Saturday, August 30, 2008


Thanks to Liz, I now have a new musical mini-obssession--Ultravox.

A little background here--I was a teen in the 80s. I heard Ultravox then, and I despised them. I despise Midge Ure. OK--maybe that's not fair--I'm sure Midge Ure is a decent guy. And I liked that other project of his, Visage. But I despise the Midge-Ure- influenced Ultravox. On the sliding scale of "songs that make me want to run screaming from whatever public place I'm in" (1 being a mildly annoying song, 10 being Hotel California), Ultravox's "Dancing with Tears in My Eyes" is right up there at number 10.
I have never been a fan, and always ignored them.

Then Liz and I went to dinner the other night, and as always, she's keeping me up to date on what I'm missing or what I've missed musically. I think we were looking at some WFMU "swag" from their marathon, including several mix CDs made by WFMU DJ's. There was a song by Tiger Lily on one of them, which was the precursor to Ultravox. When she mentioned them I inwardly rolled my eyes, but then she showed me this video:

I was totally gobsmacked. I had no idea that they were ever that good. At that time, their singer/songwriter was John Foxx (stage name for Dennis Leigh). I have no idea why that iteration of Ultravox did not gain as much popularity as the Midge Ure one--the pre-Midge-Ure Ultravox was brilliant!

I've gone onto MySpace, and found some of John Foxx's newer material. Quite different, but really good nonetheless. He's not only a musician, he's a graphic artist, digital designer, and lecturer. I can totally relate to a guy who creatively multi-tasks like that.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Grim Outlook for Cataloging

There is a lot of talk these days about the "future of cataloging". For those of you who don't know about cataloging--it's the creation of information about other pieces of information--books, computer files, media, etc. The more hip term for this kind of work these days is "metadata". We do this so that you, the public, can locate this information. If it's described consistently, you will know how to search for it.

I have seen many library science folks argue that "doing metadata" is not the same as "doing cataloging". That's a load of horsesh**t. True, there are different "schemes" outside of the MARC/AACR2 structure that most of us have come to know and love (or hate) in the library world. Virtual objects don't lend themselves to being described by standards written for physical books. But that fact that the schema and tools are new does not change that fact that you are basically describing and classifying data in an organized and consistent fashion. That's still cataloging, folks.

I am not looking forward to teaching cataloging this semester. AACR2 (the "old" cataloging rules) are going to be replaced next year by RDA (the "new" cataloging rules). Logically, I should stop with AACR2 now and start working on teaching RDA. The problem is that there's still nothing to teach. Sure, there are "drafts" of RDA available on the website for the group charged with writing the rules. I have read over these drafts. I have observed two things about them: 1. They look exactly like AACR2 rules re-arranged with slightly different wording, and 2. No one can figure out how they are practically applied. Which means that RDA will come out, and people will continue to do things the way they always have--according to AACR2. They say that RDA will have a "workflow" function that should work the same way as a "wizard" in a Microsoft Office application--it walks you through the process. That's good to hear, but no one knows yet what this looks like, or if it will be as helpful as they say. I do think it's a case of the Emperor's new clothes--a lot of talk about what's new, but nothing's really there.

Given other things happening in the library field today, I do not understand why we would bother rewriting the rules for books. Allow me to explain. In the world of Integrated Library Systems, there are complaints about the fact that most ILSs are designed to inventory books--keep a list, search it, check the book in, check it out, mark it missing, whatever. People need to do other things--they have digital collections, electronic databases, serials products--and they want their ILS to have all of these things, too. It has been generally agreed that Integrated Library Systems are dis-integrating--there is no way they can keep up with and develop all of these separate technologies. So, it has been determined that the best route to go is one of interoperability--different vendors will develop the different pieces, and they should be standardized enough that they can work together relatively seamlessly.

My point is that if ILS vendors and system experts agree that there is no one solution for library data, why do librarians think there is one solution for library data? Why can't they leave AACR2 alone and develop different rules for virtual materials? MARC format may be an issue, since no one uses it but libraries--but with things like MARCXML, or some other form of conversion structure, MARC data ought to be usable on the Web. C'mon folks--there are over 1 billion MARC records out there. You're telling me that no one can develop technology to use these? We've been focused on doing things the other way around. We should also be focused on data interoperability, instead of trying to re-invent the wheel. No standard is going to cover everything; why not develop different standards and make them work together?

