Better reading

IFLA 2016 Satellite Meeting Dumbed Down for Dummies

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.

Woohoo! Right!?

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!)

Opening Keynote by Marcia Lei Zeng: Subject Access, Smart Data, and Digital Humanities

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.

ask each other

Subject Access Principles in the New World: Procrustean or Procreative? by Hope A. Olson and Lynne C. Howarth

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]


Unlimited Opportunities for Enhanced Access to Resources: the Library of Congress’ Faceted Vocabularies by Janis L. Young

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.


Defining Usefulness and Facilitating Access Based on Research Applications by Allison Jai O’Dell

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.


Crowdsourcing the Dewey Decimal Classification: When Users Become Contributors by Elise Conradi, Rebecca Green, and Alex Kyrios

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


‘Mixed Methods’ indexing: Building-up of a multi-level infrastructure for subject indexing by Andreas Oskar Kempf and Tobias Rebholz.

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.


Aligning Author-Supplied Keywords for ETDs with Domain-Specific Controlled Vocabularies by Myung-Ja (MJ) K. Han, Patrick Harrington, Andrea Black, and Deren Kudeki

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!


An Empirical Investigation of Change in Subject Metadata in WorldCat by Oksana Zavalina, Shadi Shakeri, and Priya Kizhekkithil

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?


Improving Resource Discoverability for non-Roman Language Collections by Magda El-Sherbini

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.


The Simplest Approach to Subject Classification by Rick Szostak

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.


Linking FAST and Wikipedia by Rick Bennett, Eric Childress, Kerre Kammerer, and Diane Vizine-Goetz

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.


Leveraging the Dewey Decimal Classification for Online Subject Access: Three Use Cases of WebDewey Search by Harriet Aagaard, Elise Conradi, and Tina Mengel

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.

ice cream

Teaching and Learning of Classification Module: Experiences at University of Limpopo by M.R. Mahlatji, K.M. Maphopha, and M.A. Dikotla

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!


Searching for Books!

So today I want to talk about how I physically compiled my World Reading List. Since there are 194 official countries in the world (not including areas like Palestine and Taiwan), that meant this was going to be a 194+ book list.

That’s a long list.

And where to even begin? What should my list include – all fiction? All nonfiction? All poetry? Should it be targeted at adults? Or can I include kids’ books as well?


But don’t panic! I’m here to guide you through this process as smoothly as possible.

First off, let’s establish why I created this reading list. I’ve already covered the Why in my last post, Why read the world?, so I won’t get into that too much. For me, this was a reading list just for my own personal reading. I wanted to learn about other countries and cultures, but I did NOT want it to feel like a chore!

This meant that my list is almost entirely made up of fiction, which is what I read the most. I did add quite a bit of poetry in here as well, but I mainly focused on fiction. I also made the point to choose recent fiction. (This meant I couldn’t cheat and re-read The Count of Monte Cristo for France). The point was to read something new to me – something I hadn’t read before, and might not have read if I hadn’t started this project. I almost included a couple titles that were aimed at older kids (middle school aged), but chose not to at the last minute.

I also decided that not only did I want the book to be set in the country it was allotted for, but I also wanted the author to be from that country as well. Basically, I was trying to avoid reading a whole bunch of books about different areas of the world…but were all written by white people, and therefore all had a similar voice. The point of this project was not only to learn new things, but to hear different stories from different viewpoints. I figured I would much rather hear an Iraqi’s story from a Iraqi’s POV, rather than from a British journalist POV, or an American soldier POV, or whatever.

This really rang home for me when I saw the prologue from one of my favorites so far from this project, Only God can make a tree by Bertram Roach:

“The story tells of post-slavery Caribbean life. It details the culture, the festivities, the realities of the period and place. This is not the usual story of slavery, pirates, and local stories. It tells of what happened to the offspring of the slaves and the mixture of the races.

Non-Caribbean authors have written books after brief encounters on the islands, taking back a notebook full of local gossip. One, Island in the sun, was a bestseller and was made into a film.

I grew up on a sugar plantation in St Kitts and Nevis. The stories I tell are my real stories. To protect the identity of the people involved, I have changed the names and some of the places.”

And that’s not to say that stories by journalists and soldiers and tourists and whatever don’t have their place – they certainly do! But they cannot and should not be the only, or even the main voice for a region. I think that when an outside voice starts to become the main voice for an area, what the people that live there actually think, feel, and experience can get largely overlooked and pushed to the side. Maybe not on purpose, or even consciously done, but it still happens. Every country is perfectly capable of producing talented artists and authors to tell their country’s stories, and I for one want to give them the courtesy of listening to what they have to say.

So here is what I did. I made a list of all the countries in the world (plus some, like Palestine, etc.) and sorted them into continents, because I apparently sucked really hard at geography and kept getting countries in South America and Africa confused (YOU KNOW YOU DO SOMETHING SIMILAR SO DON’T LAUGH). I then started off using this list, but after looking up a few of the titles I quickly saw that not all of them were going to work for me. First of all, not all of her titles were available at my local library, and I wasn’t about to go out and buy 200 new books for this project.

So I turned to Google. Fun fact: if you Google something like “iraqi authors,” you get this hand-dandy mini slideshow at the top!

iraqi authors

Thanks Google! From here, I picked an author I thought might be interesting (sometimes I vaguely recognized a name, or I saw someone close to my age, or whatever). Again, since I was going for modern fiction, I tended to shy away from the older authors – which may not have been entirely fair – but I do have some choices on my list from some aged writers.

