The best of #emptythepocket, issue 1

Twenty bucks for hours of train disruption? What a steal!

Being a known article-hoarder, I was inspired recently to start cleaning out my piles of collected internet writing (I would not deign to call it an ‘archive’, it’s far too poorly organised). I’ve been posting some of the best articles to twitter using #emptythepocket, but each article’s presence in the collective consciousness of my followers is brief, and some articles deserve a longer digestion period.

Inspired by Hugh Rundle’s Marginalia series, here is a selection of articles I read—in this order—on the train to Melbourne. (Where possible I avoid flying, because it’s bad for the planet and also highly unpleasant.) It’s a nice summary of my reading interests: critical cataloguing, psychogeography, writings from friends, human ecology, and a great big rant about librarianship, because I love it and also hate it. So much.

Can walking be a feminist act? / Anna Chilvers, Caught by the River
This was a great piece on the fear felt by women walking the countryside, walking after dark, walking alone. We are afraid not of the unknown, but of known dangers—not of the wilderness, but of men. I was immediately reminded of the Lone Women in Flashes of Wilderness project by Clare Archibald, as well as the zine A short nightwalk through Lyons from Saorsa Free Press (which may or may not be a side project of mine).

17 Days in Malaysia, Part One / Andrew Finegan, Bibliotheque Bound 
I’d been following the goings-on at the 2018 IFLA conference on twitter (plus the occasional culinary delight) but I enjoyed the first part of Andrew’s longer-form wrap-up of his sojourn in Singapore and Malaysia. Didn’t envy him the tropical weather, though.

The New Ecological Situationists: On the Revolutionary Aesthetics of Climate Justice and Degrowth / Aaron Vansintjan, Never Apart
Aaron co-edits Uneven Earth, an environmental justice blog. He writes for Never Apart at the intersection of psychogeography and climate change nihilism, two particular interests of mine, and does so with grace and depth. The absurdity of most environmental action (no, you can’t just ‘shut down’ a power station) contrasts with an acknowledged need to completely transform our growth-minded society, if we are to survive. Here I first met Andre Gorz’s principle of décroissance, which has resonated with me deeply. (I’m also a big fan of his ‘cars are bad for everyone’ manifesto from 1972.)

Mat Santamouris: time to make buildings heat-safe. Now. / Dante Terzigni, The Fifth Estate
A quick read on the need for urban planners to ensure their buildings can withstand hotter temperatures, though talk of influencing the design of the new airport in Western Sydney ‘to increase climate change mitigation’ elicited a scoff. You want to mitigate climate change? Don’t build another freaking airport! Don’t fly! (She says, writing this post on a train because she’s given up flying) Don’t build the infrastructure to support atmospheric pollution on a global scale and then plant some trees around it! Climate change doesn’t work like that!

On truth in cataloging / Shanna Hollich, Shanna Makes
This is one of the best cataloguing pieces I’ve read in a long time. It’s everything I wish I’d said to Gordon Dunsire at ACOC. ‘[A]nyone who thinks “cataloging is the pursuit of truth” needs to come down off of their pretentious high horse and realize what cataloging truly is: a means of collecting and describing various pertinent information, data, and metadata about an object in a library collection […] to aid patrons and staff in finding materials.’ From 2015, it’s still a very hot topic in cataloguing with the reversal of the ‘fictional entities as authors’ rule in the new RDA. Thank you, Shanna. You are awesome, and this piece is amazing.

UX from a Technical Services Point of View / Shelley Gullikson and Emma Cross, Access Conf 2017 (Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada)
Another happy confluence of two topics close to my heart: user experience and technical services (which ought to be spoken about together far more often). To me, this paper screams ‘tech services! you’re doing it wrong!!’. Our cataloguing isn’t meeting the needs of users. Our systems aren’t surfacing what users will use to judge the usefulness of a record. (RDA is useless here! Subject headings are of minimal importance!) People use keyword search almost exclusively. Our info retrieval paradigms MUST adapt to this + present the most useful info first.

I was intrigued by the reactions to the UX study from tech services staff vs. the department head. I am on both sides: keyword searching is not a bad search, BUT it is not harnessing the intricate subject taxonomies that cataloguers have spent decades building, and will only skim the surface of records. (I mentioned this on my episode of Turbitt & Duck, and Karen Coyle has written on this extensively.) I do not believe in telling users that keyword searching is ‘wrong’, but we need to build our systems to better address the current deficiencies in keyword search. (Note I do not say ‘pressure our vendors to build our systems’. If we want anything done properly we’re gonna have to do it ourselves. And we should be doing it ourselves.)

‘Our students do their research online. Technical Services staff make decisions that affect how library resources are found online. So they are perfectly positioned to improve the user experience of our students.’ Say it with me: technical services is outreach!

Looking for Lorca / Steven Reese, Panorama Journal 
On the quest for the tomb of Federico García Lorca, a famed Spanish poet killed by nationalists during the Spanish Civil War, and whose remains have never been found. It deftly wove several threads together—on how we gain and lose identities as we travel; on our presence inside the shell a name creates for us (for naming ‘is like a kind of death’); on Spain’s national reckoning with its fascist history, and the legislation of memory. I had never heard of Lorca or his poetry, but now I’m keen to read more.

Contextualizing the “Marketplace of Ideas” in Libraries / Nailisa Tanner, Journal of Radical Librarianship 
I was super looking forward to this article but found that Pocket hadn’t saved it properly, so I had to wait for the next train station (ergo mobile reception) to redownload. I napped for an hour, then read this article, and I’m glad I napped first—it’s quite heavy reading, but absolutely worth it.

