A Night Off

June 28, 2006

Last night after work, I was completely unplugged – no homework, no email, no blogging (reading or writing), no internet surfing, no work from home, etc. It was wonderful – and just the thing to recoup from the homework assignment that I had due on Monday. But now, it is back to cyberworld!!!

To Get Personal or Not?

June 26, 2006

As a rather introverted person, I often share very little of my personality with those people who I do not know well. This isn’t necessarily intended – I’m simply tend to be very quiet. I don’t often talk to people unless they talk to me first (not because I think this is right, just because). In junior high school, I was voted “most quiet” and only escaped that title in high school when the powers that be decided they would prefer to have more innovative “most likely to” lists (a fact for which I will forever be grateful). However, in one class during my senior year, the teacher had everyone pick another student’s name out of a hat and write a synopsis of that person’s life for the next 10 years. The person who picked my name wrote a rather hysterical piece about “my quiet existence.” It was predicted that I would marry a mute and due to the lack of verbal conversation eventually stop speaking altogether. Fortunately, despite my quiet nature, I have a great sense of humor – and probably found this synopsis funnier than anyone else. I am happy to say that I did not marry a mute (Don’t many people marry opposites? This is also partly because I don’t often talk to quiet people) and actually do enjoy talking to people – just not in crowds. The point of this, is that when trying something new (like blogging), I am often unsure and tentative. It usually takes time for me to feel comfortable enough to open up about myself or to participate. This is one reason why I have added very little of a personal nature to this blog.

However, I have to say that some of my favorite blogs have a great deal of personal information that makes one feel as if they are getting a glimpse of the person behind the written word. Much of this introspection was prompted by a really nice post by Mark Lindner at . . .the thoughts are broken . . . who lets a great deal of himself shine through in his blog. I really identified with his comment that “This whole web thing is so very odd.” It seems very odd that one can create a web presence and people actually do read it. Much like Mark, I spend time looking at feed stats and web stats and often wonder about those who read my blog. Given that I initially created this blog as a way to document my progress through graduate school with content in which only I would be interested – and possibly my professors or advisors since I plan to use this as the base for my eportfolio – I am often amazed that there are people who do visit the site. I generally don’t obsess about it – but mostly because I don’t let myself think about it. But again, “This whole web thing is so very odd.”

Anyway, Mark (since you asked), I find your blog very fascinating and enjoyable. You often have a different perspective on topics than I do, but I am a firm believer that this is how we learn, expand our own knowledge base and gain the confidence to form our own beliefs. I don’t often read your posts about the music you are listening to or the movies you have seen, but have come to understand that these are important parts of your life. Don’t change a thing!

The other post of a personal nature that I really enjoyed is Meredith Farkas’ post You may not be the person you think you are from Information Wants to Be Free. The past couple of years have been (probably just the start) of a journey of self discovery for me. Returning to school has been part of this whole process where I have been trying to challenge the “safe boundaries” that I have set for myself throughout the years. Meredith put it better by asking what if you aren’t the person you think you are. While my story is of course different than Meredith’s (I have always been very happy with the person I am), I took comfort in her story. Despite being happy with the person I am, life throws curve balls at incovenient times that can make one doubt one’s selve. So, we have to throw some of our own curve balls back at life – and I think that trying to look at ourselves in different lights may be part of this. Thanks Meredith!!!!!

Ultimately, these two posts made me realize that the addition of personal information helps to add tremendously to one’s blog. Without a doubt, my favorite blogs contain a great deal of personal reflection. I also think the personal reflections are an important part of my journey through graduate school – and through life. Sometime, I will share the story of why my biggest fear in life is blue toilet paper (yes, it really is!).

Update: Comments on this post over at Life as I Know It via Blogger.

First Assignment Completed

June 26, 2006

I just emailed my first assignment for ILS506 (Information Analysis and Organization) to the professor. I have to say that I am incredibly nervous and stressed out about this one. We were given 5 titles to catalog and were asked to cite the rules from AACR2 that supported our decisions. Now, I am pretty familiar with MARC formatting, but this assignment was killer. I can’t even say how many times I changed my mind about what information should be put where. I spent the entire weekend with my face buried in AACR2. I feel as is I have a great grasp on the rules, but not always how to implement them in situations that are not clear cut. Additionally, my classmates were asking questions in the class discussion area all weekend about specific rules, etc. I had to stop reading their questions because they were making me question decisions that I had already made (and thought I was fine with).

At this point, I am thrilled that I am done – and trying to not worry too much about the grade (which is 25% of the overall grade). There isn’t anything I can do about it now. I definitely need some space from AACR2, MARC tags and all of the rest of this cataloging stuff!!!

