Monday, July 30, 2012

MARC Records Suck: A Cataloging Rant

I spent much of last Thursday cataloging. It had been a while. Beyond the frustrations of the Voyager integrated library system, which are ever-present, I noticed that the quality of MARC records in OCLC, via Connexion seem to have declined. Drastically. This is problematic. It's bad enough that we send patrons to a depressing, user-unfriendly catalog

Names blacked out to protect the guilty
and now they'll have even less ability to find what they're looking for, unless I do original cataloging. I'm on record as having a background in technical services, and I'm competent enough to have taught other staff how to copy catalog (yes, it's a verb), but for a director with a full-time staff of two, this is frustrating. It's not an effective use of my time. I should be strategic planning, preparing for the future of libraries (links), avoiding the wrath of my peers; developing our woefully outdated print collection; promoting synergy; or any number of things. Instead, I'm dealing with this. Look at it! Worst MARC Record How is anyone supposed to find anything with that? It's barely helpful! Why does OCLC even bother? UPDATE: cataloger extraordinaire B. Campbell has found the correct record, which OCLC's Connexion did not offer us. Link that data, please!

Even more verbose records need work. I bought this book for our nursing program.
MARC Nursing Note the lack of a certain keyword. Note the lack of others. Where's "health," or "medicine!?" I know our users, and how they search. I've got to tag the 500 and 600 fields with keywords to make it easier to find. Note the too-pithy Library of Congress Subject Headings. Really? That's it?!

The main point of cataloging is to make it easy for people to find stuff, even if you'll never meet those people. It's why technical services is sometimes referred to as "the back of the house." Patrons might not see you, but they'll experience your work, for better and for worse. And in the case of MARC records, it's worse. Which means more work for us. RDA, take me away. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

New Year, New Library: Making Lemonade

Once again, the power is out, but this time we're not being passive. Last time we lost power for an extended period of time, this happened:
Due to Hurricane Irene, sometime between the close of business on Saturday and our opening on Sunday, the library lost power. Conferring with the powers that be and staff on the ground, we closed the building for Sunday, hoping that we could reopen in time for the start of the workweek and the second week of courses. So we waited. And waited. We were without power for about 80 hours, and this is what happened, and what we learned.  
On Monday library staff were relocated to a basement classroom in another building. It seemed that nobody missed us. We had a few e-mails, but no walk-ins, nobody asking about reserve books, even. It looked like a failure; a library goes dark and nobody notices. 
We've learned from that experience. I have a laptop, a smartphone, and some swag (thanks, vendors!), and I'm walking around campus offering research assistance to all who ask for it. I'm also showing initiative by asking. One lucky patron will win $25 to our campus bookstore. I'll be in both the dining hall and the on-campus deli at times, and if you can stump me, think of it as "Ask Me Anything," you might get another $25 to the bookstore. Picture an itinerant, wandering librarian, traveling around campus, solving problems, like a geeky David Carradine. 

The email that went out emphasizes that the building itself is only part of the story:
"As we continue to weather the after-effects of the storm, particularly in the lack of access to our physical library, we want to be sure you know that many of our library’s resources can be accessed online.
The library website continues to function normally: link.  As always, databases can be accessed electronically and remotely from the landing page of this website. Additionally, e-journals, e-books, and other virtual references can be found on this site.
Should you have questions for a librarian, please email our Library Director, Jacob Berg, at link, for virtual reference help.
To help provide you access to computers, we have opened up several computer labs in Main as well for your computing needs today: Main 238, Main 242, and Main B-9 are all air-conditioned and will be open for student use until classes start at 4pm.  The computer lab and lounge in the basement of Main continue to remain open and available for use per their regular schedule.
You will receive a separate message shortly regarding how to access Academic Services, Disability Services, the Writing Center, and Career Services.
Thank you for your patience as we negotiate the effects of this weekend’s storm.  We remain grateful for everyone’s good spirits. 
Jacob Berg, Library Director and ___________, Provost"
However, with few people on campus until about 4pm, the reality is more like this:
Random thoughts: 
  • Some public libraries are getting creative as well.  
  • It would be nice if there were integrated library systems apps for tablets, because laptops are heavy and it's hot outside. This situation makes Web Scale look even better.
  • It feels much better to do this than to sit in a room (or building) and wait for patrons. We're going to do this more often.