Guest post: Cataloguing 23 Things, some thoughts from Helen Stein

We’re delighted to host this guest post from Helen Stein – @NunuThunder on Twitter – about the intriguing idea of a Cataloguing 23 Things. We’d love to hear your ideas, suggestions, thoughts on this in comments below!


A few days ago I got together the courage to offer a little help to someone who had asked a cataloguing-related question on Twitter. I typed my answer in less than 140 characters and was breezily about to hit ‘send’ when it struck me that this would be my debut in helping anybody with a cataloguing question.

Big Moment! I didn’t want to get it wrong (publicly wrong – Twitter is a big public place). So I moved away from the return key, grabbed my AACR2 & MARC21 guidance and double checked what I was about to say out loud.

Happily for the person asking the question there are folks out there who know this stuff like the back of their hands and part of the reason for my anxious perusal of Chapter Six and then Chapter Three was that over the past year or so I have been watching them all swap ideas and suggestions about interpreting cataloguing rules and tag wrangling without feeling like I could join in.

I did however join in with a conversation about “metadata technology” and how people would like to learn about it, because apparently I found this less daunting…

Thus the idea of a cataloguing 23Things (Cat23) came about. 23Things is an approach which has been used to introduce people to using Web 2.0 platforms such as blogs, wikis and Twitter. It’s a way of breaking down barriers to understanding what such tools are, how they can be useful and so on. The original suggestion to build Cat23 was made because this approach seems to be an effective way for people to learn through practice.

Consequently a small group have been thinking about Cat23, identifying groups it might appeal to and what sorts of things it could cover. Early thoughts are that Cat23 could be useful to:

  • lone workers, who cannot easily mange time away from the workplace to undertake formal training
  • those who find themselves cataloguing by default with little or no experience in working with a variety of materials
  • distance learners (like myself!), who want to undertake further study
  • experienced cataloguers who need to use a different set of rules from normal, or who wish to pick up knowledge about new standards, and
  • those who wish to expand their professional skills but find workplace training budgets are not available to cover it.

As for coverage, there are many obvious inclusions – such as commonly used rules, data structures and classification systems, LMSs and OPACs, new rules and hybrid environments, linked data and XML, etc – but there has also been a strong emphasis on including worked examples so that Cat23 would accentuate practical learning. Obvious difficulties such as copyright implications for worked examples and the fact that many cataloguing tools require subscriptions are playing in our minds but it is encouraging that there seems to be a real appetite right now for a strong, mutually supportive learning community within cataloguing.

A recent initiative saw the Cataloguing & Index Group of CILIP hold a 2-day e-forum, moderated and excellently summarised by Celine Carty and Helen Williams. Enthusiasm for more was evident and certainly there are plenty of willing voices ready to lend help when it is sought. Cat23 may yet prove to be part of a broader picture in which cataloguers support one another’s continued learning.

And for anyone who questions the worth or impact of this sort of online support I’d like to point out that I did eventually hit ‘send’, letting my answer to the question someone asked on Twitter show up on people’s timelines ‘though I half expected the words to look wobbly, echoing in appearance the querulous sound of my voice in my own head as I read it back. This small step was made possible by all the cataloguers I’ve been following online, as well as by my reading and the workplace experience I’ve had of cataloguing. Thanks guys.


Posted on May 9, 2011, in News and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. An interesting post. I think it sounds a good idea although I would like to know more about how you envisage it working. The cam23 project took place in one city (with physical sessions?) as far as I know, and the cataloguing23 idea sounds like it would be a purely online thing (or things) from the way you describe it. Would it be essentially online events or sets of resources/services do you think? I would be happy to help with it anyway, other commitments allowing.

    I like your description of checking everything before replying to a query. I’m meant to be a cataloguing manager but I still do that too all the time, even for questions from cataloguing staff inside my library. Partly, this is because I want to be sure and don’t necessarily have all the answers, and partly because I think looking things up is the best way of really learning and engaging with the standards. It also means I can quote rule numbers and references at people which I hope encourages them to look things up in the same way, and gives proper evidence for what I’m saying. (Basically I got this from my dad who refused to tell me how words were spelt to force me to look it up in a dictionary).

  2. I can’t speak on Helen’s behalf but I would personally see this as something online/virtual (with lots of potential for support via Twitter, email, blog comments, google docs and even possibly some mentoring/partnering if locations allowed).

    Cam23 was in one city (and most 23 Things programmes are geographically limited) but the physical sessions were more drop-in help and not compulsory. I went to the launch party (free olives, why wouldn’t you?) and the wrap party but that obviously wasn’t compulsory either. I happen to know of a 23 things programme coming soon (non-cataloguing) that will be completely non-geographical, so think it is possible.

    Your help would be brilliant! I can’t quite get my head round how it would work either but think it’s a really intriguing idea. It particularly appeals to the bit of me that’s been thinking a lot about mentoring/on-job training, lone or reluctant cataloguers, etc…. I think it has a lot of potential.

    I completely agree about looking up answers, that’s definitely my policy at work (and one of the reasons I’m a bit frustrated now at home without access to documentation when I want to answer a Twitter query!)

  3. Celine: thank you for the reply. Also, how do you see this being organised? Are we looking at a little formal organising group? I suppose there has to be something to give it some direction and shape.

    The free olives is definitely something that needs to be looked at. Perhaps followed by some nut/honey/chocolate confection of some sort.

