Discovering resources

I’ve just finished reading the tweets from the JIBS event New dawn: the changing resource discovery landscape held in London today (#jibsuk in case you want to catch up). It sounded a really interesting event, and I’m hoping my colleague who attended will bring back lots of ideas with him.

It got me thinking about our own library catalogue, and about how our users search, and about the different sorts of resources that we offer to our students. I have often thought that navigating through the information resources available through an academic library’s website is pretty difficult, especially for new undergraduates who don’t always understand what’s on offer. I was an undergraduate myself about 5 years ago, and as a distance learner, finding my way around the library’s website was really important if I wanted to get access to anything. But it took me a long while to really understand which resources were available, what the differences were between them, and how I could access them. It must be even more confusing for today’s undergraduates.

I know that the big idea with all these new-fangled resource discovery systems is to get as much as possible available through one interface, Google-box style. I can see how this might be an attractive proposition, but at the moment it seems beyond hope that we will ever get everything available through one interface, and users will continue to have to navigate their way around multiple interfaces.

Journals

At my current place of work, for example, we have multiple methods of accessing journals. Print journals can be searched by title through the library catalogue, and some of the e-journal titles are on there as well (but only if we subscribe directly to a title). Then there is the Journals Portal through which most of the e-journal titles and print journal titles can be accessed, linking to the full-text of the journal if available. And then there are the abstract and index databases, available through the E-Resources web page, giving another way to access journal articles.

I know that the resource discovery systems are supposed to make this simpler, but I do sometimes wonder whether, in trying to make life easier by providing access to ‘most’ resources through one interface, we’re actually confusing users even more by not being clear about what is available from where. In our current set up, I’m not sure whether a user might look on the library catalogue, see an e-journal title there, and assume that all the e-journal titles are there, when actually only a very small percentage can be accessed this way.

One solution to this, and I know this might seem like pedaling backwards, would be to remove all the journals from the library catalogue and make them only available through the Journals Portal, leaving the catalogue with books, e-books, DVDs, etc. Intellectually, journals are accessed differently from books and DVDs – it is the articles that are of interest more than the journal titles per se – and perhaps separating them in this way would help with the conceptual understanding of the differences between books and journals – something that I know our new undergraduates sometimes struggle with.

I don’t think we’re ever going to have the perfect answer to this conundrum, but I think we need to be as clear as possible to our uses about what they can expect to find and where they can expect to find it, and being up front about this might just help our users to navigate their way around the information maze.

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Dining solo

Photo (c) Robert Pittman

Thanks to the wonders of Twitter, I’d recently come across a blog post by @rachelsbickly on dining solo, an activity that has been playing on my mind of late. It’s quite surprising that I’ve reached this age without ever having had an evening meal in a restaurant on my own, but I guess the occasion has just never arisen. However, I’ve been planning to have a few days away on my own (mostly to prove to myself that I can cope alone) and so it was time to deal with this particular fear.

Now, I don’t have a problem with having a coffee on my own while out shopping or indeed of eating lunch alone, but there is something about dining in a restaurant in the evening that feels different, probably because, as Rachel says, it is usually thought of as a social occasion and something to be enjoyed with others. However, this weekend I took the plunge and am spending a couple of nights in a B&B in St. Ives, and tonight was my first night dining solo.

Following some of the tips in Rachel’s blog post, I took my time looking around at the dining options in St. Ives – and there are a lot of options here – and finally chose one that looked inviting. I wasn’t too sure whether eating alone in an empty or full restaurant would be worse – I think I would feel quite conspicuous in both – so I plumped for one that was somewhere in the middle. I also took a good book with me (I’m reading Haruki Murakami’s Dance, Dance, Dance at the moment) so that I had something to do other than staring at the other diners!

I think I knew deep down that no-one else in the restaurant would give two hoots if I was sitting on my own and wouldn’t give me more than a brief glance (I wasn’t expecting the kind of unwanted attention that it seems Rachel had suffered in the past) and this is exactly how it turned out. In spite of wondering whether I would be tempted to rush through my meal to get out again as soon as possible, I actually spent longer than I had expected, enjoying two courses accompanied by a glass of wine and finishing with a coffee. The book was my saviour, as I got very engrossed and didn’t take all that much notice of what was going on around me, but I think I would have felt quite differently if I hadn’t have had that distraction.