Homework is Going Well

June 22, 2006

I have been faithfully spending time every day working on homework – and this is definitely a necessity with cataloging! I have started work on the assignment that we have due on Monday evening – an assignment to catalog 5 different books with full descriptive cataloging. So far, AACR2 rules for title statements (245), edition statement (250 – this one is way easy), publishing information (260), and physical description (300) are perfectly clear. Well, admittedly, sometimes the title statement can get tricky – especially with translated works, works attributed to material by others, etc. The 4XX and 5XX fields are becoming a bit clearer. Obviously, they are still complicated for items with many notes or bizarro series titles – but, I’m getting the hang of it. I haven’t been working that long with main and added entries. As such, I need more time exploring how to create these. However, I’m feeling as if I have a good basis for the upcoming assigment. And that is a relief. Four days ago, I was getting nervous because I was still very confused. Anyway, my head is filled with visions of MARC fields – and I think that means I’m done for the night!

Fun with MARC Fields

June 21, 2006

Well as resolved, I did immerse myself in homework last night – immersing myself in AACR2 rules for the 245, 250, 260, 300, 4XX, and 5XX fields. This week, we are focusing on access points (main and added entries), but I did think I could use some refreshing on the 245, 260, 300, 4XX and 5XX fields (the 250, I have down). I feel like I have a good handle on them (well, much better than I did yesterday). I will admit the whole 440/490 – 830 thing will take some work to get down. But, I know I was getting tired while trying to master the question of figuring out the appropriate Series Title and then deciding whether to index it or not. And then the decision about indexing the title in a different format in the 830???  My head was spinning before I gave up to watch the Red Sox dominate the Washington Nationals. (I like big leads – watching the game is much more relaxing that way).

So, I think that spending some time on this each day will be essential to keep up. The good thing is that much of the work is cumulative. Each week, we catalog several new documents – and that helps keep the earlier stuff fresh in my head. Anyway, I feel much better about this class than I did even a week ago. Repetition is key to much of these principles and rules. I will admit that reading and interpreting AACR2 is no fun!!! On to main and added entries . . .

Back to School Work

June 20, 2006

Ok, I pretty much just lost the post that I wrote under this heading – my first blogging mishap. ARGH!! I’m thinking that the loss of the original post may be a sign that since I was writing about my need to buckle down and do some homework, I really should not worry about it. Unfortunately, that won’t work. I have been spending a great deal of time thinking about, reading about, writing about and thinking some more about OPACs and how to make them better. While this has been great for helping me come to grips with this issue, it hasn’t been so great for my school work.

So, I resolve to :

  • dedicate my entire evening doing homework – committing AACR2 rules to memory (ok, that may not happen)
  • dedicate some time every day to working on homework
  • get cracking on my cataloging assignment that is due on June 26th
  • end my blogging addiction. Fortunately, help is available

Additional Thoughts on the OPAC

June 19, 2006

Helene Blowers at Library TechBytes points out that we, in the library community, share responsibility for the state of our ILS systems. She suggests that we have demanded that ILS vendors create specialized systems that are tailored to our individual organization with little thought of flexibility. I would agree. I think that today’s mind set of being able to customize programs and interfaces per library, but more importantly per user, is a relatively recent concept. Helene also points out how difficult it is to change people’s habits. Again, I agree. Many library people are not unhappy with their ILS systems and/or OPACs. They may accept them because “this is the way it has always been done,” because they actually don’t find a problem with it or for any number of other reasons. Many people do not like change – they will accept something the way it is simply because they prefer the devil they know to the one they do not. Overcoming this attitude is hard. It requires agents of change who can gently handly many types of personalities. Only when a group is ready for change, can we move forward. Achieving this desired change requires a great deal of self-examination (library as self). Re-examining circulation and collection procedures should definitely be revisited. A natural part of Library 2.0 (or just normal evolution – I like Meredith Farkas am not a big fan of labels) should always about questioning existing policies and procedures on a regular basis.

So ultimately, we aren’t just looking at ways to improve our OPAC. I think we are looking to improve our libraries and our way of business. Most of our policies and procedures were developed before the internet, before the advent of full-text resources, etc. Maybe we should be starting by looking at our mission statements, reexaming our services, question everything, think about all aspects of our day-to-day business. Only when we truly understand ourselves can we even begin to try and understand our patrons. Hopefully, if we do it right, we will be better able to deal with future changes in a more timely manner.

The OPAC Debate Continues. . .

June 19, 2006

John Blyberg over at blyberg.net put together a wrap up of recent blog conversations about the state of the library ILS/OPAC. This is a great post and worthy of a perusal or two – there are some good comments too. On the first subject regarding difficulty with ILS vendors, I feel compelled to keep silent. I do work in systems in an academic library – with a vendor supplied ILS. However, this blog is not associated with my place of work – and my opinions on the matter are only my own. Decisions about our ILS and our OPAC are made by a larger group of which I am but a small part (I may have more influence as the sys admin, but I do not work in a bubble). I do believe it is not fair for me to discuss my opinions of our vendor in this particular forum. I will say that blogs are revolutionizing the ways in which customers can do research about companies and their products. Vendors (as well as customers) need to be aware of the implications of their actions – especially those actions that deal with trying to stifle or intimidate people’s right to free speech (or for customers – actions that may unfairly malign a company name).