Defenders of intellectual freedom in libraries often use the phrase ‘marketplace of ideas’, which ‘evokes the image of a process in which rational consumers choose from among the ideas presented to them in an environment of unrestricted competition. In this line of argument, it follows that truth and reason will emerge automatically’. Now, we have all met library users. We all read the news. We all know that this does not happen. So why do we continue to structure our libraries as if this will happen?

The week of this trip ALIA launched their newest FAIR campaign, ‘Truth Information Knowledge (TIK)’, positing librarianship as a trusted profession. Sigh. I’ve written on this misplaced trust before, as have plenty of others. How committed are we to enforcing the Enlightenment?

Various forms of liberalism posit that Truth will out, but a market-based mechanism brings about precisely the opposite outcome, that the prevailing View is that which best exploits the market conditions. Libraries are in a position to set those market conditions—and so influence the outcome. Is it (or is it not) in accordance with our professional ethics to set the scene for a flourishing of ideas that grow our society, not seek to tear it apart?


I hope you enjoyed this #emptythepocket roundup as much as I enjoyed sitting on a train for six-and-a-half hours compiling it. Perhaps next time I hop on a train there’ll be another one…

The serial place collector

This is not even half of it honestly you should see my book pile

For this month’s GLAM Blog Club theme of ‘collect’, I glanced over at my tottering ‘to-read pile that was sitting on a table but is now a table itself’. It’s perhaps an unusual pile. For one thing, I seldom read novels. Instead I’m drawn to narrative non-fiction, short stories and poetry. Stories about natural history, eco-friendly travel, walking, ecology, place, psychogeography, re-knowing our planet and watching helplessly as it changes. Stories that feel real.

Interestingly, that to-read pile has quite a number of print serials on place and nature writing. (Developing a magazine habit is a bit of a family tradition.) Currently I’m absorbed in volume 4 of Elementum, which arrived last week (don’t ask me how much the postage was!), as well as back issues of Elsewhere, which I hope to write for one day.

I did a brief analysis of my print serial collection in Libraries Australia and found only one title held in any Australian library: the Melbourne-based Lindsay, who have fulfilled their legal deposit obligations with the NLA. Considering the vast majority of these journals are published abroad I’m not terribly surprised. Perhaps when I die, some nature-inclined library here will take an interest in the rest of my collection. Perhaps not.

Then again, it’s not like online nature and place journals are well-represented in libraries either. There are lots of excellent blogs, often written and maintained by one person, as well as lush online magazines that make the most of the browser and create an immersive reading experience. Yet the long-term survival of many is largely dependent on the Internet Archive, which doesn’t quite feel like enough. My current personal favourite online journal is Emergence Magazine, ‘a journal of ecology, culture and spirituality’ with some seriously impressive writing, visuals and web design.

You know you want to read it, like, right now.

I’ve also been enjoying Plumwood Mountain, ‘an Australian journal of ecopoetry and ecopoetics’. Australian publications of this type seem to be harder to find. I hope that doesn’t mean they’re thin on the ground; perhaps I’m just looking in the wrong places.

Naturally, I’d like to collect Plumwood Mountain, or hope that a library could do so for me. I have a few options: I can manually save every page to the Internet Archive (highly time-consuming); I can manually save every page locally using Webrecorder (also highly time-consuming); or I can submit the site to Pandora and hope the author acquiesces. If she doesn’t, well, I tried. (Did you know anyone can suggest sites to Pandora for collection? Be aware that if you put someone’s email address in the form, it’ll send them an email.)

How can libraries collect emailed serials? In my past life as a local history librarian we dealt with this mostly by printing them out, which is obviously not ideal. To the best of my knowledge, newsletters hosted on platforms like MailChimp and Constant Contact aren’t harvestable by web archiving crawlers. Collection of these emails by libraries would therefore depend on either the publisher depositing a clean HTML or PDF version, or preserving the email files as part of an archive of someone’s inbox (which is very difficult, highly labour-intensive and not ideal for everyday access). We can’t rely on online platforms being available forever. We need to figure out a way to collect and preserve this content from the browser.

I desperately want someone to archive the full run of In Wild Air, a weekly emailed serial from 2016 to 2018 by Blue Mountains-based creative Heath Killen, each week featuring six things that made a guest tick. I loved this newsletter. Every Monday I took a leisurely walk through someone’s psyche. It was brilliant. I love basically everything Heath does. But if I were to ask Pandora to crawl that website, all it would collect is the index of names. The content itself is hosted on MailChimp—beyond the crawler’s reach.

I wonder if this proliferation of Anglophone ecoliterature is decidedly English in origin—the place, as well as the language. Settlers in Australia brought English concepts of geography with them (as explored in J.M. Arthur’s 2003 book The default country) and tried, unsuccessfully, to apply them to the Australian landscape. How else could you justify calling Weereewa / Lake George a ‘lake’ or Lhere Mparntwe / Todd River a ‘river’?

A collection selection

These are a few of my favourite journals. Please be aware that this list, though reasonably culturally competent, is white as hell. I’d really like to address that. A lot of these are based in Britain, where the nature writing crowd is overwhelmingly white, but I’m very keen to expand my collection to include more Indigenous perspectives. I’d also like to highlight the upcoming Willowherb Review, an online journal for nature writers of colour, which promises to be very good.

Print journals

Online journals and blogs

Catharsis: and other things I learned while being #APLICLeftBehind

It has been a very difficult couple of weeks. I have not been my usual self. I can blame cataloguing for most of it. I could also partly blame #APLIC18, the recent tripartite LIS conference on the Gold Coast, which a lot of my friends attended and which stoked a serious case of epic fomo. But that’s very much a background issue. It’s taken me a while to process everything that’s gone on and try to find a more well-lit path. I’m aware half the office reads this blog, but at the same time, there’s nothing here I wouldn’t say to my boss. So here goes.