All in all, I found it a positive experience and would say that I actually enjoyed myself and found it rather relaxing – and I will certainly not feel as daunted by the prospect when I repeat the process tomorrow night. I’m not sure I’d feel quite so comfortable doing it in a country where I don’t speak the language, but I think I’ll leave that for another day. One step at a time!

CIG Conference 2012

Logo from snazzy CIG conference bag

Last week I attended my first CILIP Cataloguing and Index Group (CIG) conference. Over a hundred cataloguers gathered at the University of Sheffield for 2 days chock full of interesting papers and lightning round talks, with plenty of opportunities for networking. Apart from all the useful ideas and projects that I heard about, it was just such a pleasure to be able to talk to others who are wrestling with the same problems as myself and who don’t glaze over if I mention MARC or Dewey!

Several themes stood out for me from the conference. Unsurprisingly, RDA was one of the most prominent and the one that I suspect drew a lot of the audience to the conference. There’s a lot to be said for the support that you can gain from hearing what your peers are up to, especially when your peers are pretty much in the same position as yourself – ie in a holding pattern while the major players make their final decisions about implementation. However, I did get the feeling that quite a lot of institutions had started planning for RDA, even if that plan was only a piece of paper with a series of questions on it, and this is something I definitely need to turn my attention to now I’m back at work. I was really grateful for the presentation from Celine Carty from Cambridge University Library who brought us up to date on the developments in RDA, gleaned from her attendance at the ALA conference this year. This talk, and the excellent  handout, will be top of my list for attention over next couple of months.

Another useful presentation on RDA was given by Stuart Hunt from Warwick who spoke about preparing your library management system to work with RDA records. I now have an excellent checklist of questions that I need to ask of our e-services manager and system vendor to make sure that we’re ready for when a larger number of RDA records start appearing in our catalogue.

As you might expect, the theme of standards raised its head throughout most of the conference, and many of the case studies that were shared confirmed to me the importance of sticking to international standards rather than working with idiosyncratic in-house rules. Several speakers mentioned the expediency of using batch editing processes to work with the large record sets supplied as part of shelf ready services or e-book bundles, but stressed that this was most efficient when local policies required little or no amendment to the standard records. A couple of the presentations focused on shelf ready projects, but what really took me by surprise were the problems of poor quality that they both encountered, with MARC records, classification, processing and item records all needing careful checking. At the end of her talk, Christina Claridge of Warwick asked what constituted an acceptable error rate for shelf ready services – a question that I suspect more and more institutions will be asking as shelf ready services become more prevalent.

Another common thread was that of changing roles and the adaptability of cataloguing skills, not just in metadata creation and information management, but in systems management, acquisitions, advocacy and income generation. Heather Jardine from the City of London libraries brought us all back to reality with her talk about the impact of budget cuts on her cataloguing department, but  it really showed just how resourceful cataloguers are and how many of our skills can be used in a variety of roles. This was echoed in the presentation from Helen Williams from LSE who talked about how her cataloguing team have taken on the creation of metadata for the institutional repository and how these new skills are now being used in other projects.

Collaborative working was another theme I picked up on. Michael Emly from Leeds spoke about a project within COPAC to allow contributing institutions to note which resources they intend to retain long term so that others can make informed retention or disposal decisions, and Deborah Lee from the Courtauld discussed plans to organise a NACO funnel in the UK. We also had an interesting presentation from Ian Fairclough from George Washington University in the US who had started several electronic discussions lists to report errors in LC records that others may have missed in their incoming records. I have to confess that I never knew that the Typo of the Day posting on Autocat had a serious purpose!

