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Some Observations from the NLA/NEMA Fall Conference 2007

Posted By TSRT Communication and Web Coordinator, Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Updated: Friday, April 17, 2015

[Guest writer: unidentified]

I thoroughly enjoyed the 2007 NLA/NEMA Fall Conference out in Kearney. I'll admit that when the program first came out, I wasn't tremendously enthused. However, every session I attended turned out to be very interesting, informative, and worthwhile. It ended up being a wonderful experience.

The first of the three TSRT sessions was "Nebraska Public Documents Digitization" by Jim Shaw, Katherine Walter, Beth Goble, and Cindy Drake, in which they unveiled the new Nebraska Public Documents online archive. It's still very much a work-in-progress, plagued by dirty OCR and all its attendant spelling errors and false hits, but it is a very promising start. With beautifully clear scans of Nebraska state agency reports from 1891 through 1956 (with a few noted gaps in coverage), this promises to become a key service for historical research in this state. Give it a try. The results are relevancy ranked. Use an asterisk for wildcard truncation and quotation marks for phrase searching. Boolean operators are an option as well. It's full of excellent material.

One thing lacking from the Nebraska Public Documents archive, which I hope may be added in the future, is some kind of browse function, perhaps the ability to browse a list of agencies that produced reports, for searchers who are not exactly sure of what they're looking for. However, there is already the ability to browse by date. Under search, you can enter a year instead of a keyword to see a list of all documents produced in that year. Very handy for someone trying to get a general, overall feel for a particular time period. It's a great archive that many people have worked long and hard to get going. I hope they are able to continue building the interface and adding more documents. Keep an eye on it.

The second TSRT session was "Are You Ready for Shelf-Ready?" by Jan Boyer and Bob Nash. Having been deeply immersed in the implementation of shelf-ready processing at UNO's Criss Library, for me this was just a stroll down memory lane. (Which probably means I'm too close to the topic to review the session objectively.) They mentioned a lot of the perils and pitfalls as well as the benefits. It's hard to say how many of the problems we had were specific to YBP, PromptCat, or our ILS (III), since we had no experience with other vendors. Shelf-ready processing with other vendors or other systems may be easier or more difficult, but Jan and Bob addressed this limitation in their experience very well with occasional reminders of, "Your vendor may do it differently. It's always best to ask." The main strength of their program was bringing up issues that we never knew would be issues from the start of the process, all those "oh, we didn't think of" items that bubbled to the surface during implementation. Hopefully those who attended this presentation will be able to ask those questions from the start and have a much smoother implementation.

The third and final TSRT session was "Cataloging Ghettos: Segregating Titles by Gender and Race" by Kevin Graham and Charity Martin. This is a topic that has nibbled at my brain for a long time, so I was glad to see it brought to light. They addressed the way a book on philosophy with a feminist slant will be classed in the HQs rather than the BFs, so the users browsing the psychology section will never see it. (Likewise any other topic presented from a feminist viewpoint or with the idea that gender is relevant to the topic tends to get segregated in the HQs.) A similar problem occurs in E185.5-E185.98, a teeny-tiny call number range where an enormous array of topics is crammed into African Americans as "elements of the population" in the United States. As the presenters observed, the classification number range allotted for African Americans is smaller than the range allotted for the presidency of Martin Van Buren. (I don't know about your library, but mine only has sixteen books total on Martin Van Buren, not all of which are even in E386-E387, but we have 3,194 titles in E185. So really, this is no small issue. However, there are many other areas where the range allotted for such-and-such topic is woefully inadequate, and equally many ridiculously wide ranges allocated for topics that turned out to be obscure. So it's not just the Es.)

African American history and culture are all mashed together, along with works that could arguably have been classed with women's history, feminist theory, politics, sociology, psychology, geriatrics, law, family therapy, religion, etc. etc. etc. Browsing the many shelves of E185.86 that a medium-sized academic library is likely to have for any particular subtopic, one would never find anything but for serendipity, and that is not always the most reliable method of research. And though they were not explicitly mentioned, I suspect similar classification ghettoes could be found for other minorities, such as Native Americans or gays. (For example, would someone looking for in the DSs for Japanese history ever stumble across Love of the samurai in HQ75.6?)

On the other side of the issue, one of the people in the audience pointed out that while some groups, such as African Americans and women, have so much material about them that spreading them out among other topics would be useful, other groups about whom less has been published, such as Korean Americans, tend to benefit more from having all their materials together. But where do you draw the line? How much published material does a library need to have on a particular racial, ethnic, or social group to make the leap from classing it all together to dispersing it throughout the collection? And once materials are classed together, they tend to stay together, even when a "hot topic" takes off and there is a publication explosion. I know the staff at my library certainly don't have the time or resources to reclass any measurable percentage of that mass of materials in E185. Does any library?

It's a problem that had no immediate, obvious solution. But it is certainly worthy of thought and discussion. Wider-spread awareness of the situation increases the likelihood of a solution blooming.

Of the several other sessions I attended, two of them had aspects overtly relevant to cataloging. One of these was Greg Sunderman and Melissa Cast-Brede's session, "Wikipedia: Encyclopedia of the People." They made brief mention of Wikipedia's disambiguation pages. Now, while they listed the disambiguation pages under Wikipedia's weaknesses, I consider the disambiguation pages to be one of Wikipedia's most fabulous strengths. Even as a consumer, when I use Wikipedia, I rely heavily on those disambiguation pages to get me to where I really need to be, and also to tell me about new topics that I never even imagined that just happen to have the same name/acronym. If we in technical services want authority control to survive into the future, we need to be looking at the disambiguation pages as a model. They work intuitively and seamlessly in a way I've never seen from any ILS's handling of authority records.

The other session that had some relevance to cataloging was "There's Someone Queer at the Library," by Kimberly Shelley and Debbie Krahmer. Among many other excellent subtopics, they talked about how GLBT people disproportionately do not ask for assistance in finding things (and, likewise, disproportionately use materials in-house without checking them out). So how do libraries help such stealthy, hidden users? Good cataloging! The way to make GLBT materials more accessible is through better subject headings. With academic and scholarly works, the subject headings are usually okay, but sometimes they're a bit lacking on biographies, documentaries, and films. Worst of all, the widespread practice of omitting subject headings altogether from works of fiction and poetry makes it essentially impossible for interested individuals to find novels featuring GLBT characters or poetry by GLBT authors. How often do you hear non-catalogers clamoring for better-quality cataloging and more subject headings? So let's step up to the plate! There's a need, and we're the ones who can fill it.

Overall, the conference was a great experience, full of thought-provoking sessions and lots of stuff relevant to technical services. To everyone who presented or otherwise helped put the conference together, great job!

Tags:  conference  conference & meeting reports  gov docs  tsrt 

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