Tuesday, December 18, 2012

New Year, New Library: Digital Preservation on the Cheap, Book Mount Edition

As we've gained staff this year, we're able to work on some projects that had been on the back burner in previous years, such as taking stock of our woefully neglected rare books room. As far as I can tell, there hasn't been a proper accounting of what's in there, and we now have eager part-time librarians and interns who want to learn about preservation, digitization, and the original cataloging that comes with those topics. I repeat: you have not properly preserved nor digitized an item until there is robust metadata to go with it. End rant.

One of our part-time librarians has a nice camera, and has been trained to catalog, so what's left is to train this staff member to preserve and digitize. Book mounts can be remarkably expensive for being a few pieces of foam, but we have a trick up our sleeve: Michael's. Yes, the craft store.

My first library job was in preservation for a small theological library in New York City, where I blew a bunch of money on Mylar, and my third was guillotining and digitizing books at a large Midwestern university (yes, I was there for Double Fold, in which two of my bosses are quoted out of context), so I have some background on this area of librarianship. If you are into preservation, Michael's should be your best friend.

That large foam board is $5.99. The four cones are $3.99 each. Placing two cones on each side, slide them closer or further depending on the angle you want. Those three sheets of felt, with sticker backing, are $.99 each. Use them as needed, on the cones and on the board to reduce slippage and to protect the book or pamphlet. The sum of these materials is $26.42, including Maryland state tax. A book mount costs approximately ten times this. Budgets are tight. Get creative.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Never Mind the Hype: Lakefront's Black Friday Beer

Past, Present, & Future Sessions Here
As I've mentioned before, beer is for drinking, not for fetishizing. But that giddy thrill before you drink it...? It's pretty fun, sometimes even better than the beer. Maybe even often better than the beer. In those moments, the beer hardly matters. The anticipation, the endorphin and adrenaline rushes, the experience... those matter.

A byproduct of the rise of craft beer is that brewers have to compete for consumers. One way to do this is to hype up a beer. Let's call this top-down hype, as opposed to bottom-up hype, which comes from ones' peers (e.g., "you have to try this barrel-aged imperial wit dry-hopped with unicorn tears!"). Scarcity, top-down hyping if nothing else, means that a great many people, or at least a handful of craft beer aficionados, are going to want to try something there isn't a lot of, which is how I found myself standing outside Lakefront Brewing's Milwaukee building at 8am in a fifteen degree wind chill on "Black Friday."

Lakefront, marketing geniuses that they are, released an imperial black IPA--perhaps the most American, or at least 'Merican, beer they could--to get in on this traditional day of shopping madness. I happened to be in Milwaukee to celebrate Thanksgiving with my brother-in-law, who happens to be an ex-employee of Lakefront. Thanks to the magic of the internet, I found out about this event before he did (thanks, Beerpulse!), though to his credit he agreed it was a good idea.

That foolish fellow in the yellow t-shirt at dead center is my other brother-in-law, who now knows to bring a jacket to an 8am beer event. This photo was on the front page of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel website on Black Friday.
Only 1200 bottles were made, with a limit of three per person. Yes, I bought three. In addition, the first 300 people in line got a Black Friday pint glass. My brother-in-law ended up with the last one of those.

As for the Black Friday imperial IPA? I haven't even had it.* It doesn't matter. Black IPA, or whatever you want to call it, isn't my favorite style. What matters is standing out in the cold, walking into a crowded, festive brewery (see below) on a Friday morning, and having a great time with great people. Hype? The beer is besides the point. It usually is.

* Thanks to air travel, I could only bring back two bottles, getting the rest at Christmas. I chose Three Floyds Broo Doo because it's a wet hop ale, it wasn't getting any fresher, and New Glarus Serendipity because it's New Glarus and delicious. Only one of these beers lives up to the hype. Speaking of which, I maintain that if Three Floyds distributed to 20 states instead of 5 there'd be a lot less talk about them about beer circles, and I say this despite liking many of their offerings.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

On Diversity in Library & Information Science Education

On Thursday, November 8th, and Friday the 9th the iSchool at the University of Maryland, College Park held its first Symposium on Diversity in Library and Information Science Education. It's an excellent idea that's well overdue, given that the profession appears to be somewhat demographically stagnant. To wit, in 2006 American Library Association members self-reported a composition that is approximately 89% white and 80% female (data in pdf form). In 2012, those numbers hadn't budged (pdf), which begs the question of what library and information science educators, librarians and paraprofessional staff, the ALA, academic advisers and faculty are doing or can do to correct this imbalance. I'm not naive enough to think that librarianship should reflect society, writ large, but for many librarians patron demographics are changing while ours are not.

Library and information science educators operate somewhat at the mercy of the other persons mentioned here. Graduate students are a self-selecting sample, and if not many students from diverse backgrounds attend MLIS programs, there is not much for this group to do beyond creating a welcoming environment for all students. Since that is easier said than done, more on that in a minute. [UPDATE: More on this in the comments.]

Librarians themselves, ourselves, have a role to play here as well. While academic librarianship may be a fallback career for failed academics, and I am guilty as charged, for a great many prospective librarians interactions with library and information science professionals can guide people towards the field. How we communicate with prospective students, both librarians and paraprofessional staff can go a long way towards recruitment.

For its part, the American Library Association has an Office for Diversity that I assume, like the rest of the ALA, is underutilized. Outside of the very effective Spectrum Scholarship Program I don't hear much about this resource. Divisions of the ALA, such as the Association of College & Research Libraries, have their own standards that are also worth examining.

Graduate programs in library and information science are dependent on undergraduate institutions for the "raw materials" of librarianship, the students, which is why there was an emphasis on academic advisers and faculty at the symposium. These professions can guide students towards librarianship, but without knowing the resources that exist to support graduate students their persuasive abilities may be circumscribed. Or worse, they may throw unprepared students to the wolf that is graduate school. That's where this conference comes in.

I was unable to attend the Thursday session, view the program here, but was present for Friday. Prior to lunch the main takeaway seemed to be the need to embed diversity and cultural competencies into all aspects of curriculum, to make it the new normal. This is important because hegemony really does exist. Lip service to diversity is not enough; rather, it needs to be as banal, unconscious, and as taken-for-granted as white privilege is. In practice, this means a focus on mentoring, hands on experience in a variety of roles, and celebrating and promoting diversity at every possible opportunity rather than devoting a mere week to it. Repetition makes routine. At one public library in Baltimore, diversity means thirteen different languages during story time.

Following lunch there was a focus on funding for diversity initiatives. The Storify below, put together by Rebecca Oxley, a conference organizer, has a wealth of links to funding sources, among others.

I am unsure if the symposium will be repeated next year, but it strikes me that if this is something we're doing every year, then we're not doing a good job of making LIS programs diverse and welcoming.

