Archive for the ‘cataloging’ Category

Flimsy Fabric and Epistemic Presumptions

In two papers on authorship, my colleagues Hur-Li Lee and Hope Olson and I have been working out the intricate relationship between the iconic concept of attribution of responsibility, which seems to be the western notion, and the classificatory pillar, which seems to be the (what shall I say here?) non-western notion (derived in our papers from classic Chinese practice, and from what we can discern from the record of Callimichus).

What we see, however, is that “author,” even (or especially) in Anglo-American cataloging practice, is not about attribution, but about creating an alphabetico-classed arrangement of works. It gives a whole new twist to the concept of classification, but also to the comprehension of what often is called “bibliographic” description, which, it turns out, isn’t.

Here are the citations and the abstracts:

“The Flimsy Fabric of Authorship,” by Richard P. Smiraglia, Hur–‐Li Lee and Hope Olson. In Ménard, Elaine and Nesset, Valerie, eds., Information Science: Synergy through Diversity, Proceedings of the 38th Annual CAIS/ACSI Conference, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec. June 2-4 2010. http://www.cais–‐acsi.ca/proceedings/2010/CAIS089_OlsonLeeSmiraglia_Final.pdf

This paper is about authorship, its influence on bibliography and how that influence is reflected in cataloging across cultures. Beginning with Foucault’s question “what is an author”, it proceeds to demonstrate, through an examination of cataloging standards, that it is the role that is represented rather than true intellectual responsibility.

“Epistemic Presumptions of Authorship,” Richard P. Smiraglia, Hur-Li Lee, Hope A. Olson. iConference’11, February 8–11, 2011, Seattle, Washington, U.S.A. ACM 1-58113-000-0/00/0010

The major concern of this paper is the cultural ramification of the bibliographic conception of “authorship.” Beginning with Foucault’s question “what is an author” and his notion of an author as a cultural phenomenon, the paper proceeds to examine the treatment of authorship in cataloging practices of two ancient cultures, the Greek and the Chinese, as well as in the modern Anglo-American cataloging standards from Panizzi’s 91 rules to the draft of Resource Description and Access (RDA). An author, as the study shows, is constructed as part of the recognition of “a work” as an essential communicative social entity. All cataloging practices and standards examined, east or west, ancient or modern, exhibit a similar obsessive attitude toward the imposition of an author, be it only a name or a culturally identified entity responsible for the work. In fact, the study demonstrates that as far as cataloging is concerned authorship is the role that is represented rather than any true intellectual responsibility.

A third paper has been accepted for an issue of Library Trends.

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OCLC, music cataloging, and Ralph Papakhian (originally posted 7-20-2010)

Ralph Papakhian, head of technical services in the music library at Indiana University, passed away last winter. Ralph was an inspiration to many people over the years. Back in the early days (ah, youth), when I was the head of music cataloging at Illinois, he and I had something of a music cataloging cabal going on, which is a fancy way of saying we helped each other out. We conducted a huge study of music in the then-new OCLC, which was a good survey of the conditions nascent automated music cataloging operations had to deal with in those days.* Here is a photo (I knew I had this someplace!) of my graduate assistant Constance Wernersbach (Connie) and Gretchen my beloved cat who graced my life from 1973 until 1985. Connie was sorting OCLC printouts and calculating some variable, and Gretchen was helping. You can tell, just look at her ears all perked up there! That’s the floor of our living room in Urbana, which as you can see, was then under renovation … I finished that woodwork the night Lech Walensa took over the government of Poland. Oh my, how the world changes. Well, notice Connie is using an old-fashioned calculator; this was before home computers folks! (That’s Brad’s gateleg table, for those of you who’ve been to visit us, its still sitting in our front hall; he got it at a flea market in New Orleans.) Sorry … brief moment there ….


I remember the study chiefly for being the impetus for my doctorate. It was such a difficult problem to sort through all of the data and it was very frustrating to discover one had gathered data that wouldn’t be useful in the end. I said that famously to Arlene Taylor, and she said “come to Chicago and learn how to do it right,” by which she meant learn research methods for real, and I did, and the rest is history, I suppose.