I am not my work. Any more. Last week was quite bad. I had an unexpected encounter with traumatic and poorly-phrased LCSH, which I am looking to change. I was also very ill, both physically and mentally, and spent a lot of time in bed. I have struggled recently with a sudden and severe change in my relationship to my work, as well as how I approach cataloguing, because cataloguing is my life, and also my job. I found it harder to enjoy. I had trouble getting up in the morning. I felt my perspective narrowing. I leaned very heavily on friends for support. Last Wednesday, I hit the wall. And the wall collapsed on top of me.

I know, intellectually, that it isn’t healthy to derive so much personal fulfilment and meaning from one’s work. And yet I do it anyway, because I have learned this about myself, that I operate this way. I used to love cataloguing. Used to. I don’t love it, currently. It grieves me that I say this. I hate that I have become this person.

I now speak about my passion for cataloguing in the past tense, and it kills me.

I would like the old me to come back. I think it could happen. Perhaps it is already starting to happen, a little. I don’t know how long it might take (days? weeks? months?) or how it might come about. But I would like to try and rekindle my love of cataloguing, because without it I don’t recognise myself. I feel hollow and without purpose. It’s a hole that my other interests can’t quite fill.

Perfect is the enemy of the good. I have learned a lot about myself over the past few weeks. I had previously thought I was okay at cataloguing, having more or less staked my career on it. I recently received a lot of feedback that suggested otherwise. I looked for a sign that I was doing something (anything!) right, that I was not completely hopeless at what I thought I was good at. A sign did not appear. I worried that I had somehow lied to everyone. It was imposter syndrome writ large.

Most people will read this and say ‘honestly, Alissa, what did you expect? What did you think cataloguing entailed? It’s standards all the way down’. I am not a hardcore standards enforcer and I never have been. My perspective on cataloguing is informed by user needs. What do users need from our catalogue? What metadata will connect an item with a search string? How can we best describe items (especially non-online resources) in meaningful and accessible ways? I believe breaking rules makes records better. I also don’t care about a lot of things that other cataloguers care deeply about, like ISBD punctuation, a perfect set of fixed fields, or the exact phrasing of where a title statement has come from (‘Title from cover’, not ‘Cover title’, apparently!). A catalogue should only ever be a glorified finding aid. It does not need to be a work of art in its own right.

Obviously I would like to be a better cataloguer. I would also like to go to work and feel as if I can do something right. It has been immensely difficult reconciling this poor feedback with my previous estimations of my cataloguing ability, and by extension my estimations of myself as a person. To be fair, most of my errors are of the cosmetic variety, or relate to institution-specific policies that are new to me, rather than deeper systemic problems with access points and descriptions. But a perfectly standards-compliant record can also be functionally useless, and a colossal waste of a cataloguer’s time to produce. I still take my errors to heart. It took me three weeks to get a record past the quality checker. I will never be perfect. I should probably stop trying to be perfect.

It has been a hard lesson, though.

Invite yourself to the party. In an effort to ameliorate said conference fomo and improve my mood, I started a hashtag on twitter for those of us who couldn’t attend APLIC but wanted to be involved anyway. #APLICLeftBehind became a meeting point for people keen to have their say, while also serving as a useful heads-up to attendees that we were commentating from afar. I loved that non-attendees from all sorts of places popped in and kept it going, even when I wasn’t in a position to say much. The hashtag will even be making an appearance in the forthcoming (entirely unofficial) APLIC zine, curated by Rebel GLAM. And it didn’t cost me a cent.

I have nothing to lose but my chains. They say libraries gave us power, but then work came and made us free. Many of us become librarians because we want to make a difference, to give back to our communities, to enrich the intellectual and social lives of library users everywere. Librarianship is heavy with ideology, tradition and dogma, and it weighs us down. I don’t think I expected to spend so much of my professional time a) navel-gazing b) fighting the man or c) thinking quite seriously about giving it all away. I certainly never expected I would lose my passion for cataloguing so quickly, and so severely.

I’m at the stage where I can catalogue more or less on autopilot (allowing for time to go back and correct my inevitable punctuation errors). I don’t want to be this person. I want to care deeply about my work. I want to fill my cataloguing with care and zest and a desire to do better. I don’t want to be crying while reading my old posts and tweets, remembering the cataloguer I used to be, and wondering where that went. If I can rekindle the passion for metadata that got me here—and right now that is a big if—I hope to free myself as much as possible from the expectations of other people and structures, and devote my energies to where I can get things done. It’s almost as if the structure and nature of librarianship sets us all up to fail, and that if we don’t realise this, we’re not paying enough attention.

People tell me I am more than my cataloguing. They’re not letting me fail. I wish I could repay this faith, but right now all I can offer is my gratitude. I don’t want to perpetuate a charade. I can’t keep pretending that everything is fine. I am not the cataloguer I used to be. But maybe, one day, I will be a better cataloguer. And I will have learned a few things.

Cataloguing trauma [content warning: self-harm]

Content warning: This post discusses self-harm, mental illness and institutional indifference to trauma.

That the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) are a biased, offensive and wholly outdated set of controlled terms is not a new concept in cataloguing. Plenty has been written on the innumerable ways LCSH describes people, places and concepts in ways that do not belong in a modern library catalogue. I hope plenty has also been written on the trauma this can cause library users (though I confess at the moment I can’t find much). But today I need to talk about a couple of terms in particular, terms that hit a little too close to home, and which I never want to see in a catalogue ever again. I need to talk about the trauma this causes me, a cataloguer. I need to talk. LCSH needs to listen.

Today on my cataloguing pile, there appeared a book on dealing with depression and mental illness. I won’t identify the book or its author, but it was a wonderfully helpful book that encouraged its reader to write in it and make it their own. This being a library copy, our readers naturally can’t do that, but I guess they could photocopy parts of the book if they needed. The author clearly had lived experience of these issues and sought to write a book that might help someone who is struggling, as they had once done.