Monday, November 12, 2012

I'm Famous! Brief Musings On Libraries, Vendors, & Open Access

Thanks to this post, I somehow find myself quoted in the most recent issue of Chemical & Engineering News. Though The American Chemical Society publishes C&EN, I found the article to be impressively fair and balanced to librarians and vendors alike. It's worth a read. On a related note, library-vendor relations are going to drastically change in the near future thanks to the promise of open access. Vendors can help us with the perils by aggregating content and designing user-friendly interfaces. Such changes are already taking place in the field of particle physics.

Images via a google search: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/don't-touch-me-i'm-famous

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Norms and Library Security Systems: The Library as Panopticon

A thought experiment, if you will. It's 2am. It's late, you're tired. You're driving in a residential neighborhood not too far from home. It's deserted. You come to a stop sign. Do you stop?
STOP - Hammer Time

If so, do you stop because it's the right thing to do, are you governed by the logic of appropriateness, or do you stop because you fear getting caught, the logic of consequences? Or is it a combination?

Scholars James March and Johan Olsen define the former logic as
a perspective that sees human action as driven by rules of appropriate or exemplary behavior, organized into institutions. Rules are followed because they are seen as natural, rightful, expected, and legitimate. Actors seek to fulfill the obligations encapsulated in a role, an identity, a membership in a political community or group, and the ethos, practices and expectations of its institutions. (pdf)
While the logic of appropriateness is sociological and ideational (are you the "kind of person" who stops at a stop sign?), the logic of consequences is economic and rationalist, concerned with achieving goals that are often defined by materialist worldviews ("I wish to avoid an accident and a speeding ticket."). Note that at times these two logics compete, but at others they are complementary.

Here's why I ask about stop sign behavior. Last month our patron counter broke, which meant no more gate counts. Two weeks later, the library security gates broke. We have an older system in which these two functions are part of one structure, which makes replacement an expensive proposition. How expensive? This expensive. For a small library that didn't budget for this, it's a tremendous outlay.

But is it a necessary one? Thanks to the above logics, and the norms they propagate, does a library need a security system? Do enough patrons behave appropriately, and fear the consequences of inappropriate behavior, that a security system is irrelevant? And will the people who steal library materials, or "borrow" them without first checking out, find a way to take what they want from a library regardless of the state of library security?

The library security system is not quite a stop sign. Think of it more as a traffic light, with a red light camera attached. If you run the light, the camera goes off, takes a picture of your license plate, and mails you a ticket. If you take materials out of the library without them being desensitized, a sensor goes off, staff inspects your belongings, and you are perhaps shamed as other people stop to watch this spectacle. A neutered security system, however, is a stop sign. There is no enforcement mechanism without a functioning sensor beyond the norm that stealing is wrong. It operates within the logic of appropriateness. And yet the physical structure of the gate is still there; most patrons may not realize that the gate sensors do not work. The library security system has become a panopticon. It offers the illusion of consequences as a form of domination and control.


The above image is a prison designed by utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham, never built. However, its design has influenced a number of modern structures.

A guard tower in the middle of this Cuban prison allows for unobstructed views of all inmates, while shielding the guard from their eyes. In fact, a guard need not be present. This is our library security system, albeit in extreme form. Will the inmates, or patrons, realize that the emperor has no clothes? Until we can find the funds for a new library security system, we'll find out, relying on a broken security gate as a panoptic system of control to prevent library theft.

Our library contains approximately 214,000 items that circulate in one form or another. The far majority of these are out of date, relics of a time when the school was a women-only college, not a co-ed university. In the 2011-12 fiscal year, July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012, 10,613 items circulated. Of these items, fifty-six (56) are labeled lost or missing. For the purposes of this exercise, I code those materials as stolen. Starting on November 1, 2012, I will begin a count of missing and lost items, ending when, and if, I suppose, we get a functioning security system, and I will report the finding in this space.

Monday, October 22, 2012

New Year, New Library: New Library (kind of)

It's been quiet here for the last month as we train new staff and bombard the campus with information literacy one-shots. In addition, much of my free time has been taken by volunteering for a local charter school that, like many schools in Washington, DC, lacks a school librarian or school media specialist.
To wit, for the 2012-13 academic calendar there are approximately sixty (60, 6-0) schools in DC that lack a librarian or school media specialist, covering between 16,000 to 17,000 students. There's plenty of blame to go around, starting with the Mayor, Vincent Gray (sample inflammatory statement from the mayor, "[W]e decided we would leave education to educators"), the Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, and individual principals, who decide whether or not to staff a school library. There is more sadness this way:
The results of a Freedom of Information Act request show that in FY11 and FY12, the money appropriated to DCPS [DC Public Schools] for library and media services was overwhelmingly used for other things. It paid for other things like building repairs, maintenance to HVAC systems. More than $400,000 was used for testing. DCPS used $80,000 of these funds to pay for a San Francisco-based consultant to develop a strategic plan for its Office of Family and Community Engagement.
This school, which one of my children attends, moved into a new facility last year, and this year finally has space for a library. But no librarian or school media specialist, and that's where parents like me come in. I suddenly find myself a Chinese-language cataloger (it's a Chinese-immersion school), blindly fumbling around, guided by ISBNs that may or may not lead me to a record, relying on Library of Congress Subject Headings that may or may not exist, and eyeballing the height of books to make a cataloging judgement. I've cataloged in Cyrillic before, with the help of a cheat sheet, and in Japanese, which I used to speak, but Chinese is a whole different animal.

On the plus side, the school has selected Follet's Destiny as an integrated library system, and it's easy to use. Within about fifteen minutes I felt comfortable with it, and this ease of use will allow teachers to check out materials to students. Double plus, some other parents are also librarians, and we've all taken active interests in the new school library.

In addition, the school is going to experiment with giving students raspberry pi (not pie, though that would be good, too), so I may be talking a bit (more) about programming in this space.

In the meantime, if you'd like to help DC's schools, please sign this petition. Thanks.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Another World is Possible: Particle Physics Goes Open Access

Well, it finally happened. The entire (sub?)field of particle physics, okay, ninety percent of it, just went open access (OA). Details, via Nature:
After six years of negotiation, the Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics (SCOAP3) is now close to ensuring that nearly all particle-physics articles — about 7,000 publications last year — are made immediately free on journal websites. Upfront payments from libraries will fund the access.
Payments, from libraries, that would have gone to vendors are now going directly to journal publishers, eliminating the middle man. Simple. Elegant. Less expensive.

Let's get to the big question: is this replicable in other fields? Kind of. CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, oversees the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) that is responsible for producing much of the research in particle physics, and as such, the organization exerts more influence over what's published than similar bodies in other fields. It's hard to imagine the American Political Science Association (APSA), for example, being able to sway publishing in that field the way CERN does for particle physics. Political scientists aren't dependent on APSA for producing research; there's not a political science equivalent of the LHC. In addition, as Nature notes, particle physics is a concentrated field, in which twelve journals account for ninety percent of the scholarship produced in article format.

In sum, if you want to replicate this in another field, look for one with a strong, centralized organization and limited options for article publication. The organization can control research production, as CERN does, or wield power via accreditation, certification, or other means. It's not unthinkable that a OA could be a part of such a regime, in terms of either sheer volume or percentage of scholarship that is made accessible. That organization and just a few publishers/journals ensures fewer parties at the negotiating table, which may make it easier to reach an agreement to achieve open access in a field.