But we won an award for that study and we dined out on it for awhile. When Ralph passed away, I was asked to contribute a paper to a Festschrift, and the first thing I thought of was his study of personal name frequency in music catalogs. I will eventually write an essay about the theoretical value of that study, which reaches far beyond the obvious influence of the stated findings.

Be that as it may, I was reminded also of the OCLC study, and a little bird suggested I should perhaps replicate that study. I thought that was a good idea, and as I was about to teach music cataloging at UWM, I also thought using it as the backdrop for the course might be a good thing for those students.** Plus, it would bring them within Ralph’s orbit, however briefly. So, instead of having those students write term papers I’ve divided them into three different sets of small groups over the course of the semester and they’ve all been working on a replication of sorts. Eventually we will all be coauthors of an article that will appear in the Papakhian Festschrift.

Of course, we can’t exactly replicate the original study, nor would we want to. The original study included analysis of the music holdings by comparing OCLC to the Basic Music Library, to see whether one could (at that time) expect to find standard repertory. There’s clearly no point of replicating that–even in 1981 OCLC had copy for 91.5% of the essential scores and books. But we did replicate the analysis of timeliness for new publications. We searched lists of recently published books on music, music scores, and musical sound recordings from December 2009 and March 2010. Interestingly, while the books and recordings were almost all present, only 70% of the scores were found. So that’s just a small preliminary indication about rapidity of coverage. And I guess it also tells us what sorts of things an original music cataloger is likely to need to be working on these days.

We also received random samples of bibliographic records for scores and recordings from OCLC (thanks to Ed O’Neill and the OCLC Research Division). We searched all of those records and took some basic bibliographic “demographics.” Here are some tidbits from the preliminary analysis:

Scores: 44% AACR2 descriptions, 10% have pre-AACR2 ISBD descriptions, 24% are full level, 50% are M level (less than full, from batch-loading), 94% have Source: d (not LC), dates entered are consistently even from 1972 until 2002, and, the rate of record replacement is constant over time.

Sound recordings: 19% are full level, 48% are M level, 87% have Source: d, dates entered fall into two large clusters early and late, but otherwise are consistent.

(Results, such as they are, are drawn with 95% confidence +/- 5%.) Interestingly, only about half contain cataloging matched to current standards. That is another indicator of the kind of work music cataloging divisions can look forward to.

In the original study, because both Ralph and I ran cataloging departments, we included a sample of workforms from our two divisions, so we could comment on the sorts of changes we were making. For the replication we located the bibliographic records that had been changed the most (in all cases, more than 7 times, and as much as 22 times). Those are being analyzed independently by the students. When they’ve turned in their results I’ll post a summary here.

Cat-lovers among you might be wondering about Gretchen, so here she is, basking in the glory of the award she won for this research (okay, it was the afternoon sun in my study on High Street in Urbana). Still, she was always majestic.

(*Oops, sorry–the original study was Smiraglia, Richard P. and Papakhian, Arsen R. 1981. Music in the OCLC Online Union Catalog: a review. Notes 38: 267-74.)

(**We’ll have to ask the students what they think, but pedagogically, I’ve used the study to drive blogging exercises all through the course. I opened with the tale of how I dropped an entire drawer of music shelflist, and had to refile it, and in reading something like 1100 cards learned a lot. So each of these students has analyzed several hundred bibliographic records, in addition to the 7 they’ve created. I think it’s a good learning opportunity.)

Forgot to post a summary. The research is ongoing, of course; here are some basic results:

Most of the recently published works were found, which means coverage in WorldCat is excellent. That’s quite a change from the early days. The lowest rate of coverage, less than 70%, was for scores. Searchers’ notes raise some interesting questions, including the noise created by apparent duplicates (these are caused by multiple batch-loadings from different sources), the advantage of having unique item numbers to search with (instead of name-title combinations). Of 306 records for scores: 44% AACR2 descriptions, 10% have pre-AACR2 ISBD descriptions, 24% are full level, 50% are M level (less than full, from batch-loading), 94% have Source: d (not LC), dates entered are consistently even from 1972 until 2002, and, the rate of record replacement is constant over time. Of 309 records for sound recordings: 19% are full level, 48% are M level, 87% have Source: d, dates entered fall into two large clusters early and late, but otherwise are consistent.

