I’d like to take a brief break from talking about books from all over to talking about how we access books from all over.
I’m a catalog librarian. This means that I create the information that goes “behind the scenes” of a library catalog to help you find a book. Things like the author, the title, the summary, the subjects, and the call numbers. If you’re a cataloger or a librarian, you know that assigning subjects and call numbers can sometimes be a tricky business. And basically, in a very broad nutshell, that’s why there is the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) 2016 Classification and Indexing Satellite Meeting.
OK, you probably have no idea what that is. The IFLA is basically an international association of librarians who share ideas and interests about library stuff. (For those of you scoffing at the word “stuff,” I refer you to the title of this post). So, people from around the world coming together and sharing ideas about library things. Neat!
The main conference is actually being held this entire week, and will be dealing with a whole bunch of different topics, but I only attended the satellite meeting, which pertained mainly to cataloging issues.
There were fourteen different presentations (including the opening and closing keynotes), and I’d like to give a quick, SUPER generalize summary of each presentation. Because, one thing I’ve found in the library world, is that we don’t like to share our cataloging secrets, even with other librarians. It honestly comes off as a little bit snobby. And this isn’t from EVERY SINGLE cataloger – that’s just a general feeling that I think is felt in the library world. Catalogers don’t like to take the time to explain, or dumb down, or whatever, how or why they do what they do. It’s like this weird club that you have to know the secret handshake, the secret password, AND have three different references to get in to. Somehow I managed to fall into this super secret club completely by accident, and I’d like be the mole. So here we go.
(FYI, you can download all the presentations here, if you want more than my tiny summaries. I’d definitely encourage you to do so if you’re interested in any of these topics – some of these were really good!)
This basically talked about Big Data vs. Smart Data. Big Data = fast and easy, and Smart Data = trusted and relevant. Big Data is usually not what you want when you’re searching Google…usually you want Smart Data.
Searching online can be hard! Usually you get too many hits for whatever you’re looking for! The people who design search engines should work harder to understand the user and work with the user to tailor/narrow results to find what they need! [<—–not sarcasm, I agree, just wondering what exactly librarians are supposed to do about it…the librarians employed by online retailers, like Amazon, often have their suggestions overruled by marketing]
OK, this one was pretty cool. She was talking about some new subject headings that are in the works at LOC that can make searching for and connecting with different works easier. Quick example: you’re looking for works by African American men, because you’ve suddenly realized you’ve only ever read Things Fall Apart because it was mandatory in high school. But simply by looking at an author’s name, you have no idea if they’re black, white, Asian, gay, straight, living in the US, or sometimes, even if they’re male or female (depending on the name for that last one). But with one of the proposed new headings, we could identify what authors are black, white, Asian, gay, straight, etc. Now, there are definitely some problems that still need to be solved with this. What about mixed race people? What about someone’s identity that changes over time? What about someone who is more than one (white + gay + male, etc.). What if someone doesn’t want that identity to be part of their authority file, because they’re afraid of being pigeon-holed as “that type” of author? (Totally realistic fear, guys). But it’s a neat idea. I’m hoping they can work out the kinks.
Basically, she was suggesting that libraries allow users to tag a library item in the online catalog with how they used it. Example, if they used a particular set of books for biology research, they could tag it as #biology. She got a lot of push-back on this, but I thought it was a neat idea, especially for an academic library, which is where she was coming from. Again, lots of kinks to work out, but I thought it was something that could get there.
Ah, beloved Dewey. So, this one was talking about how they recently built into WebDewey the ability to “build” your own number, if needed, based on a base number that was already available. So, for example, you had a number for “perception of smells,” but you needed a number for “psychology of smells.” Based on the rules built into Dewey, you can now build your own number based off the base number, and contribute it to Dewey as a whole, and aha! You have a brand-new Dewey number! Yay!
