Friday, July 27, 2007

The proves that there is a quiz for everything

Your Score: Sad Cookie Cat

72% Affectionate, 39% Excitable, 62% Hungry

You are the classic Shakespearian tragedy of the lolcat universe. The sad story of a baking a cookie, succumbing to gluttony, and in turn consuming the very cookie that was to be offered. Bad grammar ensues.

To see all possible results, checka dis.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Doesn't the Sorting Hat take into account personal choice?

Despite the books being around forever, I'd never been sorted. I'd prefer to be a Ravenclaw and the score was so close (14 Hufflepuff, 12 Ravenclaw). But loyal, dependable, and hardworking aren't that bad of traits, I guess.

Which Hogwarts house will you be sorted into?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Tagmash, or, why Tim from LibraryThing is a genius

Go read this post at Thingology and tell me that Tim from LibraryThing isn't a genius.

I dare you. I double dog dare you. I triple dog dare you.

LibraryThing just went live with something called tagmash. It allows you to search for all the books that have two or more tags.

Want to know all of the books that have the tags "cat" and "chicklit"? I did.Here they are.

It's pretty cool to get a collocated list like that.

As Tim points out in his post, though, it does show how tags are only as good as their users. I have an idea of what I think "chick lit" is, and some of these titles don't fit my definition of chick lit.

What's awesome about tagmash, though, is that people using LibraryThing can get instant feedback on these books. On this list, I see a title by an author I like (Bet me by Jennifer Cruisie). I click on the link and see member reviews *and* how many users gave the title five stars.

It's one stop shopping at its best, methinks.

Imagine if our library catalogs had all this going for it: tags and tag mashups, user reviews, and user ratings.

It boggles the mind.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Databases, schmatabases

Wow...that was really lame. The title, I mean.

Anway, I read this post by Amy Kearns at Library Garden. Kearns wants us to stop referring to our online databases as "databases." She believes that the word "databases" doesn't have a lot of meaning to our users and that we should call them something else that is more meaningful to our users.

Kearns writes, "When I hear the word "database," and if I didn't know what it was, it conjures up for me some really complicated spreadsheet system or, well, database, that is way too complicated for me to figure out and use, and that is TOTALLY BORING - not exciting or attractive to me in anyway, doesn't sound useful to me and doesn't make me want to use it or care to find out how to use it at all!"

I suspect that she's right and it worries me. If given the choice between using a "database," with all of the baggage that comes with this word, and using "Google Scholar," which are they going to choose?

I seriously don't think that, until the moment that I read Kearns' post, I had ever given much thought to why, in some disciplines, my library's users prefer Google Scholar over our databases.

I wonder, though, if calling our databases something else is the solution to the "our users don't want to use our databases" problem. I mean, there are ways that we can make our library services more accessible to our users and I am sure that language is one of them. But does changing the language we use to describe our services and our collections also change the way our users feel about them? After all, the databases will still be hard to use, even if we call them something else.

I think that giving our resources new, more accessible names is a start. But I feel like there also has to be a fundamental change in how these resources work and, when that change isn't possible, we have to find new ways to relate these resources to our users.

These databases, for lack of a better word, have value to the users. And, in the academic library, it is one of our users' only links to peer reviewed articles. But if the users don't want to use them, why are our institutions, academic or otherwise, paying lots of money to have access to them?

Ultimately I agree with Kearns. We do have to call our databases something else. Because in the end, the word "scholar" in Google Scholar sounds way more accessible than "online database."

Controlled vocabulary=control?

When I finally catch up on all of my Bloglines feeds, I'll have to come up with more creative (and original) ways to create content for my blog. But, for now, you're stuck with me commenting on other people's thoughts.

Tim from LibraryThing writes about tagging and the power of suggestion in this post. He talks about the fact that, with tags, the words that appear in the title of a book (as well as how they're formatted) impact how a user tags the book. He writes "Titles influence how we tag things. Most of the books on birds and birding could be tagged with either term, but books with 'birds' in the title rank higher on the 'birds' tag."