Posted November 17, 2010 by lazykoblog in cataloging

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Delphic cataloging (originally posted 7-19-2010)

I’ve just completed a Delphi study using the editorial board of CCQ as participants to posit a research agenda as part of the Year of Cataloging Research.

It was fun, and the results will appear in an editorial in CCQ in the fall (I’m told it will be in vol. 48, no. 8).

As happens with most research, some startling non-results revealed themselves. That is, a couple of issues came to the surface which weren’t part of the actual study, but I guess I can get away with writing about them here.

One was the frequent iteration of the sentiment that classification isn’t important because its only purpose is shelving (see below July 7 under “Cataloging for all *time*?”). Reflecting on this leads me in a couple of directions. I guess the first gut reaction is that we’re certainly not succeeding as a domain (KO I mean) if that point of view is still prominent among working professionals. I get this all the time from LIS students, and then I work really hard to convince them that classification is for more than shelving (and I don’t always succeed with them, because all they have to do is look around their libraries, or look at American Libraries for stories that abandon Dewey for Barnes-and-Noble-style groupings). But on deeper reflection it seems to me we have to work harder to make the case for classification as a fundamental aspect of information retrieval. Or for that matter, of information itself. It isn’t just that classification could be used to facilitate more efficacious retrieval, although it could and that has been known all through my career in the field. But there also is the empirical knowledge that phenomena generate inherent heuristics for their own classification, and these can provide natural means of translating among KOS.

Another surprise, and I guess I really shouldn’t have been surprised, was the number of folks who called for gathering basic empirical data about catalogs and cataloging. There has been quite a lot of that research, and my two papers on “theory” both addressed the cumulation of those data (Further progress in theory in knowledge organization Canadian journal of information and library science 26 n2/3 (2002): 30-49. ; and The progress of theory in knowledge organization Library trends 50 (2002): 300-49). But of course those pieces just marked a way-station, as it were; there could and should be a lot more empirical evidence-gathering. But there also is the continuing problem that research results aren’t disseminated in the domain.

Posted November 17, 2010 by lazykoblog in cataloging

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Roll over Lubetzky! (originally posted 7-19-2010)

I’m finally finished (for this summer) teaching music cataloging. For the non-credit institute we created post-institute 20 “perfect” bibliographic records for scores and recordings, and for the for-credit course I created a “backlog” for the students to catalog that included eventually 21 “perfect” bibliographic records for scores, recordings, and videos. I think it’s safe to say I’m now officially very worried about the intensely silly detail required for even minimal cataloging. My how things have changed while I wasn’t looking!

As the header here says, Lubetzky would roll over in his grave (or perhaps I should have said my grandmother might have said that, had she known Lubetzky … never mind) to discover what has become of “Is this rule necessary?” Because, the answer most profoundly is “no, no, a thousand times no!”

It’s bad enough that we’re still transcribing title pages instead of using actual images (ummm, anyone noticed Amazon.com lately?), right down to contents notes instead of browsable pdfs. It’s bad enough, also, that we duplicate data from the AACR2 -dictated legible part of the record in the MARC21 encoded part of the record–one says “duplicate” with a grain of salt, because of course, the same thing is slightly different in each place. What’s up with 033 paired with 518? Why, if we gave up coding 047 and 048, are we still coding the fixed field “comp”? Why are we coding 041 for sung and closed-captioned languages and giving it in a note? But then logically we arrive at questions like why are we coding UPCs and ISMNs and ISBNs and on and on and on? When will these become automatic and not part of the cataloging process? Since I’m on a roll, let’s ask why we’re using $4 relator codes in headings?

In addition to making me crazy, it just makes me wonder which part of this is actually cataloging that should be considered professional work and taught in graduate schools, and which part ought to be fully automated?

The authority work, of course, is the knowledge organization component of cataloging, certainly of music cataloging, because it is this part where we establish relationships among performing ensembles and opera companies, for instance; it is this part where we establish uniform titles under composer headings for all of the instantiations of works; in both of these we are creating alphabetico-classed arrangements for the purpose of both collocation and disambiguation. That’s knowledge organization. This is the part Lubetzky would likely approve.

But all the rest–folks it’s 2010, enough already!