One section of the book discusses what to do if the reader feels a need to self-harm. It includes things like ‘glue your fingers together and pick at that instead’, ‘count from 100 backwards and start again if you lose track’ and ‘make a list of people you can talk to, and don’t feel bad about talking to them’. To another cataloguer, it might have seemed like a minor portion of a book that is substantially about other things. To me, this topic is so important, and the advice so genuinely helpful, that I decided it needed surfacing in the catalogue record. In particular, I decided it merited its own subject heading.

Looking up ‘Self-harm’ in LCSH brought me to these terms:

Self-harm, Deliberate
USE Parasuicide

Self-harm, Non-fatal
USE Parasuicide

Self-harm (Self-mutilation)
USE Self-mutilation

The entry for ‘Parasuicide’ reads:

Parasuicide  (May Subd Geog)
Here are entered works on deliberate acts of selfharm in which there is no intent to die. Works on attempted suicide are entered under Suicidal behavior.
UF Deliberate self-harm
Harm, Deliberate self
Non-fatal self-harm
Parasuicidal behavior
Self-harm, Deliberate
Self-harm, Non-fatal
BT Self-destructive behavior
RT Suicidal behavior

The entry for ‘Self-mutilation’ reads:

Self-mutilation  (May Subd Geog)
Here are entered works on behaviors by which individuals intentionally cause damage to their bodies. Works on stereotyped behaviors by which individuals unintentionally cause damage to their bodies are entered under Self-injurious behavior. Works on nonstereotyped behaviors and cognitions by which individuals directly or indirectly cause harm to themselves are entered under Self-destructive behavior.
UF Automutilation
Self-harm (Self-mutilation)
Self-injurious behavior (Self-mutilation)
Self-injury (Self-mutilation)
BT Malingering
Mutilation
Self-destructive behavior
NT Cutting (Self-mutilation)
Self-torture

I hit the roof.

I read these and said, out loud, to an empty office: ‘You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.’ I skipped right past the dubious non-preferred terms (UFs), the distant and unfeeling scope notes, the questionable broader terms (‘Malingering’? Really?!). I zeroed in on the terms that someone, somewhere, in another place and another time, had decided were the right words to use to describe someone harming themselves.

Describing these acts as ‘Parasuicide’ is not helpful. I say this both as a cataloguer and as someone with lived experience of the acts in question. This is not good enough. This term needs to go.

People searching for works on this topic almost certainly be using the keyword ‘Self-harm’ or a close variation. If they’re using keyword search instead of subject search (and they will be, because nobody uses subject search anymore except librarians), these works will not appear in search results. They would have to know the particular term used by LCSH, thereby negating the point of having non-preferred terms in the first place, and be willing to overlook the inappropriateness of this term. I doubt anyone with an information need on this topic would be willing to overlook this. Certainly I’m not.

The scope notes for ‘Parasuicide’ are almost exclusively drawn from medical reference sources, suggesting the term is used in a medical context. Yet the term does not appear in the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), used by most medical and health libraries. MeSH instead groups the concepts expressed by the LCSH terms ‘Parasuicide’ and ‘Self-mutilation’ together under ‘Self-injurious behavior‘, with a much more cogent hierarchy and set of non-preferred terms. MeSH restricts the term ‘Self-mutilation‘ to ‘the act of injuring one’s own body to the extent of cutting off or permanently destroying a limb or other essential part of a body’, with the implication that this is deliberate.

Because my library catalogues for a general audience, using LCSH and not MeSH, I would argue it is inappropriate to base a term on medical sources. We should instead be using general ones, using terms ordinary people would use. In an LCSH library, who is most likely to need information on this topic? How do they need it described? I would think the likeliest people are those experiencing ideations of self-harm, or people who know someone in this situation. Why does LCSH draw a distinction between ‘self-harm caused by mental illness’ and ‘self-harm caused for other reasons, including supposedly for attention’, and, from an information retrieval perspective, does this distinction matter? Would works intended for a general audience be more likely to use one term over another? What harm might this cause?

This book is primarily about helping sufferers help themselves. I would like to index it $a Self-harm $x Prevention $v Popular works (leaving aside for now the issues of having a specific form heading for ‘books for ordinary people’). Instead I will almost certainly have to use the heading $a Parasuicide $x Prevention $v Popular works, or perhaps I’ll go one step higher and use the broader term to both these headings, $a Self-destructive behavior. Even though that doesn’t really cover it, and doesn’t bring out the specific issue that I wanted the heading to address.

When I tweeted the other day that ‘Cataloguing is power’, this is what I meant! We have the power to guide users to the materials they’re looking for, via the words and phrases we use. Cataloguers have a responsibility to use terms that are meaningful to their users, especially when their userbase is the general public, and to take a stand against terms in their controlled vocabulary that are no longer appropriate.

I have a greater ability than most people to advocate for change in subject headings. I would like to see the heading ‘Parasuicide’ changed to one of its non-preferred terms that includes the phrase ‘Self-harm’. Ideally this term and ‘Self-mutilation’ would be combined, akin to the MeSH term ‘Self-injurious behavior’, with the accompanying taxonomy. But this won’t happen overnight. It certainly won’t happen in time for me to finish cataloguing this book. My workplace is very strict on adherence to standards and my options for deviation are limited. I might include some key phrases in a summary field, so that a keyword search would pick them up and bring this book to the people who need it most.

This post is a direct result of my emotional response to these headings. It is informed by my own lived experience of mental illness. It is the trauma of cataloguing, just as it is cataloguing that trauma. It is a traumatic response. I had this response at 5.30pm when the office was virtually empty, so everyone I might have talked to had already left for the day. Perhaps that was for the best. Instead I’ve been able to direct my energy into researching these headings and formulating options for change. I also bought myself some chocolate, which definitely helped.

