimes we blur the distinction between the two.  We want pop-ups and rollovers, pictures and links – speaking for myself I’d cheerfully commit murder to get a virtual shelf browse. We want the catalogue to look attractive, to be engaging and to offer every kind of trick and treat; we want all the sweets in the sweetshop, all at once.

But here’s the problem – most cataloguers (there are honourable exceptions) do not have the necessary IT skills to design a catalogue from the ground up or even to tinker with an existing product in order to enhance and alter it. As we become more and more demanding, we have to hand over catalogue design to experts from other areas who may know little or nothing about libraries, catalogues or users.  Cataloguers are still the people who create or derive the data, but we have little or no say over how it appears on the screen or what can be done with it. We stoke the furnace but we don’t drive the train, and that’s one reason why cataloguers are increasingly divorced from the front-line service. Our public-facing colleagues, and our users, want the bells and whistles just as much as we do but they know that we aren’t the ones who can provide them. 

 And it seems to me that this gap is in danger of widening still further.  What we lack at the moment is mostly skill (we don’t lack enthusiasm or imagination), and skill can be learned.  Even the dustiest and crustiest of us can engage with HTML and CSS and goodness knows what all, if we really want to and are prepared to find the time (usually our own time, be it said).  Lots of us still have catalogues that can be modified locally, if we just know how and are prepared to roll up our sleeves and get stuck in.

 What gives me the shivers even more than the thought of learning HTML and CSS and all the rest, is that increasingly our catalogues are remotely-hosted. That seems to mean that all the development takes place on a misty mountain-top far away and is then “rolled-out” to us, like fog. It just – well, it just arrives. One morning it is there, when it wasn’t there the night before. And as cataloguers we are even more disengaged from the catalogue than before.  We are scarcely even aware that we create or derive the data that the magicians work such wonders with. We are dazzled by the glittering surface. Pretty, pretty things!

I don’t know the answer. I don’t know what we have to do to get the catalogue back where it belongs, in our own hands. Maybe between the increasing sophistication of technical knowledge that is required to drive this machina ex deo, and the lack of resources, time and energy that restricts us nowadays, we have no choice but to relinquish the design to the experts.  But I’d like to be sure that everyone remembers there is still a link between gleaming bodywork and what’s under the bonnet, and that without the engine the machine just won’t go anywhere.

Legacy data

Legacy data

Contributed by:  Heather

 I often try to cheer people up by saying, “Look on the bright side – in fifty years we’ll all be dead!” My point is that most of things we worry about really aren’t going to matter at all in the long term.  Services will change, systems will change, libraries (if they continue to exist at all) and their users will change, and in fact they will probably change out of all recognition in twenty years, never mind fifty.

 Looking back from where we are in the present, we can see that most of what we or our predecessors did in the past is now hopelessly out of date. Weekly tape loads! Dial-up access! Microfiche catalogues! All cutting-edge in their time and now all gone the way of the dodo. In the same way, when we look back at records from the past we call them “legacy data”, meaning that they are inferior, defective, no longer fit for purpose. We regard legacy data as a problem we have to cope with as best we can.

 Catalogues are built up over time, as anyone knows who worked on a large card catalogue, compiled over decades, where you can see handwriting change, from immaculate copper-plate script to more modern styles, and you can see that handwritten cards were replaced by typewritten ones, or the product of the spirit duplicator. You can recognise the work of individual cataloguers, even if you will never know their names. What we have lost with the advent of global editing and conversion tools is the ability to see records from different ages sitting side by side.  We have converted card catalogues to online catalogues, 1908 rules to AACR and then AACR2, UKMARC to MARC21, and we have reclassified who knows how many times from one classification scheme to another or from one version of a classification scheme to a later one. And then we say that we have converted, upgraded the catalogue and made it ours, now.

 For sure we change forms and formats. But in most cases we are not changing the actual cataloguing content. We may change a handwritten statement of information on a catalogue card to 245$c in a MARC record. We may change 301.451 to 305.8. What we are not changing is the information that the book is written or edited by this person or that person; or the subject of the book, what it is about. The intellectual work of the cataloguer remains unchanged.

 Twenty or fifty years down the line, the records we create today will not look the same. They will have been converted and mashed in ways we can’t imagine, and any personal mark will have gone. The cataloguer (you and me) will be forgotten and our work will be anonymous. But the information we record today about the book in hand, the decisions we make about its authorship or its physical description or its subject matter, will endure. And that is why it still matters that we get it right. When systems have changed, and services have changed, it is the data that will be our legacy.

Cataloguing spotlight : food and wine at Guildhall Library

Cataloguing Spotlight : Food and Wine at Guildhall Library

The first of a series in which we highlight some items of interest that we have recently catalogued for our various libraries.  (Clicking on the links should take you directly to the catalogue records.)

Contributed by: Ann.  

Guildhall Library has a number of internationally renowned collections on food and wine and related subjects such as the history of cookery, brewing, agriculture, household management, food and drinking customs. In the past months we have added over approx. 300 previously un-catalogued items for various Guildhall collections. A number of 17th and 18th century works such Charles Estienne’s 1606 edition of ‘Maison rustique, or, The countrey farme‘, Sir Edward Barry’s 1775 work ‘Observations, Historical, Critical and Medical on the Wines of the Ancients‘ and more recent works such as Frank Shay’s ‘My Pious friends and drunken companions : songs and ballads of conviviality‘ (1927) have been added to the well-known Wine Trade Club (WTC) collection.

As well as adding to firmly established collections, our recent cataloguing work has included to adding items for relatively new collections. For example, we have just finished cataloguing donations from the food writer Rosemary Stark for the emerging Guild of Food Writers (GFW) collection. This collection includes topics as varied as Estonian cuisine to Joan Storey’s revised edition of “Manners and rules of good society by a member of the aristocracy“. Other new collections we have recently catalogued include two new wine collections: the Hallgarten collection, a collection of principally German language material on German wines and viticulture and the Findlater collection.