I was also disappointed recently by one of the ALA subcommittees, who wrote about the new "IT competencies" for metadata librarians. Two things stood out to me on their list--knowledge of XML and knowledge of Perl scripting. Anyone want to tell me why I should learn either of these things? I don't need to know HTML to author a Web page--just a few HTML basics are enough. I do XML now via cut and paste. And why Perl, the outdated programming language of ILS reporting systems? I also noted that they said a knowledge of cataloging is "helpful but unnecessary". OK, you may not need AACR2 to write digital object metadata, but you still need to understand the principles of cataloging. What I see here is newer techie types coming in, who despise all of the detail of cataloging and don't understand it, and re-writing things to make them more "techie" and supposedly more "user-friendly" for new librarians. To be a cataloger in the future, you apparently need to know Web design, Web protocols, and programming languages in addition to library standards. And I'm betting they're not going to pay you any more than the crappy $50,000 per year salaries they pay now. If I could do even one of those additional things well, I could make at least $80,000 somewhere else besides a library. The writing is on the wall--those of us with cataloging skills can either become underpaid tech-heads or retire. I'm too young to retire, and I refuse to become a tech-head--not because I can't figure out the technology, but because I just don't like doing it. I know that most of the world spends their time working at something they're not crazy about, but I'm not basing my future career on something I'm not crazy about.

So, the future of cataloging looks bleak and confusing. We have a new set of standards and tools being put in place that don't seem very revolutionary, and yet the hype says they are. You will have libraries that will continue to do things the way they always have, in spite of changes, because they will be sucked into this digital maelstrom with the rest of us. If anyone wants career advancement, they will have to deal with administrators who will believe ALA's tripe about competencies, and no one will hire you if you're not a programmer/Web designer. Librarianship will not be about handling books any longer, even though libraries will continue to buy them.

I have dropped out of NJLA and ALA, and this will be my last semester teaching library school. I hope to bail from the field entirely in the next few years. The things I love the most about being a librarian are going away, whether it makes sense or not, and I have no delusions about this, and I do not believe that I am overreacting. 15 years is a good run for a career, and I won't be the first or last person who has to face obsolescence.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Top 8 Things That Keep Me From Relaxing After Work

Today is Friday. Lots of people like to go out on Friday nights, but after a long week, I just want to relax.

My life is stressful. Sure, there are lots of good things going on, and I have a lot to be thankful for. Nonetheless, I am stressed. Fall is coming, which is my favorite time of the year seasonally, but also means that I go from working one job to working 3 jobs--my regular one plus two teaching jobs late at night. I've done most of the prep work for them, but it's still stressful to contemplate. I live with 4 cats; you can guess which of the 5 warm bodies in this house has to pay the bills, deal with paperwork, clean the house and take care of the yard on a weekly basis. The first of these things is particularly stressful when you're broke. And driving--I drive an average of 70 miles a day just going to work. Today I got to drive 135 miles. While none of these things are inherently bad, they do eat up a lot of my time, and I do like to do other things--like have a social life, go out for a beer once in awhile, work on my novel.

So, now I am home for the weekend, and I would like to just chill out--make some dinner, have an Irish coffee, maybe read or watch something decidedly non-educational. Nay, there are other forces at work that conspire against this goal. So, tonight I bring you:

The Top 8 Things That Keep Brigid From Relaxing After Work

1. Motorcycles. I live in the country, near a not-so-major highway. There is nothing that makes you want to rip your hair out like the sound of motorcycles tearing down the highway, loud enough to wake the dead in the cemetery across the street. Even more special is when one of your neighbors has a bike and does this repeatedly up and down your street.

2. The Sound of Children Playing. I was a kid once, and I used to love to run around outside yelling and making lots of noise. My feelings used to get hurt if someone told me to pipe down; now I get it. I know, I should be enchanted by the sounds of kids babbling, running up and down the street, riding their bikes, playing games. Heck, at least they're outside getting some fresh air. But the fact is, I am not a child lover, and the sound of one of the neighborhood girls riding her bike in circles shouting LALALALALALA very loudly and non-stop is only slightly less tolerable than nails on a blackboard. If I say anything, people will think I'm a criminal, because as a female, I'm supposed to love kids. I agree with my friend's son--as an old person, I want to live in a scary old house, have weird habits, and whenever kids play outside, I want to run outside and yell, "You kids get the hell out of here!" And people would accept it because I was an old and cranky person.

3. Loud Music. I love music. I listen to it all the time. I do not assume that the rest of the world around me also wants to hear my music. Music is like religion--it's a matter of private taste. There are only two types of music that I despise: country western music (except Johnny Cash), and rap and/or hip-hop music. My neighbors are fans of both, and just love to play them at Nigel Tufnel's famous "11" volume. If it's before 10pm, they're not violating any noise ordinances, they're just offending my audible sensibilities. I'm not one of those people who can ignore a song when it comes on, no matter how much I want to concentrate on something else. And when it's rap music--you might as well be in my house whacking me repeatedly over the head with a stick.