I needed to talk. You, the reader, have generously listened. Now LCSH needs to listen, and reflect, and change.

Finding my voice

I’ve done a lot of talking over the last couple of weeks. So much, in fact, that I have been richly rewarded with a persistent hacking cough and the subsequent loss of half my vocal range. (It’s put a serious dent in my karaoke plans.) A lot has gone into helping me find my voice, learning when and how to deploy it, knowing when to stop talking, and realising my limits. A lot went into losing my voice, too.

Joining the fishpond

As you may already have heard, I was the featured guest on episode 18 of the Turbitt & Duck podcast, hosted by dynamic library duo Sally Turbitt and Amy Walduck. You may remember Sally and Amy as the NLS8 co-convenors, who have decided to use their powers for good and amplify a range of GLAM voices via their fortnightly podcast. Sally asked me at #coGLAM18 if I was interested in being on the show, and I said yes on the condition that I didn’t have to provide a photo of my face…

Inexplicably, the episode has been getting rave reviews! I’m thrilled that people seem to have genuinely enjoyed spending an hour and 15 minutes listening to me talk about cataloguing—it’s a subject not usually renowed for attracting people’s attention. I also enjoyed making ‘Bibliographic Data Wizard’ a thing. I think I need it on a t-shirt. Or my email signature.

Despite my cheerful and engaged exterior, I was extremely anxious during recording. Making this podcast was one of the most stressful things I have ever done. This is through absolutely no fault of Sally and Amy’s, who went out of their way to help me feel comfortable and reassured, and who could tell I was a long way out of my comfort zone. The episode you’re listening to is actually the second take—it got so bad I asked to pause the recording after a good half-hour of talking, and we agreed to start over. Getting through recording took a long time and was incredibly draining. (I don’t know how Sally and Amy do this every fortnight—they have souls of steel!) I’m not sure how I sound on the podcast, not being a reliable judge of my own voice, but if I sound stressed or nervous or jittery, it’s because I am. Outreach doesn’t come naturally to me, but here I am doing it anyway. I’m glad I did the podcast, and I’m hugely grateful to Sally and Amy for the opportunity (and for your support!), but I’m not sure I could record another one for a long while.

I also want to reiterate the advice I gave to students and new graduates about using your voices for good. Never be afraid to speak up. Speak up and out and loudly, because you are the future. Talk about what doesn’t make sense. Talk about things in libraries you think are weird, or old, or strange, or stupid, because without your input, more experienced practitioners often won’t realise there is a problem at all. For better or worse, they rely on people speaking up. If speaking out loud is as hard for you as it is for me, hop on twitter, set up a blog, join some library facebook groups. Don’t keep your opinions to yourself—let them out, nurture them, help them grow.

Talking out loud

A couple of months ago I was, erm, volunteered into giving a talk at my (now former) workplace about using web archives for reference queries, based on a blog post I wrote on the subject. I must admit I wasn’t wild about the idea but resolved to do it anyway, largely because invites had already been sent out, and also because I figured I wouldn’t get better at stuff I don’t practise.

True to form, I asked the internet for help. I was blown away by the quantity and quality of advice I received on effective public speaking and the calming of nerves—your suggestions made a big difference, and I am truly grateful. 🙂 Open up the thread below and have a read. I thoroughly recommend it.

It didn’t stop me being super nervous on the day of the presentation, though. My colleague was gracious enough to admit that if she’d realised how anxious I would be about presenting, she might have reconsidered volunteering me for it, but she did take care of the IT and the room booking and getting people to show up (she’s quite good at that). I’m sure I spoke too fast and looked very nervous, but the attendees seemed to enjoy the talk, and a couple of people asked for the slides afterwards. I even managed a small web archive hiccup with a well-timed ‘here’s one I prepared earlier’ screenshot. #smooth

Overall, while I’m glad the presentation went well, the idea of public speaking wasn’t something I was keen to repeat. So what did I do? Submitted an abstract for a big fancy conference. I was encouraged to do this by well-meaning people on twitter, even as I felt I wasn’t quite ready, that the conference wasn’t a good fit for me, that my proposal was shallow and ill-considered. I went ahead and submitted.

I withdrew from this conference last week. I had come to realise that between the web archives talk and the podcast recording, public speaking or presenting of any kind was, for the moment, beyond my capabilities. And the podcast wasn’t even that public. I recorded Turbitt & Duck in my dressing gown, in my house, with a pot of tea and two very supportive ladies for company. On paper it couldn’t have been more comfy. But other people can only do so much to help me overcome my nerves. At root it’s a me problem. It’s my own personal inability to cope with suddenly having an audience listening to my every word, probably livetweeting it, being on the spot and needing to instantly have an answer. I can’t do it. It is beyond me. So, for the moment, I’m quitting while I’m ahead.

Having said all that: my next big professional goal is to present at NLS9, on a topic close to my heart. It’ll be a friendly and supportive audience. I’ve already got half the talk written. I am super motivated to make this happen, and it’s far enough away that I’m hopeful of conquering my fear of professional public speaking beforehand. If I don’t succeed… well, there’s always twitter. Or tranquilliser.

Zines: the cataloguer’s outlet

When considering this month’s GLAM Blog Club topic of ‘create’, my mind immediately turned to zines. Zines are a great creative outlet, as a way to see and be seen by like-minded individuals. They’re also a neat way of escaping and subverting surveillance capitalism, by returning to paper and making the results available offline, for free or cheap.

NLA and SLV have extensive zine collections. You can also pick some up from Sticky Institute, the world’s greatest zine shop, or from individual zine makers and distributors. Zinemakers often swap or trade zines—if you have zines, I’ll happily fling you one of mine your way.