It illustrates an interesting point about why librarians sometimes aren't so keen about letting users tag records. Is it really okay for users to assign the same tag to books about two closely related, but different, subjects? Can't you just hear the collective gasp of the cataloging community?

I suspect that if you ask people who don't want to add tags to their library catalogs why they're against it, you'd hear an argument that distills thusly:

"We don't want to give up control of the way that our users search for information."

Controlled vocabulary does, in fact, give librarians control over how users search for information in that it gives users a known way to find information on a given topic. You know, for instance, that all of the cookbooks can probably be found using the word "cookery."

The thing is, controlled vocabulary does a pretty decent job of collocating books on a given subject, if the people assigning the subject headings and classification numbers do a good job of making sure that they are adding the same subject headings to all books on the same subject. If they don't, it's anyone's guess how well you'll find all of the books on any given topic.

The other thing is that some of the controlled vocabulary that librarians are holding onto just doesn't work for users.

Let's revisit our friend "cookery," shall we? How many people know that the word "cookery" is the magic key that opens the door to all of the cookbooks? Probably not many.

If library users don't speak librarian-ese, they sure don't speak "cataloger." Heck, I'm a cataloger and I don't speak "cataloger" very fluently.

Those same people who have a hard time giving up control of controlled vocabulary will tell you that with tagging, it's hard to collocate titles under any given topic. They'll show you Tim's example about birds vs. birding and tell you that if we add tags to our catalog that nobody will ever be able to find anything.

Poppycock, I say.


First of all, in our catalogs, it doesn't have to be an all or nothing approach. Keep the controlled vocabulary, but allow your users to add tags to records. It will help your cataloging staff which, I bet, is having a hard time keeping up with work anyway.

See, as a cataloger, I do my best to assign subject headings to the things I'm cataloging and sometimes it's easier than other times. Working in an academic institution, there are things that come across my desk that I will never be able to understand. Technical science documents, complex sociological texts, and on and on. I do my best with these materials, but I know that there are people out there who know way more about this stuff than I do.

And the beauty of having tags in your catalog is knowing that people who know more than you have the ability to help make your work better.

Tags aren't perfect though. It is hard work to wrangle all of the different ways to describe a book (bird vs. birding, anyone). But that's where librarians can circle back into the picture. If it becomes a problem that limits access, librarians could help bring various tags together, choosing the most-used tag. But if it's never a problem, let users create tags that reflect the way that they speak.

I went to a program this past week where Michael Stephens from Tame the Web in which he talked about "The Hyperlinked Library." He kicked copious amounts of boo-tay and I was thrilled, inspired, and humbled to have gotten the chance to be there. One of the things Stephens talked about was the idea of Radical Trust. He said that we should trust not only our colleagues, but also the user.

To me, this is key when thinking about letting other vocabularies intermingle with our precious controlled vocabulary. Tagging and controlled vocabulary can co-exist peacefully, and letting them do so is an exercise in trusting the user.

Can we do it?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry Potter and the various editions

William Denton writes in this post on the FRBR blog that Amigos Library Service is offering to its members the option of applying parts of the FRBR model to their WorldCat comparison.

Amigos Library Services says on its WorldCat Collection enhancements page that "Applying elements of FRBR groups various editions and formats of the same title together."

I jumped a little in my seat and said "Woo!" I woke MollyDog up and she wasn't amused. Then I realized that I had no idea, in any sort of practical way, what that meant.

I Googled "WorldCat comparison" and ended up at FirstSearch's help page where I learned that "A WorldCat comparison compares your Aggregated Group Analysis to all of WorldCat."

Okay, great, but what does that mean?

Next I found FirstSearch help's definition of Aggregated Group analysis and learned that "In an Aggregated Group analysis the combined titles of all member libraries, with duplicates removed, are presented as though the group were a single institution."

So if I'm reading this right, WorldCat comparison analyzes your library's holdings against other library's holdings so that you can see which titles you have are unique?

Add that to the idea that Amigos Library Services will help your library display these results in a FRBR-friendly way and what do we get?

Probably some very happy collection-analyzing librarians.