And speaking of music...

4. Bagpipes. I live very near a church that has an official bagpipe band that rehearses regularly in the cemetery near my house. Between that and the annual fireworks the church likes to shoot off in the cemetery once a year, I think the dead buried there have a lot to be angry about. I should probably move before we have a vengeful zombie invasion. Anyway--I usually like bagpipe music, but these folks--well, they're still just "learning". Part of the problem is that they only know one song, and they play it over and over again. The song is "When the Saints Go Marching In." I told my friend Ann about this, who is part Scottish and likes a lot of Celtic/Pictish sort of cultural activities, and she told me this was impossible. Bagpipes have only one octave, and no bagpiper, no matter how skilled, could hit the notes of "When the Saints Go Marching In." Someone should tell these guys. They rehearse for a couple of hours, and then parade down the street, right in front of my house, creaking out their sad version of "When the Saints Go Marching In", with a drummer behind them who is always out of rhythm. I would laugh if my nerves weren't already fried.

5. The neighbor's dog. My neighbor has a pit bull. He's actually a very sweet dog, and when he gets loose, he'll come charging over if he sees me outside, wanting to be pet. He's a nice dog, but he doesn't always get all the attention he wants/needs. It's hard to know where to draw the line--dogs want attention from you 24/7, and your entire life should be dedicated to rubbing their belly or throwing a stick for them to fetch. (This is also true of cats, in spite of anything anyone else tells you about them). So, I can understand the neighbors putting the dog out in his kennel for awhile to get a break. But when the dog not only barks, but whines and whimpers like he's being taunted by gremlins--and he does this for HOURS--it makes you want to put a Vicodin in his water bowl. I am sure this is why the neighbors have their music up loud and all the air conditioners on in the house--to drown out the sound of the dog. I want to pound on their door and say, "Do something about your dog, dammit!", but that' s more out of futility than rationality. They can't do anything more about it than I can.

6. The basement cats. I live in an old house with a root cellar. It can't be accessed from the inside of the house; I have to walk around to the back of my house and open the iron doors to go down there. I have two cats that live down there, one who was there when I moved in, and one that moved in after I took it to the emergency vet when I found it torn up and bloodied. The latter kitty is just fine now, but likes to go out every day. I can't always let the cats out every day, especially if it is going to rain or if I'm not going to be home. I need to leave the basement door open when I do let them out, so it only happens when I'm home. But basement kitties love to scratch at the living room floor (the ceiling for them), and mewl incessantly and insistently at the sound of my voice.

7. The telephone. I have my telephone set to one and a half rings. That is about all I can reasonably stand. I never answer my phone--9 out of 10 calls are from salespeople trying to sell me new mortgages, satellite TV, or a new warranty on my 180,000 mile car. For some reason, they no longer make cordless phones with volume control, so I can't turn the ringer off or down if I don't want to hear it. So, I'll be dozing off in my bedroom, and suddenly I'm awoken by RRRRINNNGGG!!! Sometimes I actually scream. Even worse, sometimes it is someone whom I might want to talk to, but I'm usually too tired to get up and get the phone. Inevitably the person leaves a long, awkward message, or has an irritated tone in their voice that suggests that they KNOW I'm home and just not picking up, so that I'll feel guilty when they've hung up. But I don't feel guilty. People who do not understand why I don't pick up the phone at 9:00 at night do not realize that it would be worse to talk to me at 9:00 at night. If it's someone I haven't spoken to in awhile, I will feel obliged to have more than a 1-minute conversation with them. Knowing this is not possible, I wait until a time when it is possible. It drives me nuts when people don't get that, and those people often are family members. My friends do seem to get it. That's why they're my friends.

8. Kitty "accidents". My indoor cats have two well-maintained litterboxes. Nonetheless, my little female cat insists on crapping on the floor outside the box, as a protest over the fact that her brother also uses the litterbox (the horror!). She will pee in the box, but not the other. It's my male cat who pees outside the box, and not because he is angry. It's because he's a long cat who steps into a smaller litterbox meant for his sister. The box is hooded, but instead of turning around, he just stands there and pees OUT the hole of the box hood. It's not malicious, just stupid. There is nothing that says "Welcome home, Mom!" like the sight and smell of cat piss and/or shit on your floor when have come in after a long day. Aww, how did you guys KNOW that Mommy wanted to wash and disinfect the bathroom floor when she came home?

Ah well. That felt better. I'm off to watch MST3K reruns. Enjoy your weekend.