A few of the presentations considered more theoretical questions, such as Simon Barron’s discussion about the organisation of knowledge and how the model should be presented as a never-ending network of nodes and connections rather than a hierarchical structure that subdivides a unity of knowledge. Anne Welsh and Katharine Whaite from UCL reminded us about the importance of focusing on the principles of cataloguing rather than blindly sticking to the rules. This was especially helpful to me as a relatively new cataloguer who sometimes gets rather bogged down in rules and getting it “right”, and their talk has made me want to go back and re-read Cutter’s theories and the Paris Principles. In the future I shall try and take a step backwards to gain a more critical view of cataloguing standards and rules in order to work out what is right for our users.

There were lots of other interesting talks that I haven’t time to go into here, but I will just mention Dave Pattern’s keynote address about the University of Huddersfield’s participation in the JISC Library Impact Data Project, set up to investigate the link between library usage and academic outcomes. While not directly connected to my work as a cataloguer, it was good to hear about this project and the ways in which library data can be used in a wider context. The project found a correlation between the number of items borrowed or e-resources accessed and the final grade outcomes for students – not necessarily a causal effect, but a link nonetheless. There was also a link between low library resource usage and early dropout rates, suggesting that library usage data could be used as an early warning flag for students that might need extra support. From my point of view, it would be really interesting to know if the same correlations would apply in a specialist arts university and I shall certainly be raising this with my library management team.

On a personal level, one of the things I am taking away from this conference is a bit more confidence in what I do. I had previously assumed that everyone else knows exactly what they are doing but have found that in reality that isn’t always the case. It has been really good to hear that other cataloguers are struggling with the same issues as myself and that there is often no right way of dealing with these problems – there are just different ways. I shall try very hard to remember that in the future.

Now I’ve got back to work, I need to focus on what I am actually going to put into practice, using the What? – So What? – Now What? routine that I picked up from the 23 Things project I’ve been taking part in. I’ll try and keep this blog updated with some of the progress that I make.

RDA in art libraries

With the international cataloguing community gearing itself up for the introduction of RDA early next year, the ARLIS Cataloguing and Classification Committee hosted an informal event in London for art librarians to get together to discuss their plans for RDA implementation. The idea for the session came from an event run by Céline Carty and Helen Williams for RLUK libraries earlier in the summer, and we’re very grateful to them for sharing their experiences and encouraging us to put on the same event for art library community. If you haven’t had a look already, I would thoroughly recommend reading Céline’s excellent blog post about their event which has lots of useful ideas and links to help with RDA planning.

I ran the ARLIS session jointly with Deborah Lee, but our intention was that we were there to facilitate rather than lead the discussion. On my part, this was largely because I have yet to really get to grips with RDA beyond keeping a watchful eye on developments in the wider community – I have to confess that I personally haven’t even had a chance to look at the Toolkit yet. Fortunately, Deborah is much better informed so I hope we made a good team. I took lots of notes during the session and will try and summarise the wide-ranging discussions as best I can, but inevitably this posting will include my own reflections on what was covered.

We started the session by asking for a show of hands to gauge how far those attending had got with RDA planning – it turned out that the majority are at the very early stages. Only one of the 14 institutions represented at the meeting had actively started planning to create RDA records; about half were planning to accommodate RDA records imported from external sources, two were currently converting downloaded RDA records back to AACR2, and the rest had not made any definite plans as yet. This felt very different to the position of the RLUK libraries who seemed further ahead with their planning but I wonder if that is because art libraries tend to be smaller institutions with a lot less resources.

The discussion moved on to the question of timescales and what might trigger adoption of RDA for original cataloguing. Although libraries that download records from OCLC are seeing around 10% of new records in RDA format, other libraries are receiving only a trickle of imported RDA records, and many felt that until the bulk of imported records were in RDA, there was no urgency to adopt the standard. No-one in the room knew what plans the bibliographic record suppliers have for cataloguing in RDA and we wondered if the vendors were waiting for demand from libraries at the same time as we are waiting for them to offer RDA records.

An alternative view put forward was that even if you only plan to accommodate RDA records, there will always be records that will need upgrading, such as CIP level records, and if you’re going to train staff to undertake this work, you might as well go the whole hog and switch to creating new records in RDA as well. Certainly this viewpoint gave me some food for thought.