In the meantime, please credit SCOAP3, CERN, and these journals for taking this unprecedented step. Another world, another scholarly publishing ecosystem, is possible. Librarians play an important role in SCOAP3. Let's not just watch, let's get creative and build off of this.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Supposed To's: An Open Letter to Library Directors

A library director balances the library budget with the needs of the community, and for it is hailed as a hero.

There is something wrong with this picture.

You're supposed to be doing that!

Here's what Jenica Rogers did, working with faculty, administration, and other library staff to reduce dependence on American Chemical Society resources.
Given that there was no apparent ACS-based solution to our budget crunch in the face of what we feel is unsustainable pricing, we went to our Chemistry faculty and discussed all of this with them. This was not our first meeting; we’ve been discussing this since fall 2011 when we clearly understood that ACS pricing would continue to increase, and was pushing at the ceiling of what we could sustain.  Along with two librarians – the Collection Development Coordinator, and our subject liaison to Chemistry – I laid all the facts out. We described our subscription history in support of their scholarship, teaching, and learning needs, pulled out the costs for ACS content when we first subscribed in the early 2000s and referred back to the discussions we had then (when I was CD Coordinator, not Director), laid out the current cost of ACS publications and the price increases over the past five years, and estimated what our 3-year prices would be. Based on our discussion, I think that some of our faculty were surprised, some seemed resigned, some were horrified, and they were all frustrated by what seemed to be a plate full of bad options. However, after two meetings and much discussion of how to reconfigure our ACS subscriptions to meet our budgetary constraints, I believe that we all agreed that this goes beyond having a tight campus or library budget: this is simply not appropriate pricing for an institution like ours. The result of our first meeting was that the chemistry faculty agreed to take their concerns to the ACS based on their individual professional involvements with the organization, talking with sales and the Chemical Information Division about their concerns, and we agreed that we’d look into other library solutions to their chemical information needs.
Some analysis, via another library director:

To underscore just how radical this is, Jenica spells out that the American Chemical Society “is in the unique position of both approving programs and selling the content necessary for approval” — an egregious conflict of interest.  (I’m wondering how unique this is, actually.) For this, the ACS extorts free labor from faculty who have no choice but to publish (or perish) — free labor to the ACS, but certainly not free to the supporting institutions — then turn around to charge increasingly high prices for their product. Jenica notes that “the ACS package would have consumed more than 10% of my total acquisitions budget, just for journals for this one department.”
N.b.: this also points to the importance of including librarians — or at least librarian-informed judgment –  in the university program approval and review process; some universities understand this, while others do not. It is to Jenica’s credit that she has built the organizational relationships to make possible the necessary conversations to do what elsewhere would be unthinkable.

"Unthinkable?" Really? Isn't this what library directors should be doing? Are our peers really this deaf to the milieu in which libraries find themselves in the twenty-first century? To trends in scholarly communication? To the value of building organizational relationships?

What Jenica did only works if others do it. She can't be the lone voice in the wilderness. Don't praise her for doing her job. Look in the mirror and do your job. You're supposed to be doing that!

Indeed, in 2011 we ended our relationship with the Nature Publishing Group, whose namesake print publication was responsible for more than fifteen percent of our print serials budget. Fifteen percent! I'll let that sink in, and feel free to do the math if you'd like. Library staff worked with the provost and affected faculty when eliminating Nature. It helps that we're a small university without graduate programs in the sciences, and with faculty focused more on teaching than research, but SUNY-Potsdam's experience is proof that larger institutions can and should be investigating and then acting on alternatives. Because, you know, that's part of our job. That's what we're supposed to be doing.

Monday, September 10, 2012

An Interview With Hiring Librarians

I've done an interview with the good folks over at Hiring Librarians on, you guessed it, hiring library staff. Here's a taste:

Too many applicants come in unprepared. They haven’t done, or haven’t articulated that they’ve done, background research on the library, on the institution. Please please please go to our website and poke around. Tell us what you liked, what works, as well as what doesn’t.
Look at the mission of the institution; it’s something we take very seriously, and there are hard days when that mission, those goals, seems like all we have. Let us know how you can help us with that mission, and achieve those goals.
But of course go read the whole thing.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Library and Craft Beer Bullies

I have the strange fortune of being in two industries, one as an employee, the other as a blogger, that perceive themselves as being bullied. The former is librarianship, the latter is craft beer. There's no shortage of ink, digital and actual, spilled over this in librarianship. We're the victims of budget cuts, subject to the whims of vendors. We're not in control. When we exercise what agency we have, we might think we're driving, but the correct analogy is probably closer to downhill skiing. We're heading down a path, dodging trees, trying not to fall, but we think we're going to end up in the valley regardless of what happens on the journey. "Yes, there is a teleology here."

Or so the story goes. I find a tension in the discourse around this subject: that libraries and librarians are agents, are superheroes, and yet at the same time find themselves objects, acted on, then perhaps reacting. I prefer to think of it as complexity. Agents at one moment can be structures the next, and the opposite is true as well.

Craft beer defines itself, in large part, by what it's not. It's not bland, light, made with adjuncts, not made in fifteen locations. It's not macro beer, made by Bud, Miller, Coors. And yet what it's not is a myth. Craft beer can be all those things, though perhaps in two rather than fifteen locations, and even owned by the large companies mentioned above. Like libraries, craft beer has a chip on its shoulder, feels oppressed, and, perhaps like libraries, with good reason. To wit, a document that purports to show the incentives offered by one distributor of beer, Reyes Premium, to remove Devils Backbone, a Virginia craft beer, off of local draft lines. 

If this document is genuine and accurate, this could be considered evidence of a distributor paying its employees to remove a craft brewer from a draft line in favor of Blue Moon. It’s my opinion that Blue Moon sucks, as does Shock Top, which is also mentioned in the photograph. These beers masquerade as craft, but are made by MillerCoors and InBev, respectively. The best thing I can say about them is that they might get you to move up to Allagash White. These beers are to craft beer what “useful idiots” are to Lenin.* 
That being said, selling beer is the job of any distributor and its employees. Distributors are paid to put products in bars, restaurants, and on the shelves. These bonuses (if genuine) are incentives for a sales force; this is a common practice in other industries and businesses. People who love craft beer have a tendency to romanticize this industry while forgetting that it is also very much a business. People strive to make good beer for a living, but without turning a profit on that beer, we’re left with hobbyists, not an industry. 
On the other hand, bonuses, incentives, and commissions that involve cash introduce the potential and possibility of kickbacks. One can easily envision a situation in which an employee of a distributor splits his or her bonuses with people who work in bars, restaurants, and stores that sell alcohol, or even that the bonuses come from brewing companies themselves. MillerCoors and InBev have deeper pockets than any craft brewer. DCBeer is not suggesting that this is the case here, nor do we have evidence that such practices are occurring in this or any instance. We merely have a photo posted to Twitter. However, there have been discussions of this behavior in the past, and no doubt there will continue to be more in the future.

