Introducing… Cat23 Phase One (An announcement at CIG Conference)

This year’s CIG Conference is entitled “The Value of Cataloguing“, which sounds like a topic right up our street here at HVCats. On Tuesday September 11th, Celine Carty will be speaking at the CIG conference in Sheffield about the new HVCats initiative – phase one of the Cat23 idea. Helen Stein came up with this idea and has been doing amazing work in making it happen, but sadly could not attend CIG to present alongside Celine.

For over a year now, we’ve been pondering the idea of how to make a “23 Things for Cataloguers” work. There are lots of problems doing this kind of professional development programme along the same lines as the traditional library “23 Things”. So, in the end, we’ve taken a slightly different route.

Announcing Cat23

Cat23 will encompass a number of initiatives aimed at supporting continuing professional development for cataloguers and those interested in cataloguing.

We are delighted to introduce phase one: a series of interviews with cataloguing practitioners to find out more about the day-to-day realities of working as a cataloguer. We hope that this will provide a real insight into current cataloguing work and answer some questions about what cataloguing actually involves. The interviews aim to cover a range of type of material, type of library and give some idea of the diversity of cataloguing and metadata work. We hope to provide a rounded view of the practicalities of dealing with a specific typical item and the tools used by cataloguers to deal with problems and answer questions. We hope that the interviews will be of interest both to people who catalogue in their current post and to all the cataloguing-curious. The interviews will be a great way of starting out the cat23 project. Each interview will aim to outline the cataloguing context:

  • the types of materials commonly dealt with
  • the type of library/institution
  • the LMS used
  • the specific cataloguing rules & classification system(s) employed to guide practice
  • a look at any ‘local conditions’ that influence the cataloguing
  • the balance of tasks involved in the cataloguer’s daily work
  • the most common difficulties with the type of material being catalogued
  • the key help resources for the cataloguer when they come across a problem

To provide an insight into the realities of day-to-day cataloguing, each interview subject will select one item from their current cataloguing to examine in detail as the basis of the interview.

Several interviews have already been carried out, with more to come. Thanks to our generous interviewees in both the UK and the US who have kindly let us in to get a glimpse of their cataloguing work for this project. We hope to post the first of the interviews here on the blog shortly. Watch this space!

High Visibility Cataloguing at ALA Annual

Thanks to a conference bursary from the John Campbell Trust, HVCats (in the person of Céline Carty) is attending ALA Annual at Anaheim.

I have some HVCats goodies (very modest ones) and would love to meet any catalog(u)ers who are going to be at ALA. Do come and say hi if you see me at the conference. Feel free to get in touch with me via @HVCats on Twitter or come to the Networking Uncommons, where I’m planning to be from 12-1 on Monday (and possibly at other times too once I finalise my schedule). I’d love to hear about high visibility ideas, talk about our plans here at HVCats to do some new professional development projects as part of the cat23 idea and meet as many high visibility cataloguers as I can while I’m here. I’m the British, slightly jet lagged one if you want to look out for me!

Lego, Lego, everywhere, on the table on the chair …*

What do Lego, chocolate and a giant snakes and ladders board have in common? Well, they were all props used by members of the HVCats team to demonstrate to forty eager new professionals just how exciting cataloguing is as a career at CILIP’s New Professionals Day 2012. In this post Deborah Lee, Senior Cataloguer at the Courtauld Institute of Art, and Jennie-Claire Perry, Acquisitions & Metadata Librarian at the University of the Arts London, reflect on their workshops.

The workshop kicked off with a Lego classification activity led by Deborah Lee, who says: “we designed this activity to show some of the basics of faceted classification using a more kinaesthetic method, i.e. participants spent the activity handling lots of quasi-Lego bricks. In groups the attendees came up with possible facets (in the loosest sense of the word), considered hospitality issues and saw scattering first hand as they attempted to build a tower out of bricks scattered across their colour-based classification system. It was exciting to see some of the more creative ideas for possible facets: smell, taste and rarity were all suggested. The highlight of the activity was seeing the various groups race to build their towers as quickly as possible with the winning team those who finished the tower and shouted “Ranganathan” first. Chocolate (and hopefully a lifetime of always remembering Ranaganthan’s name and work) was a reward for the winners. The biggest challenge in co-leading the workshop was controlling the pesky quasi-Lego bricks which seem to get everywhere; I’m still finding pieces at the bottom of my bag one week on …”.