My current work in progress is Hello MARC : a zine about cataloguing. I posted a preview on twitter a week or so ago and it went gangbusters! I was also very surprised by the response from areas of American cataloguing twitter I didn’t know existed. Cataloguers tend not to get much love, either from the public or from other librarians, so it’s nice to be able to contribute something positive to cataloguer culture. When I tweeted about the zine I had considered it finished, but I’ve since decided it needs some revision, so hopefully it will be released in a week or so.

Yes there is a mistake in the 100 first indicator it’s driving me nuts I’ll fix it

It helps if you’re arty, and it helps if you can draw. I have zero artistic talent so I create zines in other ways. Hello MARC was created entirely in Canva, a free online graphic design tool to help non-arty people like me create arty things. It also helps that a zine about cataloguing standards is largely text-based.

Speaking of cataloguing standards, did you know there is a Zine Union Catalog? Zine librarians and archivists are collaborating on a worldwide shared catalogue of zines, so that disparate zine collections might be found and explored in one place. There’s even a bespoke metadata schema for zines, xZINECOREx, based on the Dublin Core standard. (I won’t lie, I geeked out super hard when I found out about this. And there are people with ‘zine librarian’ in their job title?! Omg. Life goals.)

There is some disagreement on whether PDF zines are actually zines (some people consider the paper part to be a core aspect of a zine) but I disagree. I view zines as discrete works, either monographic or serial, intended as an underground publication, for a specific audience. They’re messy, often intensely personal, and not designed for mass consumption. I specifically chose to distribute Hello MARC online so that it might reach the most people, but I’ve since had enough requests for a print run that I’ll be doing one of those too. I even had a request from a zine librarian in the States!

I’ve found zinemaking incredibly therapeutic. I’ve recently spent way too much time and energy worrying about climate change, to the point where I couldn’t function because I had lost all sense of temporal perspective. Zines help bring me back to the here and now, the realm of things I can reasonably and personally accomplish, the community of good people who look out for me. They’re a concrete distraction and a source of great personal achievement. I recommend zines to everyone. Yes, even you.

Five things I (belatedly) learned at #FutureGLAM2018

A couple of Fridays ago I trundled down to Melbourne (by train, which was very exciting) for the FutureGLAM symposium at Deakin Downtown. The weather was only slightly horrible, and I got only slightly lost. It was a worthwhile day and I was chuffed to be able to put several names to faces. I also enjoyed giving the ‘No Metadata No Future’ t-shirt another outing. I am writing this slightly late so my recollections are brief, and not as sharp as they might once have been, but it was definitely a worthwhile day.

Convergence is a dystopia. Helena Robinson’s talk on ‘Interpreting sustainability’ referenced an article by Adam Rozan in the ‘Museums 2040’ special issue of Museums magazine describing a future where we have all coalesced into one generic Public Services Shop. It sounded horrific. Neoliberal capitalist dystopia! Cultural utilitarianism! Judging cultural institutions and services purely on their monetary worth! No thanks!

I was absolutely gobsmacked to discover later on in Helena’s talk that Adam had presented this as a good thing. Yes, a good thing! (Helena’s reaction was also dystopian.) The article itself has a disarmingly upbeat tone, but if neoliberalism is all you’ve ever known, how else will you see the future? Helena summarised the pros and cons of convergence, the topic of her PhD thesis, as creating a better surface layer visitor experience, but worsening almost every other aspect of GLAM professional practice. This doesn’t sound sustainable to me. Or desirable.

Convergence is never gonna happen because we are too different. In my view, the biggest divide within GLAM is not between the individual letters, but between the cultural heritage practitioners on one side and the information science practitioners on the other. Each side seems to think that they are GLAM. I feel this divide more strongly between librarians and other professionals, perhaps because I was once one of those rare librarians who dealt with both sides (I used to be a local history collections librarian).

I couldn’t help noticing that the attendees were a strongly museums crowd. Even the subtitle of the event was ‘Collaboration and convergence in the cultural heritage sector’. At the time of this conference I worked in law tech services. There was zero cultural heritage in that job. But I don’t know what kind of descriptor would adequately describe—and hence unify—all corners of the GLAM sector. The acronym on its own means nothing. What unites us, really? And is it more than that which divides us?

Placemaking is in. As a psychogeographer1, I am extremely interested in the intersection of virtual reality and place heritage, which became something of a recurring theme during the symposium. Amy Tsilemanis and Barry James Gilson’s speech / yarn / performance ‘Storytelling Ballaraat City’ was a highlight. Amy and Barry’s work is rooted in place, people and heritage, with Wadawurrung lore interwoven with the built history of Ballarat town.

All the talk of VR and AR worried me, though, and it’s not just because VR makes me seasick. How can we properly immerse people in place if they’ve got a Google Cardboard strapped to their heads? At what point does the virtual overtake the physical? Which are we really choosing?

Give me context or give me death. I had my first taste of a Mike Jones presentation and it was every bit the roller-coaster ride I’d been promised. Mike’s forthcoming PhD thesis centres on ‘relationality and the interconnectedness of archives and museum collections’ and after that talk I seriously want to read the whole damn thing.

Mike said loads of really clever things really quickly, but my favourite was about the state of our context. People seem to think that in order to make collections accessible online, we can simply attach as much metadata and keywords as we want to digitised objects and simply chucking them on the net will make them findable. Guess what? It’s not enough! Context is key! We need to build explicit connections and pathways between collection items, especially online, to give a fuller contextual picture. (There’s a reason Mike’s blog is named ‘Context Junky’.)

