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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…)

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.