Lego towers

Some of the Lego towers created during the classification workshop

The workshop then moved on to an interactive session on the ups and downs of running a cataloguing department, led by Jennie-Claire Perry. Jennie says “The brief was to cover a topic related to cataloguing and classification in an interesting and preferably interactive way, rather than simply standing up and talking through a PowerPoint. After a few emails back and forth, Deborah and I decided that if it was interactive they wanted, it would be interactive they got, and came up with the idea of gamifying cataloguing management using a giant snakes and ladders board. There were some last minute issues to do with the number of delegates (roughly twice as many as I’d bargained for!) and whether the activity would scale up to accommodate so many participants, but the session went better than I could have hoped, with all worries about cataloguers being a bunch of introverts being dismissed once and for all!”

Cataloguing snakes & ladders

Playing cataloguing snakes & ladders at #CILIPNPID12. Photo by @usernametaken10.

Deborah and Jennie’s tips on running a workshop:

1. Think “activity”. Are there are ways to extend the “doing” part of your workshop from just talking/writing in groups to more of an “activity”? It adds an extra dimension to your workshop and people can often learn better when doing something involving touch or moving around.

2. Logistics. If organising a more practical activity, plan the logistics as though it were a military operation (e.g. how many people in a group?, how many bricks per table?, how should we arrange the room, how much time do we need to leave so participants can get to the back of the room for the second part of the workshop?). Remember to leave extra time for anything involving people physically moving around, people in groups being told to go somewhere have an annoying habit of moving much more slowly than a single person walking somewhere.

3. Testing. The Lego activity was trialled with some “volunteers” from Deborah’s library. Though it wasn’t exactly the same as the real-life activity this was invaluable to the success of the real-life workshop. Pilots can be particularly useful to see if you have left enough/too much time for the activities, to see any knots in your instructions and get general feedback on how you/the activity is being perceived.

4. Take a camera. The session will be over in a flash and you won’t remember all of it. It is great that we took some pictures so there are visual prompts that we can use to make improvements for next time we run a session.

*Or more precisely, in my handbag, on the carpet at CILIP, on the living room floor, under my desk at work, on my desk at work and probably down the back of the sofa (if I was brave enough to look…)

Conversations with Cataloguers in Wales: organising a mini-conference

In this guest post, Karen Pierce describes what was involved in organising a recent mini-conference, Conversations with Cataloguers in Wales, which she originally wrote a guest post about when it was in the planning stages. The Welsh event was very successful, anyone else inspired to hold a local event for cataloguers? We’d be happy to help with promotion here at High Visibility Cataloguers, we love to see cataloguers in conversation!

A few years ago I was travelling back from the annual WHELF/HEWIT conference in Gregynog (Newtown, Wales) with a (site librarian) colleague, we’d been on the organising committee and were returning on a high at our successful venture, and thus started bouncing lots of other ideas off one another. One of these ideas was to have an event for cataloguers in Wales as the Gregynog conference doesn’t tend to cover topics in the main that are directly relevant to cataloguers. Fired up with the idea I duly mentioned it at my annual appraisal, and my line manager was very supportive. Eighteen months later I was still just talking about it, but other work issues had got in the way (too busy!), then I embarked on cpd23. Whilst exploring and blogging about the various professional development tools and ideas covered by cpd23 I made a promise to myself, (and publicly on my blog), to actually get this conference organised once and for all. Fast forward seven or eight months, and the ‘Conversations with Cataloguers in Wales’ event became a reality on 6th March 2012.

Most cataloguers tend to be hidden away in the back office; where I work we are actually hidden away in an admin block nowhere near a library. Although there are plenty of librarianship conferences and seminars, aside from events organised by CILIP CIG, these events mostly don’t include a great deal that is directly relevant to cataloguers. I went to my first CIG conference in Exeter two years ago, and it was great to be in a room with lots of other cataloguers – these people were talking my language! I wanted to recreate that on a smaller scale, in Wales; give people locally the chance to get together to talk about ‘cataloguing stuff’.

For the most part I organised this conference on my own, I thought it would be small enough for me to keep a handle on it – which it was, but there were times when it would have been nice to have a team to help me out and take some of the tasks off me (though I did have plenty of help on the day).

Obviously I wanted speakers for the event, so I started by blogging about it, and then mentioning it on Twitter. My tweets were re-tweeted, and I think this was the way in which I got my first offer of a presentation. But not everyone is on Twitter – and certainly most cataloguers in Wales are not on Twitter. I sent emails out to any contacts I had, and someone picked up on my message and sent it out on various email lists. This was a great help and certainly spread the word further than I had managed so far on my own. Posts also went up on the CIG and HVCats blogs. I was curious at this point though, just how do you ensure you reach all your potential audience? (Still don’t have the answer, though a variety of mediums helps!)