Let's take our old friend Harry Potter and his various editions. If you're trying to do collection analysis, it doesn't seem very useful to have to wade through all of the various editions to find out where you stack up. Unless it's a US vs. UK edition, I'm guessing that the differences have very little to do with content and more to do with presentation.

FRBR-izing your WorldCat collection analysis might be less useful for institutions or instances like Special Collections where the difference between editions is significant. This tool's usefulness might also depend on how many of your holdings are unique and how much of your collection consists of various editions of the same title.

For public libraries, I suspect that approach might quickly a big difference in how they do collection analysis. If you were analyzing your collection, this FRBR-ized approach would quickly give you a clearer picture of what you have in your collection. And by having that clearer picture, you would be better equipped to build on certain areas of your collection. Better collections mean librarians better equipped to help their users. Happy users means successful libraries.

It's not a one size fits all solution, so that display doesn't supersede your original display and Amigos Library Services doesn't force their members to adopt this display. But they are offering the option.

I think that by making easier the job of collection-analyzing librarians, you sell the idea of FRBR as way of looking at the relationships between items being displayed in your public catalog. It's a good way to get people other than catalogers and metadata specialists talking about FRBR. Furthermore, these discussions happen in a way that makes sense for people who don't speak Cataloging.

So good on you, Amigos Library Services, for finding a way to make collection analysis easier for your users.


Friday, July 20, 2007

I wonder how many librarians get this result

I stole this from Jennifer at Life as I know it:

Which Peanuts Character are You?

You are Rerun!
Take this quiz!

Just another day in the life...of someone else.

Rochelle at Tinfoil+Racoon tells a great story in this post about helping a friend find resources for a paper he was writing. She taught her friend how to use a database and rejoiced when everything finally "clicked" in an aha-moment of epic proportions.

Stories like this nearly bring me to tears every time I read them. And just so you know, I don't cry easily.

I am amazed and delighted whenever I hear a librarian tell a story about how they helped connect users with the information they needed. To me, it's the coolest part about being a librarian. And, since I have stage fright of epic proportions, I'm glad there are others out there pulling my weight.

What struck me, though, is her friend's need to apologize for not being able to use the database himself. Rochelle writes, "Something is really wrong if library services make people feel stupid." And, honestly, I couldn't agree with her more.

It's not a new idea to say that if a user can't find something that it's not his or her fault. "The user isn't broken," says Karen Schneider in this post. It's an idea that gets repeated over and over again in the Web 2.0/Library 2.0 world, but yet the OPACs vendor are selling us still suck and our databases still need someone to translate them from library jargon-ese to human.

There are lots of people on the front lines of the war against outdated thinking and advocating for the user. People like Rochelle who are willing to work with someone until he has the aha-moment that they teach us about in library school inspire me. But I feel like until libraries start voting with their pocketbooks in a more consistent way that vendors will continue to give us what they've always given us. And as long as vendors give us what they've always given us, people like Rochelle will still have to help people translate from library jargon-ese to human.

So what can I do, I ask myself, to help create change? I'm not sure, really, and it's part of why I started this blog.

--Erin, rambly

Me. Myself. And I.

I have considered becoming a blogging librarian for a while now. I worried over it, considering all of the ramifications of my decision. Could I write something worth reading? Could I blog consistently? Was there room in the conversation for me?

I decided to jump in with both feet. They say that blogs are a conversation, right? There are so many interesting and exciting conversations going on about libraries right now, and there are so many interesting people doing the conversing. I only hope I can contribute something more substantial than a "me too."

So...who am I?

Personally, I am 28-years old. I am married to a sportswriter and I have a cat named Bea and a dog named Molly. I like ice cream. I like reading chick lit. I have a soft spot for well-written non-fiction that isn't too technical and that makes me laugh. I like reality television. I like Keith Olbermann and Anderson Cooper. I like music of the popular and rock'n'roll variety and I like going to concerts.

Professionally, I am a catalog librarian wanting to find her place in the Library 2.0-world. I catalog serials and electronic resources and I also do database cleanup. I desperately want to make it easier for our users to find (and discover) the information they're looking for.

So, I'm new to the neighborhood. Nice to meet you!