    Helen: looking at your post again I saw you mentioned the fear of being wrong, which is something I tried to give up ages ago. I’m always wrong, and have ace staff who point things out to me all the time: another reason (as you say) why I like to hunt down rules and references as evidence. I shudder every now and again when I learn something new I should have known for the last ten years (e.g. that you were meant to count illustrations if practical, which I learnt last year: I wondered why lots of library school students’ records I’d seen did when I’d never bothered).

  4. I’d envisage a small online team of organisers (think cam23 had 5 or 6 people, for example). Would love to be heavily involved but timing makes that unlikely but Helen has some other interested people and I’m hoping to keep involved in the background (if only for the olives/toblerone).

    Counting illustrations? Never done that, but then am v influenced by my US-based training on that kind of thing which applies LCRIs to illustrations and which I think is completely appropriate to a non-specialist collection.

  5. Orangeaurochs: thanks for the offer of help! So far we have a group of 5 thinking about audience & coverage. We’re a pretty scattered group geographically, so in my mind at least this has made the whole Cat23 project seem like it would be an online thing. Celine’s mention above of mentoring (reluctant) catalogers is interesting as it could be that Cat23 combines the features of a listserve, blog, resources feed eventually. Time is, I’d say, a key consideration in what we finally make of Cat23.
    Thanks too for your words about being wrong and fear. I guess the fear part comes from not wanting to let down anyone who took the trouble to ask for help! It’s more worry than fear, and in a way this is underpinning my thinking about Cat23 because I wouldn’t want to start something which quickly falls over because it isn’t maintained, for example. If we went down a route of offering support to people dealing with cataloging issues we ought not to disappear abruptly or be tardy in responding!
    Celine’s right about potentially using a variety of platforms to support Cat23’s output but there again are some issues about managing the project so that it remains relevant and coherant for people who use it.
    All this and I hadn’t even thought about olives!
    So, you see the idea is still very much in the making as it were. I hope (and I don’t think it’s an unreasonable hope) that something will come of the discussions the group is having, even if in the end it isn’t a 23Things proper.

  6. As a new rare-books cataloguer, I love the idea of being able to find out more about new things coming along in cataloguing (you know, acronym-y things like RDA, FRBR, linked data, etc.) as part of keeping up-to-date with the wider world, and by a means that enables lots of asking questsions/discussing things/learning from each others’ opinions.

    Exactly what format I might want it to take, I’m not sure. Cam23 was mainly about trying new tools, so you could go and try it and then blog about it. A lot of the cataloguing type things I’d like to know more about are, I suspect, just things I need to read up on, which mightn’t work quite so well… I dunno.

    I’m involved in organising cpd23 (, which is a Professional Development 23 Things programme that will run online over this summer (more info to go online v. soon) – the idea being that it’s open to anyone, anywhere, who thinks they can benefit. We haven’t solved the free olives problem yet, though.

  7. Thanks Katie – that *was* an oblique reference to cpd23 in my earlier comment (wasn’t sure whether it was official yet or not).

    To answer the “but how might this work in practice”, I’m going to copy here some of the initial thoughts I’ve shared about this in email discussions…

    “I’m wondering whether what we’re looking at is a whole umbrella/range of cataloguing training type things, rather than just one. I like the idea of something continual, updated, involving interactions/conversations, etc. Maybe the “umbrella’ of what we are talking about could include/draw in/advertise stuff organised by other bodies like CIG or ALCTS in the US – we promote it and get involved…?

    “I’m wondering about this… a cat23, 23 things programme which is a bit more limited as a starting point to get people involved. A single programme could never cover everything [we have discussed] but could definitely provide the starting point to get people involved in something online like that and then build on it. I haven’t quite thought through what would be involved in the initial thing or how it would work exactly but I see it having certain of the 23 things hallmarks – the need to reflect/blog/write about experiences with each “thing”, the encouragement to use social media (blogs, twitter, etc) to communicate and connect with other professionals, comment on other blogs, post egs or whatever. Get people involved and interested. Maybe trying to cater for a range of cataloguing experience/format/knowledge, etc.

    “Then, continue with *other* formats/types of training or interaction after the end of 23 things – those who are keen and enjoyed it or got a lot out of it would continue, it would provide an outlet for updating and discussion. Hopefully by having something not too huge for people to join initially (cat23) you build a network that can be used for other things and people will also be encouraged to get involved themselves, organise something else, suggest different topics, actually create training or whatever.”

  8. Hello,
    I think this is a brilliant idea! I have lost touch a bit with some cataloguing/metadata-related “things” and I would definitely be interested in a “Cat23” as an online programme.

  9. I also think Cat23 would be fantastic. I’m working on completing 23 Things currently (i’m a little behind…) but they don’t cover the main focus of my job which is original cataloguing. I’m a solo librarian with no training budget so keeping up to date can be challenging. There isn’t anyone to ask “what do you do with….” when you get something tricky so creating a group of people online where you can ask those questions (perhaps by finding them on Twitter etc) would be so helpful. Cat and Class at university was a long time ago and I have no doubt that many things have changed.
    Can I suggest book bindings (i.e. what is half bound, three quarter bound etc), dealing with conference proceedings, starting with LOC subject terms, how to enter geographical place names, and sorting out an existing terrible thesaurus as possible topics?
    Jennie Kelly
    Newcastle upon Tyne

  10. I am a 6th form librarian and very much aware that my cataloging training has been ” on the hoof” with little real foundation. I am currently trying to catch up with CPD 23 which i have been finding very helpful and the possibility of a cat 23 would be very interesting.

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