I have issues with this one though. Like, ^that whole thing is fantastic, and I use it ALL the time, but what happens when you don’t have a good base number to start with? What happens then? Do you just settle for a number that covers a broader term? This tends to happen a lot with Native groups, and Dewey has a history of under-representing anything that’s not WASP-ey. I actually asked this question at the conference (and holy shit was that absolutely terrifying), and I was basically told that yeah, just use whatever number you can use, even if it’s not nearly specific enough. /sigh
I’m gonna level with you guys. I literally have no idea what this presentation was about 0.o I feel really bad! I tried to follow along, but holy shit was this concept way over my head. I felt even worse when I jokingly said something to the presenter, Andreas Kempf, about how I didn’t really get his presentation, and he thought I meant because his English wasn’t good enough! Guys. It was NOT a language problem (his English was great). This was a me problem. Also, please go read their paper because I literally cannot tell you anything about it.
So, this one was kind of neat. It talked about how at the University of Illinois, students are required to submit their theses electronically, so they can be stored for future students to access. But how can future students find them? They found that Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) aren’t really familiar to the average user (I mean, duh?), and students were having a hard time accessing the papers that would have really helped them. So they came up with this cool idea to let the authors of these papers provide their own keywords to describe their papers, since they know their work best. This made for better search terms, which meant more people could find and access their work. Cool!
So, this one was a study done on changes that are being made to headings in bibliographical records from WorldCat. Basically, it looked to see if catalogers were adding information, deleting information, or modifying information – and it found that most changes were modifications. This is interesting to me as a cataloger, and I’d love to see a follow-up study on why these modifications were made – were they mostly typos? Subject headings that were just wrong for whatever reason? Or were they updates?
OK, this one I thought was going to be super boring, but it ended up being AWESOME. So, picture this: you speak a couple different languages; let’s say Arabic, English, and French (because those were her examples). You are looking for a book at the library about ladders (because I turned my head and saw a ladder !). If you search the library catalog for the English word “ladder,” you’re only going to pull up the English results for ladders. But since you speak a couple different languages, that’s not really giving you all the helpful information out there, right? Because you can also use the information in the Arabic and French books on ladders. So, her experiment was to cross-reference each library item with the English, French, and Arabic terms, so you could pull up all three if you wanted – or narrow by language, if you wanted! She was saying this is harder with non-Roman languages like Arabic, because I guess not a lot of research has been done in this area.
So, basically this can be summed up by saying that this guy wants us to be able to search using sentence structure rather than with Boolean searches. Which…I don’t know. Sounds to me like he just wants to reinvent the wheel, as another presenter put it. He got a lot of push-back on this, and I have to say, I was definitely not sold.
The title on this one is kind of self-explanatory. They want to link FAST headings with Wikipedia articles. I personally feel as though that may unintentionally result in some chaos. Wiki articles are not exactly known for their reliability and fact-checking, and making something like that more easily accessible might just make more people use inaccurate articles. Which sounds bad, and like teachers everywhere may start sporting random bald patches from ripping their hair out while grading papers.
This one was kind of cool, although it probably won’t mean much unless you often deal with librarians who speak two or three languages. Basically, the national libraries of Germany, Norway, and Sweden all use a translated version of Dewey, with the ability to search in one of those languages (German, Norwegian, or Swedish), or English. However, whenever you’re dealing with a translation, problems (and hilarity) will arise. They gave one example of trying to search for glass, and pulling up results for ice cream, because the Swedish word for ice cream is “glass.” Whoops! But it’s helpful too, because sometimes you need the English term rather than the Swedish term, or whatever.
OK, this one may have been one of my favorites. Basically, at the University of Limpopo, which is located in rural South Africa, they have a 6 month session in which they teach their new students how to use the library (a librarian’s wet dream, I KNOW). The presenter was saying that their students had some real difficulty with Dewey, because 1. it’s in English, which is their second language and 2. because the instructions for following Dewey are sometimes a bit more difficult to understand, regardless of language. They found that translating Dewey into their native language was very helpful, and while that has only been experimented with a little bit, they hope to do more with that in the future. She also talked about which styles of teaching worked better with the majority of students, and found that most students preferred lectures over anything else. Interesting!
And that’s it! I didn’t stay for the ending keynote because my brain was completely fried, but I’m sure it was fantastic. I hope this was helpful to anyone interested in cataloging or classification. If you have questions or comments, let me know, and I’ll do my best to answer! This has been the IFLA 2016 Satellite Meeting Dumbed Down for Dummies!