We are all so tired. I managed to catch up with Nathan Sentance for all of thirty seconds before someone interrupted and we only got as far as ‘Hey, how you going?’ ‘I’m exhausted’ ‘Yeah me too’. I don’t even recall who said what. It could have been either. Most of the FutureGLAM attendees had already spent the week at the Museums Galleries Australia national conference, so no wonder they were exhausted, but I’d spent all of the previous day on a train and I was still tired. It wasn’t just a momentary tired—it was the kind of weariness that seeps into your bones. I’ve been doing a lot. We’ve all been doing a lot. Life takes it out of us. We need to recharge.


  1. Psychogeography: ‘the study of the influence of geographical environment on the mind or on behaviour; the geographical environment of a particular location, typically a city, considered with regard to its influence on the mind or on behaviour. Also, that’s gotta be the most pretentious thing I have ever said about myself. I already hate it. It’s almost as bad as ‘flâneuse’. 

What is a student worth?

This morning, as I was getting off the bus and into the rain, I tweeted about the first day of my professional placement. This tweet turned into a giant thread about the nature of work experience within LIS, whether placements should be compulsory and/or paid, and the difficulties inherent in taking time off paid work or other responsibilities. I am slightly stunned by the response it got. I hope this doesn’t make me some kind of influencer. :/

You might have to click on a few different tweets to see all the responses. I was typing on my phone and so was slower to respond. Plus I was, yanno, doing a placement. I’m concerned that some of my thoughts on the topic may have been buried or misinterpreted, so here is a very quick overview. I also want to make very clear that my views on this topic are, as always, my own. They are definitely not those of my former employer, my placement host, my future employer or my uni.

In short: I have no issue with work experience or professional placements. I fully appreciate that for many LIS students, a placement may be the only practical experience they get before they graduate. Placements can lead to great networking or job opportunities, and we all know how hard entry-level jobs are to find these days. Plus with so many of us studying online (me included), every little bit of library experience helps. Many students find their placements to be enriching and rewarding experiences that allow them to apply their theoretical knowledge in a practical setting.

I do have an issue with unpaid placements—if they are unpaid, they should not be compulsory. Being a student is financially precarious enough as it is. By forcing students to attend unpaid work experience, we are implicitly sending the message that their labour is worth nothing. That in order to be professionally recognised and accredited, they need to have invested their time, energy and enthusiasm in a host organisation that couldn’t even be bothered paying them. That they ought to have enough funds from somewhere else to support themselves, and that if they don’t, they’re not welcome here. This kind of attitude only further entrenches the class inequality within LIS. The payment wouldn’t have to be much—even a small stipend would help immensely. Something to take the sting out of that fortnight’s rent.

In addition, being on placement should not be an excuse for the host organisation to use the student as free labour doing the crappy jobs. I am fortunate that this is not the case for me. I am doing my placement in a well-regarded institution, doing some interesting stuff. I also had to quit my job in order to do it. I am sandwiching my placement in between short-term contracts; scheduling has been very difficult for me, and I don’t even have children or caring responsibilities (it must be ten times harder for those who do!). I am also fortunate to have good finances, a second job, and a week’s worth of annual leave payout. Plenty of students don’t have this to fall back on.

The issue of who would pay a placement stipend is a tricky one. I believe organisations who take placement students should consider a stipend part of the cost of doing business. After all, most hosts are already investing staff time (ergo money) in training the student and showing them the ropes. The flipside, of course, is that places that can’t afford to pay students will simply stop offering placements, and only the richest libraries will take students. I’m not convinced. I think they would find a way—after all, students are going to be running this profession one day, and wouldn’t you want to make sure you taught them the right things?

I’m glad that we’re talking about unpaid placements. I hope that our conversations today might be a catalyst, however small, for some reform in this area. Professional placements are not, strictly speaking, work—but they prepare students for the world of work in LIS. And they are worth paying for.

How to catalogue a podcast

The other day I decided to catalogue a podcast, mostly because Hugh gave me the idea. I cast about for a suitable work and I figured—why not catalogue cardiCast? I’m not a huge podcast listener, but I’ve really grown to enjoy the mix of live cardiParty recordings and interviews with selected guests.

Resources for cataloguing podcasts are thin on the ground, so I thought I’d share my take. This is not an officially-sanctioned, PCC-compliant guide or anything, just the views of a simple cataloguer who does this for fun.

Be careful what you wish for, etc.

Fixed fields

This is gonna get technical. Let’s look at the Leader fields, first:

LDR/07 = (i), non-musical sound recording
LDR/08 = (s), serial

There’s not a lot of records on the ANBD with that particular combination. The closest I found to a podcast record was ‘Surgical news extra’, an audio accompaniment to an existing textual serial. (The cataloguer at SLV who created this is clearly a talented individual, they did a really good job!)

As far as the cataloguer is concerned, there are three aspects to a podcast: its audio content (spoken word, non-musical sound recording); its computer content (digital file, stored and accessed online); and its seriality (continuing resource, issued in discrete episodes as part of a broader whole).

Capturing these three aspects requires a lot of fixed field data, most of which (sadly) an ILS will never use. We will need the following:

Generally speaking, “the 008 and 006 are regarded as containing “bibliographic” information about a work, while the 007 is regarded as carrying information about the “physical” characteristics of the item”. I could go into exhaustive detail about each byte, but if you really want to know you’ll have clicked on the above hyperlinks already, so why reinvent the wheel?

Two aspects of fixed field entry stood out as being particularly tricky:

  • 008/24-29, ‘Accompanying matter’ [to sound recordings]: this is really intended for physical accompaniments, not digital ones. ‘Show notes on iTunes’ doesn’t really fit any of the given options, so despite having six bytes to play with I settled for only one, ‘f’ (Biography of performer or history of ensemble), as the show notes (either in iTunes as embedded metadata or on the newCardigan website) usually have a brief explainer about who’s talking and what the topic is.
  • 008/30-31, ‘Literary text for sound recordings’: I have two bytes to fill. Here I have to think quite deeply about the nature of cardiCast. I have a reasonably good list of options, but ‘cardiParties’ isn’t one of them. Nor can I record anything specific about the live nature of many podcast recordings. I eventually settled on ‘l’ (lectures, speeches) and ‘t’ (interviews).