There's more information, and speculation, here.

Both in libraries and beer, much of any alleged bullying happens behind the scenes, away from the public. The paying public doesn't see the how and why of that draft line moving from one beer to another, or the how and why of an ebook or journal that's no longer available. It our job in both those fields to acknowledge, publicize, and fight that bullying without coming across as whiny or shrill. The solutions are also similar: education, outreach, marketing. We're targets; let's adapt.

* The initial DCBeer.com post attributes this quote to Marx. I have corrected it here. Photo credit to twitter user @wort2yourmom.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Why We Hired Who We Hired, The Aftermath

Because more people read posts than comments on posts, and because hey, more content, I'm going to do something like a Q & A using feedback about Why We Hired Who We Hired, one of the more popular things I've written on this site.

K Lowry wonders how I feel about thank you notes. Answer: I like them. A lot. It's a little gesture, but a meaningful one. And yet that being said, two of the people we brought to campus sent us notes (one, handwritten!, arrived after the initial post), and these two people weren't offered the positions. As for whether they should be handwritten or not, I have no preference, though getting mail at the library that isn't an invoice or vendor junk mail is always exciting (it's the little things, people). I get the convenience of emailing and don't understand why more job seekers don't do this. It takes maybe a minute, it's polite, it signals increased interest, and is the right thing to do. UPDATE: a 3rd thank you note has arrived, also handwritten (1:58pm, 8/22/12).

Nicola Franklin asks about resume targeting and specificity of cover letters. I'll address the former here, and the latter a bit later on in the post. I have two versions of my resume, an academic CV, for teaching and such, and a resume for library jobs. That's it. I'm not sure if that counts as targeting. I've applied for at least a dozen jobs over the past eighteen months or so, after all, what's the fun of having a title of "director" if you can't take it out for a spin, and received zero job offers in that time, so make of this what you will. However, if I get a resume from you, it's because you're applying for a library job, and as such I assume the resume is going to be at least somewhat targeted towards that. Even if you have no library experience, and we've hired people with none before, show strengths that apply to libraries, like customer service, problem solving, initiative, and finding information for yourself or others in digital environments, among others. The cover letter should also mention these skills, without being repetitive. It's worth mentioning that Nicola is a library recruiter in the UK, thus knows a lot about the job hunting and hiring processes. She blogs here. Do check it out.  In general, however, I think cover letters are harder to get right than resumes, and I like reading things that flow, so much so that I'll read a cover letter first at times, which brings us to this.

Commenter beckitty asks how I know a cover letter mentioned in the initial post was written in a few minutes? Here's how:
Thank-you for receiving my call today.  I am applying for the advertised Library Intern position at [redacted].  I have several years of experience in an academic environment with through [sic] knowledge of internet searching, teaching, and use of the technologies associated with academic librarianship. Please consider my resume and references as evidence of my commitment to the student learner, faculty, staff, and stakeholders of the incumbent institution. I look forward to hearing from you and discussing the possibilities. 
With Regards, 
That's the whole letter. All of it. In its entirety. Read these posts about cover letters. Then try harder. Give details. Proofread. This commenter mentions that she omits cover letters if a job posting indicates they're optional. I couldn't disagree more. If you're applying for a job and the cover letter is optional, write one anyway. If you're good at it, and it seems she is, it can't hurt. If you're not good at it, it's practice.

Again, what works for me, what I'm looking for, what other library staff are looking for, what non-library staff are looking for, at this institution may not be exactly what other people at other institutions are looking for. I know the job market is stressful, that it's hard to get noticed, that as of right now there's one job posted on the American Library Association Jobs List website for Washington, DC, and only four in Maryland. If you're looking for larger trends, I can say that we, at my place of work, aren't alone in looking for a particular set of knowledge, skills, and abilities, and that while I can't claim universality, I can claim some wider applicability. If you want a larger data pool, read through Hiring Librarians to get a sense of what other libraries and staff are looking for, and do your research on a particular institution or organization before applying. Good luck.

I leave you with this Facebook comment from an ALA JobList fan and my response.

  • Fan: So not helpful. One person's experience and preferences? As if he were thinking the same way as every other place looking for people. All this shows me is how to talk to him, knowing that what works for him could be a total disaster at another place.

  • Me: I'm sorry you didn't find this helpful, [redacted], but to my credit, the post is titled "Why We Hired Who We Hired," not "Why Libraries Hired Who They Hired." I suspect that a post about larger hiring trends would send mixed messages to job seekers; as you note what works for me might not work for someone else, though I know that there are other academic libraries that operate a similar way in terms of hiring. The job search process is stressful enough as it is, and my hope is to offer some insight and transparency into that process at my institution. But thank you for reading all the same, and best of luck.

Monday, August 20, 2012

August Local Beer Roundup

Emphasizing the "beer" part of "Beerbrarian," there have been a few noteworthy developments in Washington, DC beer news lately. In a warehouse not too far from the Takoma Park Metro station, 3 Stars Brewing began to make and sell beer. 

The Urban Farmhouse is a saison-style ale that is hopped, but not over-hopped, with Centennial and Cascade. Given that no other local breweries offer this style, Bluejacket’s saison is not yet a local brew, kudos to 3 Stars for product differentiation. Green, white, and a handful of pink peppercorns go into the boil, which also includes a generous amount of wheat. The former is obvious on the nose, and plays well with the spicy esthers from the yeast. The latter is clear in the body and appearance of the beer, which finishes with a vegetal aftertaste, almost like biting into a fresh red pepper. A cask of the Urban Farmhouse had orange peel and more Cascade hops, creating big citrus flavors towards the end of the beer, washing away the spices.
Neither Coleman nor McGarvey profess to like brown ales, another locally underrepresented style, but you wouldn’t know it from the Southern Belle, an 8.7% ABV stunner that tastes much closer to 6%. Toasted pecans were added to the boil, and complement the chocolate malts and delicate, effervescent carbonation. One cask of the Belle featured vanilla beans; the taste was eerily reminiscent of pecan pie, not at all boozy, and vaguely suggested lactose. Another cask used lightly toasted oak, adding hints of white pepper, sourness, and a dry finish.
The Pandemic Porter will probably attract the most attention, and have you hollering “two for $5″ as if you were in Hamsterdam. Both DC Brau and Port City brew robust porters, but 3 Stars doesn’t have much interest in that kind. Instead you get a 9.6% ABV imperial coffee porter, with a gallon of Qualia cold-brewed Yirgacheff concentrate added to each barrel. Vanilla and coffee dominate this beer, but there’s a quick, dry finish that doesn’t linger, and thanks to the skills of both Qualia and head brewer McGarvey there’s very little bitterness. One cask at Churchkey upped the coffee quotient to the point where I got the shakes. Picture Du De Ciel’s Peche Mortel taken to 11 and you’re somewhat close. Another cask utilized heavily toasted oak, which stood up to the vanilla and coffee flavors, drying out the beer and further hiding the alcohol content.