Then I turned to WorldCat. WorldCat is owned by OCLC. You know how you can use your local library’s website to search for books? WorldCat searches ALL of the libraries, and tells you the closest library that has the item you’re looking for. So, say you live in Dallas, Texas, and you’re looking for a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo. Just search for the title, click on one of the choices that pops up, and plug in your zip code, and LOOK! A copy is available at the Dallas Public Library.count of monte dallas

I love WorldCat.

Anyway. So that’s basically how I searched for all of the titles on my list, so I wasn’t buying a shitload of books. I am fortunate to live in the capital of my state, so not only do I have a large public library available to me, but I also have the state library and a couple university libraries available to me. I am only able to use the university libraries if I pay a donation fee, but that’s ok – it’s better than spending a lot more money on a ton of books!

There are still PLENTY of books that I wasn’t able to find – especially for some of the tinier countries, like Fiji. Most likely I will end up buying a lot of books for countries like this. I already bought Only God can make a tree, but I loved it so much that I have zero regrets.

I also kind of feel like this list is almost constantly going to be a work in progress, until I have completely finished reading a book from every country. This is due in part to new books being published that sound more interesting, or another title suddenly becoming available at a library closer to my work or home, or whatever. I’ll call it a living organism 🙂

If you have any questions about how I put my list together, or if you have suggestions, comment below or find me on Twitter @ProjLibrarian. I’d love to hear from you!

Why Read the World?

OK, so I know I said my next post would be about how to put a list of your own together, but I realized that I couldn’t answer that question without first answering the question of why you would want to put such a list together in the first place.

One obvious question that I’m sure you’re asking yourselves is “why do this?” It’s a fair question. Why read a book from every country? Doesn’t that sound extensive, and perhaps over-ambitious?

Sure, it is extensive – and definitely ambitious! But I don’t think it’s overly so. Clearly it’s doable – it’s already been done. But why bother doing so in the first place?

This is a very personal question, and I don’t think the answer is going to be the same for everyone. It’s going to depend on who you are, where you live, what your job is, how you view books to begin with, etc. For example, if you’re a teacher, you may solely be looking for books from around the world that you can use to teach your students about the world (which is a REALLY good idea, btw!). If you’re a librarian, you may be wanting to put a list of books together for a booktalk and/or recommendations for your patrons. Or perhaps this is a personal challenge, or more just for enjoyment/edification. Perhaps you’re planning a trip somewhere and you realize you don’t really know anything about the region where you’re headed.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. For me, this was a personal challenge that has actually been SUPER fun. I’ve learned a lot about the world that was never discussed in high school, or even college. Personally, I feel that as a human being living on this planet, it’s important that I am at least slightly knowledgeable about the rest of the world – even areas that I’ll probably never visit.

This probably also stems from how I view books. I look at books as a portal to other times and places. I remember as a kid always looking for books that contained something different – something other than what I saw around me every day and already knew about. I wanted my books to make me travel, even if I physically couldn’t do so. I remember getting so frustrated that most historical fiction books at my elementary school were about World War II. I knew about World War II! It had been taught to death! Yes, it’s a huge subject and yes, there should be books written about it, but that’s not ALL there is. I wanted to read and learn about things I didn’t already have a lot of information on.

Some of my favorite books as a kid were the Dear America series by Scholastic. These books were fictional diaries of girls from various time periods in America’s history – and they talked about some things we never in TOUCHED in school, such as the enslaved native peoples in California (Valley of the Moon), or the Great Migration between World Wars I & II (Color me Dark). I wanted to know more about these stories – the stories that weren’t really being talked about.

The Dear America series also had a sister series called the Royal Diaries. Instead of fictional diaries about time periods in American history, these were fictional diaries about real princesses around the world, ranging from Cleopatra to Anastasia. NONE OF THIS was covered in school, guys. And it was fascinating!

Sorry – I know I’m starting to rant. Let’s sum up:

The reasons why you would want to create such a list will definitely be varied from person to person. And that’s totally fine! Because there’s something out there for everyone 🙂 The first step will be identifying who you are putting this list together for – yourself or others – and whether it’s purely for enjoyment, or meant to be more of a challenge/learning experience. It may be a little bit of both! Once you know why and who you are putting this list together for, you’re ready to start putting a list together of your own.

Next I’ll be talking about how to actually physically put that list together (really!) – and how to find these books without buying a ton of new books and breaking the bank.

World Reading

So, one of the things that I’m really interested in is reading a book from every country in the world (inspired by this girl right here). As a librarian, I’m supposed to be well-read. But how can I claim to be well-read if I’ve only read books by US and British authors? Because, fyi,that’s basically any run-of-the-mill high school reading curriculum. And I think at this point in my life we can safely say that with a master’s degree and several years work experience, I’m past the high school reading level.

I really want to read a book from every country in the world. In fact, I am well on my way to accomplishing that goal!

It started with making a list. I divided mine by continent/region, because that was easier for me (btw, my geography skills are skyrocketing!) Here are the lists I have so far, for any of you that want to take a look:

African Reading List

Asian Reading List

Caribbean Reading List

European Reading List

Middle Eastern, Mediterranean Reading List

North America Reading List

Oceania Reading List

South American Reading List

So far, it’s been very interesting! Here’s a list of my CompletedReading, so you know where I am. Some of my favorites so far have been Island of a thousand mirrors from Sri Lanka, The complete Persepolis from Iran, In the time of the Butterflies from the Dominican Republic, and Only God can make a tree from St. Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean.

Currently I’m reading Mighty be our powers from Liberia, and I’m loving every minute of it. It’s the memoir of Leymah Gbowee, who helped end the cycle of violence that had taken over Liberia around the turn of the century. Inspirational? Hell yes. That’s how I like it!

Next post: I’ll be talking about how I’m actually finding these books. It’s not always easy!

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