I did end up with a list of speakers and potential attendees from all over Wales – predominantly South Wales which is where I was based and where the event took place, but we still had people come from Wrexham, Aberystwyth, Lampeter and Carmarthen, as well as closer to Cardiff. I am sure I did not reach all the cataloguers in Wales with my advertising, (and I’m guessing there are plenty in North Wales I didn’t get to) but as around 45 people signed up to the event I was more than pleased.

We had a variety of talks, three of which looked at reclassification projects and covered the whole range of ‘still in the planning stages’, ‘well under way, but a lot yet to do’ and ‘completed within the time scale’. For anyone planning a reclassification project these three presentations certainly gave a great oversight into the different stages and various procedures involved.

Other presentations looked at some more specialised collections; a Rare books collection, an art book collection at a museum, and Welsh government publications (at the Welsh Government Library). We also had a presentation from a terminologist – which led to plenty of thoughts about controlled vocabularies. [For a more detailed summary of the talks please see my own blog]

Whilst getting in contact with interested people a few of them mentioned that they would like the chance to talk about setting up some kind of all-Wales cataloguing group; thus I set aside a session at the end of the day to enable a discussion on this topic, and asked Stuart Hunt the chair of CIG if he would facilitate it. It was really good to have the opportunity to think about the creation of an all-Wales group, however, get a bunch of cataloguers in a room and ask them to join in a public discussion, and the majority of us do conform to stereotype and aren’t terribly vocal in front of others. It seems in general there is the desire for some kind of all-Wales group or forum, but pinning down the details (and getting people actively contributing) is another matter. I am hopeful that we will start small and grow proportionally as time goes by; and perhaps focus on organising some practical training sessions.

Overall the conference was a success, I had some great speakers, and numbers attending exceeded my expectations. Thanks to Twitter, people the other side of the country knew what was going on; although somehow my internal advertising slipped up, as in the weeks following the conference I had conversations with librarians at my institution who had been unaware of the event but would have otherwise come. I’m pretty sure they were all emailed about it – but whether they switched off at the first mention of ‘cataloguing’ I don’t know. Next time (if there is a next time) I will push things internally in a different way. That was one lesson learned.

I also learned that no matter how organised you are there will always be an unforeseen problem (or multiple problems!) that will crop up. However, if for the most part you have done all the preparation properly you should be able to cope. For example I had some IT problems, but had ensured I had an IT Support Assistant from the library up-stairs on call, so she was able to sort them for me.

Be nice to the porters/security guys – they will probably know the answers to lots of room/building related stuff (especially if you are operating in a room that isn’t where you usually work) – they also managed to give me a bin bag when the rather small bin was overflowing with lunchtime detritus. And don’t forget a Tupperware box to take home the leftovers!

As the stress fades into the background, I start to feel the urges to organise something similar again; maybe not annually but perhaps once every two years or so. It was great to have a room full of cataloguers, and I hope there were plenty of useful informal conversations at lunchtime – another reason for getting together, aside from the presentations, was just to meet each other. I now also have a great list of contacts, and am hoping some kind of all-Wales group or forum will emerge. In these uncertain times it’s encouraging to know who is out there, and what challenges they are facing, and to be able to share our experiences and knowledge, and hopefully help one another.

Give & take the High Visibility way – guest post

We are really pleased to bring you a new guest post by Kate Sebby – @kate80 – about ways of making high visibility work for you. Kate is a cataloging librarian at the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not presented as those of the Congressional Research Service or the Library of Congress.

Though it is a branch of the Library of Congress, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) is not a traditional library. CRS is a think tank staffed mostly by analysts responding to the research requests of the U.S. Congress. Despite this, CRS does have some traditional library functions—such as acquisitions and cataloging—though those departments are very small.

While cataloging is already a fairly desk-bound job, being separated from other divisions by walls and cubicles and sprawling across several floors, makes reaching out to analysts and information professionals an even greater challenge to communication. So I spent my first year at CRS being a typical introverted cataloger; my work was always done competently and on time but I did very little to get away from my desk and interact with others.

With time came confidence and, in the past few months, I’ve been developing relationships with the reference librarians who support our research divisions. It started by responding to basic requests from a few of these librarians to update bibliographic records and holdings in the catalog. My rapid response to their concerns and repeated requests to send any mistakes or updates got their attention. After several months, one of the librarians approached me at a union coffee hour gathering. (I only attended because a more outgoing colleague asked me to attend with her. Still an introvert!) She stated that she had some ideas for working with me and wanted to gauge my interest. I immediately responded with a ‘YES!’ without even knowing what she had in mind.