Meanwhile, over in Northeast DC, DC Brau collaborated with another local brewery that doesn't have brewing space yet, Bluejacket, on a grätzer. A hoppy smoked wheat ale native to what was once Prussia, then part of Germany, and now part of Poland. 
this style is functionally extinct in the wild, like a Dama gazelle. If you attended SAVOR in 2011, you may have gotten a taste of something like a grätzer from Bayou Teche Brewing’s “Bouncanee,” a smoked wheat ale, and Choc Brewing in Oklahoma has gone to great lengths (Weyermann smoked malt, yeast from a Polish homebrewer, and water replication) to brew a traditional version. Two of DC’s finest will take a crack at continuing to revive this style, calling it “The Embers of the Deceased.” At just 4% ABV, it joins Ground Wolf and Your Favorite Foreign Movie as sessionable offerings brewed at DC Brau.
In expanding market news, New Hampshire's White Birch Brewing has entered the DC market, initially with three styles.

Crown of Gold (Rye Pale Ale / 4.2% ABV)
From the brewery: English malts, toasted rye for spice, American ale yeast, and whole leaf Cascade hops. Sounds like a winner to me.
Hop Session Ale (American IPA / 5.1% ABV)
Somewhere between a mini-version of an American IPA and a hoppy red ale or American amber, this is the only year-round release the DC market is going to see for the time being. Citrusy West Coast hops playing nicely with caramel malts, finishing with some of that resin-y dryness you kids love so much.
Hop to Wit (Witbier / 5.2% ABV)
Puns! Witbiers aren’t known for being particularly hoppy, but this one is, with an additional juicy kick that comes from grapefruit peel and pink peppercorns (traditional witbiers opt for orange peel and coriander). Let’s thank and reward them for not calling this a white IPA.

Look for both 3 Stars and the grätzer on tap at finer establishments around town. White Birch will be in bottles at stores and restaurants.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

New Year, New Library: Why We Hired Who We Hired

We have a part-time position open here at my place of work (MPOW), which means reading, and weeding, through applications; interviewing; and making decisions, some tough, some not so much. We advertised the following position on a few listservs, the university website, and a few other places.
Intern Job Opening 12
Within three days our human resources department received thirty resumes and cover letters, twenty-three of which we, the library staff, quickly dismissed, as it was obvious that these applicants were applying just for the sake of applying. Of the seven remaining, three called me to discuss the position. I do not like that. I don't like talking on the phone, sometimes much to the chagrin of friends and family, and I did not give a phone number on the position description for a reason, though I salute the enterprising googlers who found me.
Of these three callers, one submitted a cover letter that looked like it was written in under two minutes. That left us with six. Two we, library staff, were on the fence about. Because we're a small library, we decided to err on the side of caution and not invite these two applicants to campus. This left us with more time to do library things, like showing people how to print, where the bathrooms are, cataloging, and sending out links of squee animals. The other four were invited to campus, and accepted.
Our interview process is iterative. First there's a formal interview, almost always with not only library staff, but also someone from a dean or provost's office. I cannot stress enough how important it is to bring in someone from outside the library and library services when interviewing, at least for an academic library. It keeps the conversation focused on what a candidate can do for not only a library, but also the larger academic community, and it keeps the library jargon to a minimum. It also keeps me in check, lest I say something less than stellar about MPOW's administration, not that that would ever happen.

The second step is a tour of the library, culminating in a viewing of our broken microfilm reader. I have been at MPOW for almost five and a half years and not once has it worked. On the other hand, not once has anyone asked for microfilm except for interlibrary loan requests, which we happily grant. The third step is filling out a formal MPOW job application.

Both library and non-library interviewers were pleased with the four applicants, but to the library staff, two immediately stood out. Both had grade school teaching experience, as well as retail experience, important since librarianship is, in large part, about customer service. One of these candidates name-dropped The Wire, which is always a plus. The other commanded the room in such a way that it was clear five minutes into the interview that we were going to offer her the position. Fortune shined upon us when we found out that we could extend job offers to both of them.

The other two candidates were not bad, both are people with whom we could do business, but were simply less good than the two to whom we made offers. It happens. One of these not-bad-but-less-good candidates has a wealth of library experience, but that experience takes place at a very posh library in a posh area of a posh state. Given that MPOW functions something like a historic black college/university (HBCU) and educates more graduates of the District of Columbia public school system than any other private institution in the country, it didn't seem like the best fit. The other of these interviewees had less library experience, but talked cogently about the digital divide and making information accessible. This candidate would require more training, but an ability to examine oneself vis-a-vis unfamiliar surroundings is something that's hard to teach. All the interviewers, myself included, remain stumped on how to rank these two candidates.

It is also worth mentioning that all four people we brought in for interviews had at least one typo on either their resume or cover letter, and only one wrote us a thank you note, following up after the interview. One interviewee arrived twenty-five minutes early and asked to have the interview upon arrival. Don't do that.

I hope the offers we've extended are accepted, and I can post an update during training.

UPDATE: a related post is now up (2pm, 8/22/12).

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Toward a Unifying Field Theory of Librarianship, Or Not.

 Ahhh, the social sciences; forever concerned with measuring up to the natural sciences. Today's attempt at turning librarianship and library science into physics, or at least (re)starting the discussion, comes from the excellent In the Library With a Lead Pipe, a must-read blog if you're a librarian, which puts posts through something like peer-review, except that it's the same circle of peers doing the review for the far majority of posts. The search for "a philosophy of librarianship" is problematic for many reasons, chief among them is that doing so is a hunt for a moving target. No doubt physics has changed in the last thirty years, but it's still the study of matter (a media) and motion (actions of said media). Large swaths of a physics textbook published in 2012 don't look much different from one written in 1982, nor does a lab. A library, however, with a few notable and forlorn exceptions, looks very different, and the study of information, of making it searchable and accessible by a given community, has gone from the print medium to multiple media, some of which only exist as a spec on a hard drive, mainframe, or server. And so the Lead Pipe article, written by Emily Ford, begins with the sad tale of the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) "digital literacy corps," for which librarians were apparently not consulted (even though they were). Ford assigns blame for the alleged lack of consideration to the deep cause of a lack of a philosophy of librarianship. The author's goal 

here is not to contribute to the groundswell of victim rhetoric that surrounds the de-funding and de-professionalization of librarianship. Instead, I aim to shine a light on what I think is happening. Namely, we haven’t yet sussed out the philosophy behind what it is that we do.
And yet Ford leads with the very discourse she decries, understandable, since everyone I know in the profession bemoans libraries' and librarians' lack of power. Interesting, then, that the word "should" occurs so often in this article, as a philosophy of librarianship is, by definition, an invitation to argue over norms, normative concepts, and power. Biology is the study of life, not what life should be. The latter is eugenics, a word that, again, understandably, has some negative connotations. This is not only a conversation as to what librarianship should be, but also a conversation about the conversation. 
Sound ideas about what librarianship is and what its goals are permit us to claim a degree of autonomy in institutions where we might otherwise serve as mere functionaries rather than as the professionals we are. Without a philosophical foundation, we lack a basis for making decisions regarding how to change our institutions in response to external forces, with the potential result that we do not play the role that we should in decision-making.
That's a quote from Rory Litwin, approvingly cited in the article, but one can substitute any other group of social scientists, those who practice normative science. A hallmark of any reputable and established social science is putting old wine in new bottles, and so it is with a philosophy of librarianship. James Periam Danton, again cited in the Lead Pipe article, properly historicized librarianship in 1934, arguing that it should be
derived from the predominating ideals of that society. Consequently, before a library philosophy can be formulated, there must be an understanding and recognition of the ideals and purposes of the society into which that philosophy must fit.
I find nothing to disagree with in the above two quotes, which to me seem to lend support to library science as Kuhnian "normal science." Geology took a long time to come around on plate tectonics. We take a long time to come around on library science syllabi, on linked data and the semantic web, and on the angst that comes with measuring ourselves via natural sciences. I wonder if digitization has or is creating a paradigm shift, a punctuated equilibrium, but one that cannot touch the "hard core" of librarianship, if one intersubjectively exists.

