cluttered desk...cluttered mind

Today, I undertook the monthly "cleaning" of my desk. What this really amounts to is the shuffling of papers from here to there, hoping they'll somehow disappear in the process. I keep a notoriously messy desk, so this is quite a process. Usually, however, I am derailed several times when I come across a post-it note I wrote to myself. I live and die, professional speaking, with the post-it note. I have, at any given moment, twenty-five post-its with information floating around. Some of these are personal in nature (mostly lists of books I come across in my duties that I want to read later), some are vital information (vendor account numbers). But most are a sort of note-to-self Frankenstein: half a to-do list, items checked out from the library (I'm still on the pen-and-paper form of library automation), phone numbers with no other information, random quotes and so forth.

Theoretically, these things help me to remember. However, they are failing me and, by extension, I am failing. So, I get flummoxed when I unearth things like I did today. To give you an idea, here are the contents of three post-its I uncovered today that I still cannot, for the life of me, figure out.

Number 1 contains a series of ISBNs. I have no idea why I wrote these down or what I was hoping to do with them. I assume they're to be purchased, but they must not have been that critical, if I didn't take the time to enter them into the online system we use for book buying. Solution: placed aside to consider later.

Number 2: three items. A. Smith written twice, once with a þ and once with a ð. B. A call number in the NA range and C. the phrase 'art with wax and beads...Toltec?'. Solution: thrown away.

Number 3 is the densest and most confusing of all. It has what appears to be a to-do list with the following items on it: labels for shells (presumably, I meant shelves), new library handout (was I supposed to create one? distribute one? find one? the fact that it is not crossed out leads me to believe this was not done and now, sadly, never will be), check for insight (now, I know that insight media is one of the places we buy stuff from, however, when I first saw this, I thought I was reminding myself to assess my professional learning. Good thing I'm not doing that, as I can't see much that I am figuring out). This note also contains a phone number, in foreign area code, with no explanation of who or what it might be for. Hopefully nobody's expecting a call from me. Meow planning, as I've written, is probably menu planning, a reminder to buy books in the category. My inability to read my own handwriting led me also waste valuable time trying to remember why I would be following up on K's locks for her. While not beyond the realm of possibility, once I made it out to read books instead, all was much, much clearer. Sex & Bacon, while an interesting name for an album of my fictional band (the Graham Greene Catholic Quartet), means nothing now and probably never did. "The devil's in his diocese and all's right with the world" is evidently a quote from something (the quotation marks are on the original). It is kind of a nice turn of phrase, but I've no idea the source or why I wanted to preserve it. Solution: Wrote a blog entry, hoping for clarity. None came. Decided to leave it as is and call it a day.

I think I'll stick with Library 1.5, actually

I should probably start with a little caveat lector: this post will deal with pretty rarefied librarian issues. The fact that I can get so worked up about them probably says something about how I choose to expend my energy, but for the non-librarian, it'll be pretty boring.

As I mentioned in my last post, I was at the ULA conference last week. Whenever you get a group of librarians together, it is only a matter of time before certain topics crop up. The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act is one of these items. For people unfamiliar with the full version of this legislation's name, that's the USA PATRIOT Act. Another thing that is sure to be addressed is google and wikipedia. What do they mean for libraries? How can we fight them? In essence, this is the great librarian panic: becoming obsolete. Connected with this panic is, of late, the discussion on tagging. The idea here is that Library of Congress Subject Headings are out of date, unwieldy and opaque to the casual user (facts I have no problem readily agreeing with). Instead, we should tap the collective skills of all users and allow them to categorize works, vote on other peoples' labelling, and thereby create a folksonomy instead of taxonomy.

Sounds like a great idea, right? However, most librarians are unsettled by this and, not just for job security reasons. Where I become particularly antsy is where tagging is proposed as a replacement for subject analysis by librarians and other info pros (I'm cool with a supplemental tagging scheme, though). Anyone who thinks about it for long enough for the gee whiz! to wear thin, see some obvious problems here. To wit, you've got the issue of controlled vocabulary. Person A make think a given book is about death, Person B prefers dying, Person C passing on and Person D (who, apparently, is stuck in an earlier version of English) wants decease. Proponents of tags say, 'well this gets sorted out by having the most popular tag win the day on each item'. Trouble here, though, is that Book I could be tagged with death as the most popular and Book II with decease. Rather than forcing these to agree, you've created lacunae that people who think differently won't be able to find and, because there's not professional oversight, they cannot turn to a solid source for tracking things down.