Title and access points

Pleasingly, the title (as spoken by Justine at the beginning of each episode) actually fits really neatly into the ISBD syntax, as transcribed in the 245 field:

[Title] $a cardiCast :
[Subtitle] $b a GLAM podcast /
[Statement of responsibility] $c brought to you by newCardigan.

I really wanted to know whether I could keep newCardigan’s distinctive camelCase in the title and access points, or whether I had to refer to the work as ‘Cardicast’ and the producer as ‘Newcardigan’. Fortunately the RDA toolkit saw my dilemma coming, and handily permits the retention of unusual capitalisation if it is the most commonly-known form.

Names of Agents and Places
A.2.1
[…]
For names with unusual capitalization, follow the capitalization of the commonly known form.
eg. eBay (Firm)

Titles of Manifestations
A.4.1
[…]
Unusual capitalization. For titles with unusual capitalization, follow the capitalization of the title as found on the source of information.
eg. eBay bargain shopping for dummies; SympoTIC ’06

I ran the catalogue record past the cardiCore before writing this post, to make sure I’d gotten the metadata itself correct. They agreed that Justine (as host) and Clare (as the sound editor) deserved added entries of their own. MARC accommodates this quite readily, simply by giving them each a 700 and a $e relator term from the exhaustive list. Naturally, newCardigan is accommodated in a 710 field.

Descriptive elements

Because nobody is actually going to read those fixed fields I just spent two hours painstakingly creating, I’m now going to fill in my 3XX and 5XX fields with all sorts of descriptive data about the podcast: how often it comes out (field 310), whether it’s streamable or downloadable (or both, in this instance), when it began (field 362), and what kind of content I can expect from the podcast (field 520).

Field 508 (Creation/Production Credits Note) enables me to credit the podcast as a newCardigan production and expand on Justine and Clare’s roles, while field 511 (Participant or Performer Note) notes that each episode has a different guest. I’ve also noted in field 588 where my descriptions have come from. This isn’t mandatory, but for a resource with no defined title page or home page it can be useful to know where the metadata came from.

The RDA content/media/carrier types are surprisingly simple: ‘spoken word’ content, ‘audio’ and ‘computer’ medium (so 2 fields) and ‘online resource’ carrier.

Subject headings

This podcast was difficult to index, chiefly because at first I wound up with too many overly-specific headings. I would have preferred an overarching $a GLAM industry $v Periodicals and $a GLAM workers $v Interviews but LCSH doesn’t have anything like that, so I had to split up the GLAM into its constituent sectors. I’m also not sure how I feel about $v Periodicals for continuing resources of this type. I think it’s the lack of print, textual content that bothers me a little. But it works, it has precedent elsewhere and I don’t have any better ideas. Perhaps in future $v Podcasts will become a form subdivision, just as it is already a genre/form term. Or we’ll abolish form subdivisions altogether. That’d be good.

In LCSH, ‘Galleries’ is a UF for ‘Art museums’, in case you were wondering.

Example record

NB: I originally wrote this in MarcEdit and painstakingly inserted all the spaces between subfields (don’t tell me, there’s a regex for that). The slash characters represent a blank space.

LDR  01880cis a2200433 i 4500
006  m\\\\\o\\h\\\\\\\\
006  ser\\\o\\\\\\\\\a2
007  cr\nua\\\auuuu
007  sr\zunnnnnzneu
008  180614c20169999vrannn\fo\\\\\\lt\\\eng\d
040  \\ $a ABCD $b eng $e RDA $d ABCD
042  \\ $a anuc
043  \\ $a u-at---
245  00 $a cardiCast : $b a GLAM podcast / $c brought to you by newCardigan.
246  3\ $a Cardi Cast
264  \1 $a Melbourne, Vic.: $b newCardigan, $c 2016-
300  \\ $a 1 online resource (audio files).
310  \\ $a Fortnightly
336  \\ $a spoken word $b spw $2 rdacontent
337  \\ $a audio $b s $2 rdamedia
337  \\ $a computer $b c $2 rdamedia
338  \\ $a online resource $b cr $2 rdacarrier
347  \\ $a audio file $b MP3 $2 rda
362  1\ $a Began in 2016.
500  \\ $a Available as streaming audio or as downloadable MP3 files.
500  \\ $a Resource website includes episode listing and links to individual downloads.
508  \\ $a Hosted by Justine Hanna ; sound editing by Clare Presser. A corporate 
           production of the newCardigan GLAM collective. 
511  \\ $a Each episode features a different speaker or interviewee.
520  \\ $a "cardiCast is a GLAM podcast published every fortnight. Hear a recording of 
           a previous cardiParty, or interviews with interesting GLAM people from 
           around Australia and the world."--newCardigan website.
588  \\ $a Description based on episode 32 and information from the newCardigan 
           website. Title from spoken introduction of episode 32 (accessed 
           June 14, 2018).
610  20 $a newCardigan $v Periodicals
650  \0 $a Art museums $v Periodicals
650  \0 $a Libraries $v Periodicals
650  \0 $a Archives $v Periodicals
650  \0 $a Museums $v Periodicals
655  \7 $a Podcasts $2 lcgft
700  1\ $a Hanna, Justine $e host
700  1\ $a Presser, Clare $e recording engineer
710  2\ $a newCardigan $e producer
856  40 $z Website with links to episodes and accompanying text 
        $u https://newcardigan.org/category/cardicast/