The Semi-Sovereign Library

The outcome of every conflict is determined by the extent to which the audience becomes involved in it. That is, the outcome of all conflict is determined by the scope of its contagion.- E.E. Schattschneider
Ford and Lead Pipe want to have this conversation. In doing so, they're attempting to determine the scope of the debate, via their audience (of which I am a part). I don't know Lead Pipe's site analytics, but anecdotally the blog is popular on social networks like Twitter and Google +. However, both those, as all social networks are, often function as an echo chamber. This may be an issue with Lead Pipe's "peer review," and it's definitely and issue in those media. Lead Pipe may be preaching to a choir by engaging its readership. I have my analytics and I know how that goes. Any fight for the soul of librarianship, or at the least a discussion over its values and philosophy, won't take place via that, or this, blog. Rather, a larger discussion of a philosophy of librarianship will take place in a world in which not every, and indeed not most, librarians are on twitter. A damning proxy statistic: fewer than one-fifth of dues-paying American Library Association (ALA) members, the very people one would think would have "skin in the game," so to speak, voted in that organization's 2012 annual election. Again, over eighty percent of librarians who pay money to belong to an organization couldn't be bothered to vote to determine that organization's leadership. That should be the real audience here, not the librarians on social media, which are epiphenomenal in the larger scheme of things. Our peers, it bears repeating, may not be our tribe. So I wonder if Lead Pipe's arena, its audience, of which I am a part, is one voice in a void. A welcome voice. Perhaps even a necessary one. But I worry that "a call to praxis" is a call to a praxis. There are many roads to Damascus. Librarianship is multifinal, from a path, from a philosophy, there are many potential outcomes, some of which I may like, others I may not. A call to praxis may limit these options, and may impose path dependence rather than healthy experimentation, may create a situation in which some tactics are more equal than others. 
Librarians are not heroes, super or otherwise. We are agents navigating structures, some of which we helped to create. #libraryontology— Jacob Berg (@jacobsberg) July 11, 2012
As Ford argues, let's continually examine why we do what we do, what works and what doesn't. That's a praxis I can get behind, but it's not the praxis. That Decemberists' song? It's great. But it's vague. It's unclear from the lyrics why we fight. And maybe that's why it works for me. Why I fight might be different from why you do. Let a hundred flowers bloom. Do good, or do less bad, or less wrongMake as much information possible to as many people as possible in as many ways as possible. On this, I hope we can agree. Besides, you don't want to be the natural sciences anyway. None of that stuff can be replicated. Good night, and good luck. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

I Don't Like #IPAday

Yesterday, August 2nd, was something called IPA Day, an event promulgated by two self-described social media gurus who blog about beer. I like IPAs. A lot. But there doesn't need to be an IPA day. It's already the most popular style, in terms of both craft beer sold, and craft beer entered into the World Beer Cup. It's redundant. There are so many IPAs out there, every day is practically IPA day. So I ranted. Hey, it's what I do.
The result is that there are many many IPAs out there, which is nice because having options is nice. But it’s also not nice because a lot of these are crap. Brewers can and do use massive amounts of hops to cover up flaws in the beer (shots fired: I call these West Coast IPAs)....
What should you do instead? Drink a style that doesn’t get enough love. Ignore anyone who describes her- or himself as a social media guru or expert. Reward craft breweries that lager; we need more of them. Patronize the breweries that have beers cold-conditioning, taking up precious real estate. If you like hops, have a Victory Prima Pils. Sour beers are an excellent antidote to summer weather. It’s August, go grill something and pair it with a rauchbier. 
 More ranty goodness here. Whatever you drank yesterday, even if it was an IPA, I hope it was good, and made with love and care. Cheers.

* Extra special cheers to this gentleman, who made the above meme-tastic image.

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. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Libraries and (Post)Modernity: A Review of Radical Cataloging

Radical Cataloging: Essays at the Front,[1] (henceforth RC) edited by K.R. Roberto, a librarian at the University of Denver, is a collection of essays about the power of catalogs and classification, and how information professionals can use these tools to their advantage.  First I provide background on radical cataloging via the work of Sanford Berman, Head Cataloger of the Hennepin County (MN) Library system from 1973 to 1999.  Second, I discuss commonalities found throughout this edited volume, concentrating on catalogers’ attempts to make Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSHs) more user-friendly and representative of reality.  Third, I evaluate how radical the agenda of this volume is, concluding that many of the policies and schemas proposed by RC authors, where applicable, are, in fact, incrementalist in nature.  Fourth, I summarize and recommend successful strategies one can use to catalog.  I conclude by offering resources to those readers interested in becoming radical catalogers.  The book itself is divided into three parts, the first of which loosely concerns Berman’s fight against LCSHs.  Many of the more radical chapters in RC, especially in the second section, lack solutions all together, seeking to illuminate and educate readers with regards to theoretical problems in cataloging, perhaps leading to resolutions at a later date.[2]  The third part deals with tools and policies the authors of RC use to catalog, analogous to the fourth section of this paper. 

The Roots of Radicalism: Sanford Berman
The radical cataloging project originates with the pioneering work of Sanford Berman.  In 1968, he took a job at the University of Zambia Library in Lusaka.  There he learned that “kafir,” a racial slur directed at black South Africans, was being used as a LCSH.[3]  Berman argued that LCSHs had a conservative bias towards the status quo; subject headings reflected societal power relations at the time.[4]  He sought to change and influence Library of Congress (LC) cataloging by creating additional subject headings for use by Hennepin County and urged the LC to add new headings, often imported from Hennepin’s catalog, making the LC catalog more user-friendly and diverse.  He recruited like-minded librarians to lobby the LC as well, known as “Sandynistas.”[5] Thanks to his work, the content of the LCSH “Electric lamps, incandescent” moved to the more intuitive “Light bulbs” (Berman 9).[6] 
The far majority of his work dealt with issues of social justice and inclusion.  What was once the LCSH for “God” became the disambiguated “God (Christianity),” a change implying that the Christian conception of God was only one point of view rather than the sum total of LC holdings.  He successfully petitioned the LC to add subject headings for topics like “Plutocracy” and “Culture Wars,” among others, but was unsuccessful in others, such as “Native American Holocaust.”  When his attempt to get the LC to add a subject heading for “National Health Insurance” failed, he lobbied late Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN) to pressure the LC.  “National Health Insurance” was added to the subject headings (Berman 8). 
In acting as a thorn in the side of the LC, Berman influenced a younger generation of catalogers and librarians, many of whom are represented in RC.  By focusing on headings written in plain English and standing with interests often lacking power or representation, he has made it easier for patrons to find materials in catalogs and given voice to those without it. 