Unsurprisingly, issues of staff training featured quite heavily in the discussions. There was a lot of concern about who was going to provide training, and many were looking for either the British Library or CILIP to provide this type of support – unfortunately it doesn’t look as though either will be in a position to offer this at the moment (although more on CILIP special interest group offerings in a minute). Various online training resources were noted, particularly from the Library of Congress, and those who had begun to think about staff training were planning to make full use of what was already available rather than starting from scratch. There was also concern about ensuring that the “cataloguers’ judgement” options available in RDA are applied consistently by all cataloguing agencies, and we were all looking for some leadership in this. Whether it will come from the BL or LC remains to be seen, but my feeling is that the US will be leading the way and that we will all be following the LC Policy Statements (LCPS) in order to maintain consistency of approach.

Personally, I have been curious to find out just how important an understanding of FRBR will be, particularly when RDA records in MARC are not going to make use of the hierarchical structure on which FRBR is built. While it was felt that a full understanding of FRBR might not be necessary for non-cataloguing staff working from cheat sheets or locally produced guidelines, it will be essential for those who will be using the RDA Toolkit in order to navigate its structure, not to mention anyone who will be working within a hierarchical catalogue structure now or in the future.  Several people mentioned the “FRBR for the terrified” sessions being offered at various locations by CILIP CIG as being an excellent introduction to the subject, and as a Committee, we are also planning a FRBR event later this year – watch out for announcements later in the autumn.

Inevitably, the discussion turned to the issue of a hybrid catalogue environment, with the majority of attendees accepting the fact that records in multiple standards will be a feature of their catalogues for the foreseeable future. It was generally felt that this stage of RDA implementation – with records are still configured in flat MARC – was probably not going to have a huge impact on users as to all intents and purposes the user interface to the library catalogue will still look much the same. This perceived lack of benefit to users was felt to be one of the challenges of selling the benefits of RDA to senior management, compounded by the worry of not being taken seriously after spending several years warning that RDA is imminent. It was suggested that perhaps rather than selling the benefits of RDA, we should be warning of the risks of not adopting it, both in terms of the financial implications of training cataloguers in both AACR2 and RDA, and in preparing for the longer term move to post-MARC systems. Perhaps the added incentive of being seen to be an institution that is at the forefront of producing high quality cataloguing data might help too!

The final part of the session looked at the question of what the special issues or requirements of art libraries might be, particularly the difficulties of cataloguing exhibition catalogues, artists’ books and audio visual materials. However, the general feeling was that it was too early to be thinking about these specific issues until the more general problems of adopting RDA had been resolved, but someone suggested that it would be useful to encourage some discussion about the theoretical implications of RDA for art materials, and that some discussion papers, perhaps in a special edition of the Art Libraries Journal or online somewhere, could be a way forward. It will be interesting to find out whether ARLIS:NA has had a chance to consider art-specific RDA issues, and whether there is any possibility of collaborating or sharing ideas in the future.

We ended the session with some final thoughts on whether the move to RDA was the big step-change that some are feeling anxious about. As someone pointed out, there is a distinction to be drawn between cataloguing in RDA within the flat MARC format and moving to a hierarchical FRBR-ized environment. My impression is that most people felt the former will involve a cosmetic change to the look and feel of the catalogue but will not fundamentally change cataloguing practices, whereas the latter will involve a much larger change that will certainly have an impact on both users and cataloguers. However, perhaps now is the time to begin looking forward to that major change so that we can be prepared with knowledge, skills and understanding to minimise the effect of that change on staff and users alike.

As Céline had commented after their event, one of the benefits of the session was the opportunity to get together with other librarians who are struggling with the same questions as we are, and we agreed that it would be really useful to get together again next year, perhaps once the British Library have implemented RDA and the landscape is a bit more organised (or am I being too hopeful here!). I hope the other attendees found it as useful as I did, and I want to thank them for sharing their thoughts and concerns so freely. Thanks should also go to the Courtauld Institute who supported the meeting providing a room and welcome supplies of tea and coffee.

My next milestone on the road to RDA is attending the CILIP CIG conference in Sheffield next month, and I’m really looking forward to spending some more time at that event thinking about the next steps for my institution. I hope to meet some of you there too!