We set up an arrangement that in return for my cataloging of some of their older, department-specific collections, they would train me in reference—answering requests, aiding analysts’ research, database familiarization, etc. Not only would I be solving a pertinent cataloging problem (getting my hands on all those uncataloged volumes), I would be gaining training and experience to enhance my skill set and resume. Though this is still early in the process, many people in the research division already know me personally and are excited that I can catalog and provide access to their personal office collections. After an email introduction sent to the division, several analysts immediately replied with cataloging requests. In addition, after my reference librarian colleagues provided me with information on a number of databases and introduced me to several training opportunities, I’m now working on my third Congressional request.

While the nature of my job specifically, and cataloging in general, can make it difficult to interact with colleagues frequently, there is still opportunity to do so. There are always ways to make your work more visible. It may start simply with exposure to a small group of people or with a minor project. Attending work events provides unique opportunities. Networking and introducing yourself (or having a more connected coworker introduce you) are great ways to get more exposure. Be quick and responsive when someone reaches out to you. Lastly, be prepared to create or suggest mutually beneficial relationships with others in your library or company.

Shameless self-promotion

This guest post is by Heather Jardine, talking about the fabulous high visibility initiatives she and her colleagues have implemented for the Bibliographical Services Section of the City of London Libraries. I this these are inspiring ideas, we’d love to hear anything you have to add:

If you are going to do a job at all, you should do it properly. So now that we have decided it is time to promote ourselves and what we do, we have thrown caution to the winds and we are trying almost everything.

We started with tours of the Bib Services Section, what we call “The Journey of the Book”, initially for new staff colleagues but now also for members of the public and for colleagues from other libraries (so now we have three “flavours” of tour – Staff Journey of the Book, Public Journey of the Book and Professional Journey of the Book). The content is essentially the same for all three, but the level of detail varies according to the audience. Fellow professionals always seem most interested in workflow and management issues, members of the public are always fascinated by the processing – all that stickyback plastic takes them back to Blue Peter and their younger days. Yes, it is a faff setting it all up, but we learn as much as our visitors do and almost always people are interested, engaged and persuaded that what we do is valuable and useful, which is enormously satisfying. And, you never know who is going to come through the door on a tour. It might be someone with influence to help us, or someone who will bring us work and income. We all need friends at the moment. We are beginning to think that marketing it as a “behind-the scenes” tour might get more custom – everyone likes to see what goes on out of public view, as the National Trust and many other heritage organisations realised long ago when they started opening kitchens and other below-stairs areas.

One thing leads to another, and because we were doing tours, we decided that we needed a leaflet to hand out both as publicity and as a souvenir in goody-bags.

And we thought that a big, bright, well-designed poster on the wall outside our office would tell people who we were and what we did (it helps that our office is across the lobby from the public toilets, so there are always people about).

After a while, we thought that having a video version of our “Journey of the Book” might bring it to a wider audience, so we made a film and put it up on YouTube. It’s doing OK for views, but we’d probably get more if we had included a skateboarding cat. Oh well, there’s always next time. (That’s one of the things you find out quite quickly – whatever publicity material you produce, you have to review and revise it surprisingly often.)

We have started a blog, too, and made sure that it is picked up by Planet Cataloging, so it gets read as widely as possible.

And we have a page “about” us within our catalogue, and on our Intranet too, of course.

But there is still more to do. Only the other day I was introduced by a colleague as, “This is Heather – she works in the basement”, as if that was the only interesting thing about me. So – what next? My own gut feeling is that Facebook is passé, but we might give it a try nonetheless. Then there is Twitter. I’ve got mixed feelings about Twitter, but I am slowly being persuaded that it can be a useful tool. “Bib Services: the musical”? Probably not.

Perhaps the most important thing to say, is that we started without any special skills or knowledge. We are not marketing professionals, or graphic designers. It’s been a huge learning curve. Maybe when we look back, we think of ways we could have done it better – but there is always next time. Meanwhile, we’ve got something out there. And if we can do it, so can you.

We’d like to hear what you think of what we’ve been doing and to learn from your experience too.

Check out:

The video: An introduction to the Bibliographical Services Section of the City of London Libraries

The blog: Work and expression

About us: The Bibliographical Services Section

Higher visibility at Eton College Library – guest post

Our new guest post is by Louise Anderson @LibrarianLCA about her work as Catalogue Librarian working to make the fascinating collections of Eton College Library more visible.

A new year at Eton College Library hopefully means a new (the first!) OPAC. This is very exciting for us after several years building up to the event. Electronic cataloguing started on the main library, housing pre-1800 materials, at the turn of the century and these are still being catalogued now. I was brought in just over three years ago to catalogue the 19th and 20th century printed materials and am still working on these. With this frenzied activity we have a respectable number of items catalogued with which to launch the OPAC.