Radical Cataloging: Taking on the LC
Like many left-wing movements, the essays in RC are a group of divergent interests united under an umbrella of radicalism.  Roberto purposefully chooses to leave “radical cataloging” undefined, noting that the term originated in a listserv discussion that became political (Roberto 1), but Jennifer Young argues that “Radical cataloging is the notion that catalogers are users too” (Young 84).  Roberto’s goal is for this book to become a resource for catalogers and advocates (Roberto 3), one that is for the most part achieved thanks to the diversity of subjects throughout the text. 
Chapters focus on a variety of topics, from cataloging outsider art (Benedetti); to fanzines, also known as zines (Freedman); to organizing popular music by genre (Summers); to automating OCLC’s Connexxion client to perform low-level intellectual tasks (Preston).  Much of the collection expands on Berman’s critique of LCSHs, often by specialists concerned with LCSHs in their areas of expertise.  tatiana de la tierra (the lowercase name is her choosing) bemoans the lack of a subject heading for lesbian Latinas (de la tierra 100), while Tracey Nectoux’s chapter attacks the LCSHs for its use of “cult” because of the negative connotations surrounding that word (Nectoux 107).  Brian Hasenstab’s annotated bibliography of radical cataloging is a good place to start for readers interested in the history of activism and cataloging.  Although unconcerned with identity politics, Christopher Walker’s article criticizes LCSHs for inconsistencies with regards to species, hyphenation, and plurality (Walker 131-132).[7] 
Ultimately, however, the far majority of these authors recognize the usefulness of LCSHs.  They merely want to improve them and make them more inclusive, or, as Hasenstab notes, “helpful, equal access to all types of information for all patrons” is not radical (Hasenstab 76).  Walker in particular concedes this point, writing, “LCSH is more baby than bath water” (Walker 137).  Yet this begs the question, what is radical? 

This is Not a Radical Catalog
The first truly radical shots fired in RC come from Jeffrey Beall’s chapter on OCLC, a company that sells cataloging data and centralized interlibrary loan interfaces to libraries.  Beall’s critique of OCLC is set up as if libraries are developing countries while OCLC is a profit-hungry multi-national corporation.  This allows him to attack the organization, “malevolent… in the way that all large, rapacious, transnational conglomerates are” (Beall 85), under the guise of Gramscian critique.  Just as raw materials come from developing countries and are made into finished products elsewhere only be to sold back to those countries,[8] OCLC buys cataloging data from libraries and then sells them to other libraries at a substantial markup.  OCLC also discourages the sharing of MARC records between libraries, although how exactly this is done Beall does not say.  The author also accuses the company of being “an information sweatshop” whose “mission… is to separate libraries from their money” (Beall 87).  OCLC does this by employing temporary workers and computer scientists at the expense of librarians.  While I find this inflammatory rhetoric entertaining, the author proposes little in the way of substantive strategies of resistance. 
Tina Gross takes aim at the Calhoun Report,[9] arguing that its focus on speed and cooperation with the private sector constitutes a manufactured emergency, a false crisis in which the dissent of catalogers is marginalized in the name of modernization, efficiency, and cost savings.  Gross posits that the policy recommendations of the Report prevent libraries from being self-sufficient and stifle dissent.  Calhoun’s conclusions paint all who oppose it with the same brush, those who attempt to stem this tide are called “selfish” or “dinosaurs” regardless of motives (Gross 141).  The author does an admirable job separating the luddites from those who have legitimate concerns regarding the future of cataloging.  Thomas Mann’s chapter on the LC expands this critique, noting that many librarians would label the Calhoun Report as radical (Mann 170).
Elsewhere in RC less economic and more philosophical forms of radicalism abound.  Bradley Dilger and William Thompson think that cataloging should become more prevalent, more public, in library settings.  Using Derrida’s discussion of play as a point of departure, they argue
Cataloging assuages an absence, a desire for getting at the knowledge contained in a library’s collection and creating new knowledge from it. Catalogs still act as permeable boundaries between people and ‘real’ knowledge and ‘potential’ knowledge contained in the collection, mediating the indeterminacy between what is known (a work’s title, author, or subject) and the desire for the unknown (the work’s content, and more importantly, its potential use) (Dilger and Thompson 45).
While these authors use a (rare) uplifting strain of postmodernism to elevate the catalog to an object of protection, Emily Drabinski challenges the very concept of a catalog, contending, “Political efforts to change terminology or localize classification schemes are inevitably limited by the nature of classification itself” (Drabinski 198).  Although humans have been cataloging and classifying for thousands of years, she sees these tools as hegemonic; to overhaul this structure one must step outside of it.[10]  Her chapter is a powerful rejoinder to Berman and others because it implicates them as part of a system in which incremental changes to LCSHs are epiphenomenal, obscuring true power structures and those that might benefit from them. 
Drabinski also argues that classification and cataloging are “products of human labor that carry traces of all the intentional and unintentional racism, sexism, and classism of the workers who create them” (Drabinski 198).  While Berman and other authors in RC agree with this statement, her conclusions do not logically follow.  Drabinski’s solution is to borrow from The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, in which a dialectic of education and liberation in information literacy can free one from hegemony.[11] I propose a more modest goal: historicize the catalog.  Instead of abandoning or overthrowing it, realize and then teach that catalogs and systems of classification are not only social constructs, created by humans, but also historical constructs, created at specific points in time.  Recast in historicist light, Berman’s work on LCSHs appears more radical as he and others worked to revise and dismantle subject headings that reflected a white male power structure while many did the same with regards to society at large.  In short, by asking the LC to add, amend, or eliminate some subject headings, Berman is historicizing the catalog.  I suggest that creations dates of LCSHs be added to LCSH authority records so patrons can see when headings were created.  Others, like dates of major reorganizations, should be entered as well.  Doing so will make it easier for users to view catalogs as products of their times. 