As for OPACs, John’s summation of Peter Murray’s Is the Writing on the Wall for the Integrated Library System? got me thinking about several things. Like John, I agree with Peter that the “ILS/OPAC” is an an asset management system tool – one which the library needs in order to operate. I would also agree that OPACs do get used – and add that this is the case in academic libraries as well. Students do tend to gravitate towards database aggregators to find full-text articles first, but they do use OPACs to search for materials with remarkable frequency (remarkable given that recent debates often give the impression that OPACs are unusable). In the library where I work, we could not survive without our OPAC (sucky or not). This does make the OPAC a useful tool as an interface into our ILS. It may not be the best interface and it may not even be the right solution to meet the needs of our users, but right now it is really the only window into the ILS that we have.

Additionally, this post really made me think about the tendency to lump our criticisms of ILSs and OPACs into one bundle. I wonder if this is a mistake. The user doesn’t care one bit about our ILS and what it does (or doesn’t do). It cares about the interface and the ease of finding information. Users don’t want to restrict their search to just our asset management system. As such, I think it would be helpful to separate the two discussions. What we want from our ILS vendor or open-source systems is very different from what our users want/need in our interface into that system. I also think that by lumping the ILS/OPAC together, people tend to focus on the problems with the OPAC rather than on the back end of the interface. To build a better system, I really believe that we need to think of these two entities independently – because they both need revamping. Determine what the user needs. Determine what the library needs. Then, make sure your ILS the information required by both. Anyway, it helps me tremendously to think of the ILS and the OPAC as separate entities.

I do also like John’s take on my post Are We Really Ready to Say Goodbye to the Sucky OPAC? From my perspective in a small academic library, we are only just starting to develop the “vision, passion, and courage” that is necessary for change. Right now, I feel like the most important thing that I can do is to help get those I work with to develop a vision, a plan and a purpose. I’ve said before that without buy in from those with whom we work, we would only be imposing change – which I can only see as hurting the end user. Meanwhile, we work on small change within our current infrastructure – and this is the best thing that we can do for our users at the moment. Some have suggested that spending time on broken systems may be a waste. However, I can’t agree. Current OPACs can be made more usable. And I think this is also an important step in this whole process. If nothing else, it helps us define and refine the user experience.

What Doesn’t Work So Well Online

June 15, 2006

This summer, I am taking ILS506 – Information Analysis and Organization (aka the cataloging class). Only in the third week of class, it has become incredibly apparent to me that this is one class that would be much easier in a traditional classroom setting. I have a reasonably good background in MARC format, indexing rules, LCSH, authority work, etc. I worked as a government documents assistant and did copy cataloging of said government documents for several years. Despite this, reading and figuring out AACR2 rules on your own is a highly difficult task. Online classes take self-discipline, but a class with incredibly detailed oriented (and confusing as heck) rules requires more than simple self discipline. I have read the relevant sections of AACR2. However, reading them is no way to get the intricacies of creating Title statements / Statement of responsibility in MARC 245 fields. I would think that working through examples in a classroom setting with guidance from the professor would be wonderful!!!!!

This is in no way a criticism of my current class. The professor has provided detailed answers to the exercises and notes based on discussion questions raised by students. I think he is doing a great job so far. This is just an observation – and is the first time I have missed the face-to-face interaction. I really need to sit down and spend much more time doing the exercises. I think that repetition will be the key to getting some of this stuff down pat. And, yes, I so badly want to look at official cataloging records in OCLC – but I will persevere in order to learn this stuff!!!

Academic library 2.0 concept model

June 14, 2006

Academic library 2.0 concept model
Originally uploaded by habibmi.

Wow! I love this model. I think it is right on – and a great way to envision the role of the library. I guess I’ve never really thought about libraries sitting physically between the social and academic parts of the student experience in college. It seems like such a simple concept – yet not one that everyone grasps. I think many academic libraries identify solely with the academic part of the college experience – and this might account for some of the hesitation in adopting social software. Often if something doesn’t support the academic mission of the college, it gets vetoed. However, it would be difficult to argue that libraries are not social spaces – just social spaces in which academic endeavors take place. Michael Habib argues that libraries have traditionally straddled the social and physical parts of a student’s life. With some thought, I agree – but I’m not sure many library people think about libraries in this light. A big thanks to Michael Habib for posting this.

Michael Habib’s blog entry – Conceptual model for Academic Library 2.0