This would have happened sooner but we seized the opportunity to piggy-back on the rest of the college collections’ change of management system. We have moved from Mikromarc to SSL (System Simulation Ltd.) and, not before time, from UKMARC to MARC 21. We have been working with other SSL users including the Royal Academy of Arts, for whom the system was devised, to optimise the usability and features and have
been able to tweak it in significant ways. When we are up and running, users will be able to search across the collections, many museum items will have images (hopefully this will be extended to books, mss., and archives), and within our records we can add links to webpages.

A letter and airgraphs from Glen Byam Shaw to Angela Baddeley, MS 442. Reproduced by permission of the Provost and Fellows of Eton College.

This has coincided with a drive to catalogue our literary archives and after researching embryonic GLAM guidelines and looking at records of literary archive holdings in other institutions – including the John Rylands University Library – we have decided to do this in the archival rather than the MARC cataloguing system, allowing us to add levels of detail when time and funding allows. We will still have MARC records with links to finding aids for archives that have already been listed, but this will be easy to copy into an archive system record if we wish to in the future. The decision was not straight forward; we may have to iron out issues with the separate authority files and the format of the data within, and if we ever want to put all library items on a different system the mapping would be difficult, however, the college should always have an archives system.

We have made the decision to continue to catalogue our individual literary mss. in MARC 21, including small groups of letters, drafts, etc., although there was much debate about when a group of mss. become an archive. Is it when they are by the same person in the same period of time, or when the letters are to the same person? Is it when the documents exceed a certain number even if there is not necessarily a subject shared? Or does it matter when in their history they were gathered together in one place? We decided there would be an element of cataloguer’s discretion, influenced by factors such as shared subject, place of production, volume, and if they had been collected together before they came to us. However, this is not yet set in stone and any suggestions would be very welcome!

Now for the fun bit. Our priorities regarding what to catalogue have been influenced mainly by use, retaining institutional knowledge, and what we wish to display in the public arena. Our literary archives have been, and are increasingly most likely to be, our high use items. Archives of Glen Byam Shaw, Wilfrid Blunt, Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Thesiger, and David Horner/Osbert Sitwell fall into this category. Our individual literary mss. are also likely to be well used, and the knowledge about most of these rests with our Modern Collections Curator, which we need to capture electronically. I will hopefully be moving on to these very soon and I can’t wait to get my hands on mss. by Coleridge, Byron, Dickens, Browning, Bridges, and Fleming to name but a few. The same motivation will lead on to cataloguing the WWI materials that have been collected in addition to
those forming the original collection of the Macnaghten Library of WWI materials, given to Eton as a memorial in 1938. We will also need to know exactly what we have when we start curating our 2014 WWI exhibition. However, before all of this we need to finish cataloguing the items in our soon to be published “100 books and manuscripts” (working title) publication, which is a roundup of some of the stunning acquisitions of Eton College Library in the last 40 years, including a King James Bible, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s annotated Sophocles, and journals of Anne Thackeray Ritchie – just to whet the appetite.

Twitter chat on cataloguing & classification from #uklibchat

This guest post is by Joseph Norwood and the rest of the #uklibchat team,and we hope to see a few high visibility cataloguers at the chat on Thursday:

#uklibchat is a fortnightly discussion group for librarians and information professionals, and on Thursday 23rd February between 6:30 PM and 8:30 PM, we’re going to be talking about cataloguing and classification.

An agenda for the chat is available here and can be added to if you have any questions that you would like to raise during the discussion.

These chats are a great way for librarians to share their ideas about a subject and to find out more about things that they may not often come into direct contact with at work. I’m hoping that this discussion will give people outside of cataloguing a chance to learn more about the importance of cataloguing work, and I’m sure it will also be very interesting for people who work or want to work as cataloguers. Topics to be discussed on the day include the future of cataloguing, training, and how catalogues could be presented to users.

More information about the chat; and summaries of previous chats can be found on our blog (

The #uklibchat team can be contacted by Twitter through @uklibchat if there’s anything you’d like to ask us.

Libday8: the Cataloguers

Here’s a list of people with catalog(u)ing / metadata / systems roles who have signed up for Library Day in the Life Round 8. It’s a rough list, put together from the descriptions people gave on the libday wiki page supplemented by people who contacted us letting us know they were taking part. If you’re involved in something catalog(ue)-related and want to be added here and to our twitterlist, let us know.

If we’ve included you here and you don’t think we should have; let us know.
[Edited 8pm, Monday 30th Jan to add 3 more cataloguers]

Image: DC Hero Minifigs (most of them) by Julian Fong. Copyright Commons, some rights reserved.