UnRadical Cataloging: What Works
The authors in the third part of RC shy away from the confrontational tactics of those in the first part,[12] and lack the philosophizing of those in the second.  As a result, many readers, especially information professionals, will find the focus on pragmatic strategies and solutions the most useful part of the volume.  Perhaps not coincidentally, this is the least radical section of the book.  Librarians would be wise to implement many of the suggestions in the third portion, regardless of their dubious connection to the first two. 
Jennifer Erica Sweda’s chapter proposes tagging as a way around inflexible LCSHs.  Tom Adamich adds metadata regarding the educational quality of items in the 505 and 586 fields of MARC records to show teachers searching for resources if an item has a certain theme, meets a state standard, or has won an award (Adamich 242, 244).  Dana M. Caudle and Cecilia M. Schmitz propose that catalogers spend time at the reference desk, while A. Arro Smith (yes, that’s his name) encourages catalogers to think and act like reference librarians.  Altering MARC records to aid patrons’ searches is the goal of his chapter.  He adds “Harry Potter” to the 240 field, making books about Harry Potter more visible for patrons, increasing their circulation (Smith 296). 
In sum, the authors in RC are united by little more than a desire to help patrons find what they are looking for, the goal of any catalog, and are bound by the beliefs that cataloging need not be boring and should be a force for good.  The collection of essays is disjointed and not always radical, but it is thought-provoking and offers up something interesting for catalogers of all persuasions and interests.  The work of Berman and others to update LCSHs is a noble and worthy cause; one all information professionals should pay attention to. Although RC lacks the theoretical and analytical rigor needed to properly historicize cataloging, it is a qualified success and an important first step towards that goal.  Finally, the recommendations of the third section will prove invaluable to many librarians. 

Appendix: So You Want to be a Radical Cataloger

If you are interested in current issues in radical cataloging, the following are good places to start. 

Read up on the history of radical cataloging.
  • Olson, Hope A. The Power to Name: Locating the Limits of Subject Representation in Libraries. Norwell, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2002.
  • Roberto, Katia and Jessamyn West, eds. Revolting Librarians Redux: Radical Librarians Speak Out. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2003.
  • The Sanford Berman Website. http://www.sanfordberman.org/.
  • West, Celeste and Elizabeth Katz, et al., eds. Revolting Librarians. San Francisco, Booklegger Press, 1972.

Practice it!

from Roberto, K.R., ed. Radical Cataloging: Essays at the Front. Jefferson, NC: MacFarland and Company, 2008.

Adamich, Tom. “CE-MARC: The Educator’s Library ‘Receipt.’” p.241-245.

Beall, Jeffrey. “OCLC: A Review.” p.85-93.

Benedetti, Joan M. “Folk Art Terminology Revisited: Why It (Still) Matters.” p.112-125.

Berman, Sanford. “Introduction: Cataloging Reform, LC, and Me.” p.5-11.

Caudle, Dana M. and Cecilia M. Schmitz. “Drawing Reference Librarians into the Fold.” p.251-254.

de la tierra, tatiana. “Latin Lesbian Subject Headings: The Power of Naming.” p.94-102.

Dilger, Bradley and William Thompson “Ubiquitous Cataloging.” p.40-52.

Drabinksi, Emily. “Teaching the Radical Catalog.” p.198-205.

Freedman, Jenna. “AACR 2 – Bendable but Not Flexible: Cataloging Zines at Barnard College.” p.231-240.

Gross, Tina. “Who Moved My Pinakes? Cataloging and Change.” p.140-147.

Hasenstab, Brian. “This Subfield Kills Fascists: A Highly Selective, Slightly Irreverent Trip Down Radical Cataloging Literature Lane.” p.75-82.

Mann, Thomas. “What is going on at the Library of Congress?” p.170-188.

Nectoux, Tracey. “Cults, New Religious Movements, and Bias in LC Subject Headings.” p.106-109.

Preston, Carrie. “High-Speed Cataloging Without Sacrificing Subject Access or Authority Control: A Case Study.” p.269-276.

Roberto, K.R. “Preface: What Does “Radical Cataloging” Mean, Anyway?” p.1-3.

Smith, A. Arro. “Cataloging Heresy.” p.291-299.

Summers, Michael. ‘The Genre Jungle: Organizing Pop Music Recordings.” p.53-68.

Sweda, Jennifer Erica. “Dr. Strangecataloger: Or, How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tag.” p.246-251.

Walker, Christopher H. “Rearranging the Deck Chairs on the Titanic: A Drowning Cataloger’s Call to Stop Churning the Subject Headings.” p.126-140.

Young, Jennifer. “Ranganathan’s Forgotten Law: Save the Time of the Cataloger.” p.83-84.

[1] Jefferson, NC: MacFarland and Company, 2008.
[2] What constitutes “radical” for our purpose, as will become clear later, is a postmodern/poststructuralist or Gramscian worldview as applied to library and information science in general and cataloging in particular.  If these terms are meaningless to you, I suggest Palmer, Donald. Structuralism and Poststructuralism for Beginners. New York: Writers and Readers Publishing, 1997, as well as the Wikipedia pages for Antonio Gramsci <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gramsci>, postmodernism <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodernism>, and poststructuralism <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poststructuralism> as introductions to these contested terms.  
[3] Gilyard, Burl. “Sandy Berman’s Last Stand.” City Pages 20(971). July 14th 1999, p.3. <http://www.sanfordberman.org/cityp/ber3t.htm> Accessed April 11, 2009. 
[4] Briefly, this means that dominant groups within a society have the power to name and classify, often at the expense of those who do not.  Hope Olson agrees, arguing that first term subject headings “masquerade as neutral when they are, in fact, culturally informed and reflective of social power.” Quoted in Drabinski, 200. 
[5] Gilyard. 
[6] A LCSH for “Incandescent lamps” remains in use, albeit with much less content. 
Please note that all references from Radical Cataloging will be in text parenthetical, followed by a works cited section at the end of the paper.  Other references will be footnoted. 
[7] Walker also points out that in the 670 field of authority records you may come across a “Hennepin” note, a reminder of Berman’s influence.  See Walker 133.
[8] The world economy functions with more complexity than this.  What I describe above is more akin to 19th century imperialism than contemporary Gramscian neo-imperialism in which corporate and other non-state actors are sometimes able to dictate and control national economies. 
[9]Calhoun, Karen. “The Changing Nature of the Catalog and its Integration with Other Discovery Tools.” Prepared for The Library of Congress. March 17, 2006. < http://www.LC.gov/catdir/calhoun-report-final.pdf> Accessed April 11, 2009.
[10] In Gramscian thought hegemony is an ideological superstructure that exerts influence unconsciously.  The fact that it goes unnoticed, assumed, and taken for granted by most is proof of its effectiveness.  The first step to challenging a hegemonic structure is realizing that it exists. 
[11] Freire, Paolo. The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum, 2007.  According to Drabinski, what Freire termed “banking education,” in which rote memorization is valued over critical thought, is too common in contemporary information literacy.  Freire’s solution is “problem-posing education,” in which students are each given complex problems.  These individuals in turn teach each other, as well as teaching the teacher, and the end result is that student and teacher alike are made aware of hegemonic forces that surround them.  How one could apply this to information literacy goes unmentioned in Drabinski’s chapter, and her use of “banking education” is a straw man argument, since rote memorization is by no means the dominant form of teaching information literacy.  In fact, she does not even summarize or describe current trends in information literacy and pedagogy.  See Drabinksi, 202-204. 
[12] A notable exception is Drabinski’s article, which appears in the third part because her focus on critical pedagogy is seen as a solution.