Recently Read(ing): Radical Cataloging

26 Jul

Radical Cataloging : Essays at the Front, edited by K. R. Roberto

Not a new book but one I’ve been working on (we will get to that) since it seemed essential for expanding my knowledge as a new cataloger. What better way to learn about the field than through reading experienced catalogers discuss their work and the related successes and struggles.

This book has had one of my bookmarks in it since…well UMich finally locked me out so I can’t check my account, even though I still have this and a Spanish vocab book–hey they let me have my master’s degree so, sadly, they must not be too concerned about my two library books still checked out (though my undergrad never would have let me have my diploma if I had had books checked out then). It’s been at least since December this book has been in my possession and slowly but surely my bookmark has inched it’s way forward but remains stuck on 209 of 303. Usually the last hundred pages are a cinch for me–it’s where all the action is, the story is coming to a quell or close, and resolution is ever nearing. However, this is not the case with this book because, as the subtitle stipulates, it is a collection of essays.

The essays are, on the whole, enjoyable and intellectually stimulating but perhaps that is part of my issue with the work right now. I have been a student for 19 consecutive years–no preschool for me, just daycare. Con-sec-u-tive. And why, in my last semester of grad school did I decide to pick this work up?: to better myself as a cataloger and get up-to-speed on the issues and highlights so far. It’s a great collection of essays to do so with, just every time I picked up the book, it took effort to pick up where I left off and finish an article though it was more work, sometimes, to start the next. And that wasn’t just once but nearly every time I removed my bookmark in an attempt to proceed.

Why such problems getting through this book? Well, maybe I should answer why I didn’t just stop and return it months ago when it was clear that my desire to read it did not outweigh the roadblocks read it presented: I do not abandon books, no matter how much I dislike them. Okay, this is no longer true but was until last year when I realized, perhaps in a moment of salient adulthood, that life is too short to struggle through a work I didn’t enjoy, that it didn’t matter how many other people enjoyed the work if I didn’t, that it was okay to not finish a book–blasphemy! Don’t let my inner little girl hear that–I forced myself growing up to read every stinking word on a page before I could start a new, better novel. Since last year, I’ve put down The Time Traveler’s Wife and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. The Life of Pi is boarder-lined but remains on my bookshelf with its bookmark still calling me to resume my place, for now. Sadly, this essay collection might be the next outcast on my, sadly, growing “started-but-didn’t-deem-worthwhile-to-finish list”. Perhaps I’ll pick this one back up later to finish it when I’ve had time to gorge on novels.

Reasons Excuses for not finishing:

  1. Having just finished my master’s degree, this feels too much like schoolwork than enjoyment.
  2. LC bashing makes me cringe–most essays don’t have any or much but some are rants and a couple really grated on me with the rashness with which they were clearly written. Since I spent a week with the lovely people in the Policy and Standards Division at LC (yup, they write the red books and hold the infamous weekly meetings!), I feel most criticism is unwarranted but critique can be useful if done in a productive and constructive manner. Opinions are always valid, I just prefer more tact.
  3. Some essays are very specific to the point where it’s hard to relate and care if you don’t catalog the same materials or topics.
  4. Though organized into sections, there really is no cohesive organization to the book which makes for a jumbled reading from very separate and specific essays to more general to vague to well-cited to literature reviews to op-ed essays. There is no storyline nor logical progression.
  5. Right now, I want to devour all the novels waiting for me that I now, supposedly, have time to read since I’m a full-time worker who doesn’t work overtime, doesn’t bring home work, and has free weekends.
  6. Change is coming (whispers of RDA blow past my ears every now and then). Will these criticisms and issues still be relevant if a new metadata schema is implemented?
  7. There will always be problems and kinks with standardizing subject headings, or any fields for that matter. People will write and create works on new topics in new ways, combining information, making “messy” items that won’t fit into a rigid structure.

Reasons for keeping the book this long and why I want(ed) to finish it–hey, had it been recalled, I would have returned it!:

  1. Catalogers are important and do critical work for libraries and any collections (since I work for ProQuest as a Catalog Librarian, better give a shout-out to more than just “libraries”).
  2. Standardization of terms is useful and necessary, even if it isn’t perfect. Tagging and folksonomies (<–just taught my computer this word!) aren’t any better and if anything they are more imperfect; at least with standardization, terms are decided and references are used. Now, a combination of both might get at topics in ways that subject headings are too clunky with right now, but also allowing LC-approved catalogers to help with creation of terms would speed things along and help right many wrongs/oddities. We catalogers are smart and caring, and more than willing to help explain and make things better–just check out AutoCat to see proof!
  3. Most of the essays are informative, especially about niche topics and issues. I had no idea “women” were so marginalized in subject headings for the longest time, and how minorities still are, in some cases. I felt like I was really learning a lot about the history and progression and progress yet to be made in cataloging.
  4. My inner little girl keeps nagging me to finish, especially since I have found such value in most of the essays thus far.
  5. No one has recalled it yet so I might as well hang on to try and finish it until someone else requests it–though there is a flaw in this plan, since some people (me included) do not recall items but rather wait until they are returned and available. Minnesota-nice, in my case; don’t want to take some thing away from someone if they still need it.
  6. One of the catalogers at LC recommended this book to me when I was there. Seriously, that’s how I learned of it. She said it was good food for thought and the essays were interesting. (Partly why all the LC bashing in some of the essays bug me even more than it might most readers).
  7. I feel like a need another reason so my excuses don’t outweigh these reasons but it’s the summer and the internet at my place doesn’t reach the porch well so I have to sit at my desk inside tying this up, and I’ve been writing this post for a while (as you probably can imaging if you made it to this point), and all I want right now is some sunshine and Law and Order: SVU on the porch–funny how that works out there. My books tell me I shouldn’t have ordered Netflix but with a laptop and a sunny porch, it’s hard not to relax with a plot-driven, neatly wrapped-up storyline in just 45 minutes. I heart novels but it’s difficult to resist a smart, sharp tv show or movie. I’m all about story, and characters.

Alright, I’ve had enough and you (if you are still with me!) certainly have. Next time I’ll post about my favorite novels and story-driven shows and movies, since it’s summer we can do an enjoyable post right? Plus, I have another post idea lined up but want to work on it a bit before posting.

Last, what drove me to (finally) write this post? Meredith Farkas, librarian blogger of Information Wants to be Free. Her recent post about how to be a better blogger caught my attention and gave me to push I needed to get this post down and out. It’s certainly long and thoughtful, two checks in her opinion. Check it out–she’s a great librarian to read and keep track of, among others.

I’ll let you know if I do finish this book some time soon.

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