Another problem with tagging is the lack of hierarchy. Sure, LCSH can get pretty long when it's things like Jews -- Indiana -- Muncie -- History -- Video recordings. But, at least here, you can trace the breakdown. Tagging might lead to situations here where things like Indiana or even something as basic as history are left out. This exmple's perhaps not the best for my case, but there are times when it'd be nice to be able to backtrack through your subject headings. Like, drop Video recordings to find books, then history to find all treatments, then Muncie to find stuff about Indiana Jews in general and so forth.

As usual, most of the advocates for the change come from outside the library world (or are so managerial that they don't quite get the hesitation about the innovation). Librarians then get accused of being old-fashioned, resistant to change and so forth. Maybe I'm just a library nerd (and we know I hate the change), but I'm glad of this facet of libraryland. Doesn't it take your breath away that you can search in Yales's library catalogue or the library catalogue of Sitka Public Library using the same terms to find similar books? The hesitation to split apart something that makes libraries so delightfully interoperable should be seen as a good thing.

All this spewing came about not only from the talk at the conference, but also from an analogy I came up with as I tried to vocalize my trouble with folksonomy. Subject analysis and classification are really, when all is said and done, the professional service that makes librarians librarians. To assert the public driven tagging method is more effective, more useful and generally better use of resources than traditional aboutness readings is like throwing out the entire knowledge base of medications and interactions and telling people to just treat their diseases in the way that the general public (or even, the engaged, informed but non-trained segment of the population) decides works for them. Obviously, finding that book about poodles and lace making in Belgium is no where near as serious as life and death, I think the analogy about public- versus professional-driven methods holds. Plus, we all know that being a doctor's way easier than they make it out to be, right?

See, I told you it'd be boring. By the way, this post was brought to you by the heading Classification, Library of Congress -- Popular works.

Snoozefest 2008

Last week, I skipped out of work to attend the Utah Library Association Conference. I had forgotten how terribly boring these sorts of things can be. I had not, however, forgotten how uncomfortable the whole mill-about-and-network scenario makes me. Mostly, I've learned tactics to avoid this, like removing myself from the conference venue during long breaks or carrying a book with me. Nothing spectacular came out of my attendance. I did, however, have a few amusing situations which I would like to share.

It takes a very special kind of person to open his or her conference session with self-written poetry. Especially if this poetry is modeled after Dr. Seuss, involves the anthropomorphizing of various birds, and quotes liberally from the Bible. What's even weirder is that this session was on providing books to prisoners. It was sort of jarring, but gutsy, I'll give him that. And yes, the cage in the metaphor was the jail. But it's ok, because the prisoner found Jesus...or something. I got lost after the fifth type of bird was introduced and so I'm sort of unclear which was behind bars, which was the guards, and who was the public who can send books to inmates.

Secondly, it's reassuring to know that intellectual freedom fighters are the same everywhere: slightly off-kilter conspiracy theorists who can turn seemingly innocuous facts into evil plots by the government to destroy our freedoms. I can't remember the exact question that was asked in the session on the history of free speech, but it was along the lines of having a discussion in a cataloguing class about the possible uses of sound recognition software to jam subversive radio broadcasts in communist countries.

Lastly, I attended a session on life post AACR2. Cataloguers are an easy group to spot. Apart from their obvious awkwardness in social situation, there's the way they look. They all dress in this odd combination of flashy and dowdy that I can only describe as MARChic. Generally, the ingredients are an unfashionable pair of glasses, orthopedic shoes, and some garish garment that was of questionable taste even when it was in style fifteen years ago. I'll readily admit that librarians are not the most fashion forward types, but I think being sequestered from public services makes cataloguers even more susceptible to poor sartorial choices.

In other job-related news, I've been buying fiction for my library. Mostly, because I can and I have the funds. Fiction is so incredibly cheap for libraries. Granted, the collection here will be pretty scattershot and heavily biased but my own tastes, but I've long since given up pretending that I have professional skills to overpower my own inclinations.