New academic year

Tomorrow will start the two-day Orientation event for incoming students for the 2010/2011 academic year. This is will mark also the beginning of my term as Director of the School of Information Management. The only major thing I regret about being Director is my reduced teaching load and the fact that I won’t be teaching the core course “Organization of Information,” of which I am very fond. Still, the course is in the very capable hands of one of our part-time colleagues. The up side is that I’ll be teaching cataloguing again after a two-year absence (sabbatical and reduced teaching load). This will be the first year that the advanced cataloguing course will be offered; I am gratified that the class enrolment for this new course is already high, especially considering that it won’t be taught until Winter. I love teaching cataloguing; I know the subject has a reputation for being dry and boring, but I think it’s great fun to delve into catalogue records and to actually create something that has an impact on retrieval.


Scotland bound

I’ll be heading to Glasgow on Tuesday to give a paper at the 9th Networked Knowledge Organization Systems workshops, as part of the 2010 ECDL conference. I’ll be presenting on the preliminary results of the research I’m conducting with my research partner, Laurel Tarulli (Halifax Public Libraries) on the log analysis data we’ve compiled from the AquaBrowser (Halifax Public Library) and BiblioCommons (Edmonton Public Library) social discovery from June-August. Since we haven’t yet collected all the data, I’ll be talking only about general observations we’ve made so far, as detailed data analysis will take place over the next two months. I’ll post the slides once they are published officially.

While in Glasgow, I’ll be meeting with two of my former SIM students, who now work in Scotland. It is, indeed, a small world.

Future scenarios for academic libraries

The Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) has released this thought piece: “Futures thinking for academic librarians: Higher education in 2025.” The document proposes the following future scenarios:

1. A college degree for every citizen
2. Academic niche networking
3. Activist seniors keep on working
4. Archives on demand
5. Breaking the textbook monopoly
6. Bridging the scholar/practitioner divide
8. Community over consumerism
9. Creative conscription
10. Design for disability
11. Everyone is a “non-traditional” student
12. I see what you see
13. Increasing threat of cyberwar, cybercrime, and cyberterrorism
14. Kinesthetic fluency
15. Longevity is the new wealth
16. Meet the new freshman class
17. Money makes the world go around
18. No need to search
19. [Libraries] Out of business
20. Pop-up campus (e-learning)
21. Renaissance redux
22. Right here with me
23. Scholarship stultifies
24. Sign on the dotted line (no tenure)
25. Think U
26. This class brought to you by…
27. Woven learning

Appendix A contains a very-well explained guideline for how academic librarians could address these possible scenarios. It’s a fascinating document

The quest for lip balms

I had a rather frustrating experience this weekend at one of our local retailers: I was in dire need of lip balm. Finding lip balms in many stores often requires orienteering skills, complete with a supply of breadcrumbs, the patience of Job, and a strong appreciation for the ridiculous. I have yet to find a consistent (let alone logical) place where lip balm is displayed from store to store; even within the stores of the same chain of stores, lip balm never seems to be displayed in the same place. Granted, I’m a self-professed lip balm junkie, but as a metadata specialist, lip balm poses an interesting challenge. How is lip balm to be categorized? In both virtual and brick-and-mortar stores, I’ve seen lip balms displayed with make-up, with skin care products, with sunscreen products, and in the first-aid section. Who would have thought that the humble lip balm could have so many homes? Lip balm is one of those categories that defies traditional classification theory whereby categories in which one places an item should be mutually exclusive; if ever there was an item that cries out for cross classification, it is the simple lip balm.

From a practical perspective, the hunt for the elusive lip balm is problematic. My friend and I (we are both proud metadata geeks) spent several minutes trolling up and down aisles and different sections of the store to find lip balm. We nearly resorted to texting each other from different aisles to keep track of our progress. We eventually found a display of lip balm by the checkout aisle; a logical place if every I’ve seen one. Naturally, once we found them here, we then came across another display of lip balms at the end of the aisle that sold vitamins. At this point, I was prepared to scoop up the entire display so that I would not need to engage in this endeavour again for a very long time.

Consistent metadata really does affect everyday life.

Helping people build their own libraries

A few years ago, Dan Chudnov summarized his mission as a librarian in one simple statement: “Help people build their own libraries.” I think this statement summarizes nicely my research interests into social discovery tools. For the past five years or so, I’ve been arguing that library catalogues need to be more dynamic and have the potential to be an environment where people can interact with each other and library staff, and discuss and share their reading, listening, viewing, etc., interests, via social tools such as tagging and posting reviews. Social discovery tools have the potential to foster a sense of community amongst library clients. My local public library serves clients that are scattered over a municipality that includes urban, suburban, and rural areas. Not all residents of this municipality are fortunate enough to have easy and close access to a library branch; a number of these residents cannot visit easily their local library because of health, limited mobility, lack of available and convenient transportation, and so forth. From a cataloguing perspective, client tags allow me to determine the extent to which my assigned LC headings reflect the language of the client, as well as their perception of the content of the item. Tags can not only complement the descriptions offered by the LC subject headings, but allow the expression of the the different cultural perspectives of the community, which is particularly important in Canada, where cultural pluarity is an essential and encouraged aspect of our society.

Teaching cataloguing again

After a two-year absence (sabbatical and new administrative duties), I’m delighted to be teaching cataloguing again in the upcoming academic term. Over the past two years, I’ve redesigned the suite of metadata courses we offer at SIM. Given the growing importance of metadata, I thought that our MLIS program needed to provide students with more opportunities to study the theoretical and practical applications of metadata. The core course provides the theoretical framework, but trying to squeeze the practical applications into one course was proving inadequate, especially given the developments in FRBR and RDA, and the growth of multi-media items that our graduates will need to handle in a variety of environments. Registration numbers for both courses are high; in fact, I’ve had to employ waiting lists; I’m gratified that my interest in this topic is reflected in students’ choices.

Probably the biggest question I’m facing, which is, I’m sure, true for all cataloguing instructors, is how to balance two cataloguing codes: Students must now be familiar not only with AACR, but also with RDA. How much time to devote to the two systems? I’ve decided that the first-level course will focus on only AACR; given that most library records exist (and will continue to do so for a long time) in this format, it’s important that they have a firm understanding of this standard. The second-level course is still heavily biased towards AACR (with emphasis on multi-media), although RDA will be covered to a limited extent. It’s not clear at the moment how LIS schools are going to handle the two standards; will we need to add a third course exclusively on RDA? Since RDA has a strong basis on AACR, this may not be necessary but, given the complexity of RDA, this may be wishful thinking on my part.