Response to ALIA’s updated statement on marriage equality

As I’m sure everyone has seen by now, the ALIA Board of Directors today made an additional statement on marriage equality. This statement was prompted, in large part, by the negative response from ALIA members to ALIA’s formal response to NGAC of 11 September (released online on 18 September), culminating in the open letter I wrote to the Board on Tuesday 19 September, and the further letters and feedback that followed.

(I feel like I need a timeline, to be honest.)

Firstly, I’d like to sincerely thank the ALIA Board for reading my letter and those sent by others (including James Nicholson and @Preprint_). I received the same email response that James did, which echoes the statement on the ALIA website.

I was heartened to see my letter strike such a chord with the Australian library community. I was especially thrilled to have inspired others to write to the Board as well, and to have helped fellow librarians to find their voice. I was so, so happy to see so many supportive Twitter comments and likes and retweets and engaged, thoughtful commentary.

However, I must admit I am not as thrilled by the Board’s statement as I would like to be. My views on this are quite complex, with my earlier attempts to condense them into 140 characters ending in complete failure. I want to be careful in how I phrase these views, and I apologise in advance if I am wordier than usual.

For perpetuity, the Board’s revised statement is as follows:

The ALIA Board agrees that the current Commonwealth legislation dealing with marriage is discriminatory, and that a yes response to the postal survey is required to right this discrimination. At a human level, we regret the divisions that are forming and the impact on the well-being of our Members. We believe the majority of our personal members will support a yes vote and we, as a Board, do so too.

We continue to encourage ALIA Members to participate in the postal survey; to support our LGBTQIA+ colleagues and clients; and to ensure that library users have access to the information they need to help them understand the issues.

Note that ALIA’s institutional position has not changed—that is, there isn’t one. Where the Board previously spoke as individuals, they have decided to speak together, and lend the weight of their collective Directorships to their speech. This statement, like the one before it, has come from the Board as people, not from ALIA as an institution. It’s a subtle difference, but an important one.

By comparison, Andrew Vann, the Vice-Chancellor of Charles Sturt University (where I studied for my MIS) issued a searing, powerful statement affirming CSU’s support for marriage equality. Professor Vann clearly agonised over this statement and gave it a lot of thought, yet ultimately decided to commit not just himself as an individual, but the university ‘as a corporate body, an employer of staff and a community of students’ to supporting LGBTIQ scholars and the broader cause of marriage equality. It’s a beautiful piece and I can’t thank Professor Vann enough for writing it.

I love Professor Vann’s statement because it hits all the right notes. It affirms a university’s role as a defender of intellectual freedom and a place to discuss sometimes difficult ideas. It acknowledges the existence of other views and the right of people to hold and express those views. It also makes clear that if the university is to uphold its stated value of inclusivity, being neutral is simply not an option.

The Board’s revised statement does not do those things. The opening phrase ‘the ALIA Board agrees’ (with whom? with me, presumably) kinda gives away that this statement wasn’t ALIA’s idea. There is no mention of the existence of opposing views (a concession that, for the record, I would have completely supported) and no defence of the library as a space for the exploration of ideas.

Note also the expression of ‘regret [for] the divisions that are forming’ within Australian librarianship. This is not the first time the Board have brought this up; it was also mentioned in their response to Katie Miles-Barnes’ resignation from NGAC. I’d like to be wrong, but this tells me the Board are more preoccupied with the idea of librarians (publicly) disagreeing on this issue than on the issue itself. Because, you know, we were all one happy family before the postal survey was forced on this country, and librarianship totally wasn’t dying a slow death, right? Right?!

In what is surely a complete coincidence, NGAC advertised today for new members. There has been a lot of talk on Twitter over the last week about the relevance of ALIA to newer, more progressive librarians. The cynic in me suggests these advertisements were timed to capitalise on this wave of dissent, to provide a way for those disaffected librarians to contribute positively to the future of their organisation.

I was once asked, long before all this blew up, if I were interested in joining NGAC when the opportunity arose. I was then, as I am now, reluctant to join an organisation and advocate from within, when I felt I could be more effective working from the outside. (I was also hesitant to give up some of my hard-won internet semi-anonymity.) ALIA’s treatment of NGAC over the last month has only cemented my position. Sustained lobbying by NGAC and the resignation of an NGAC member over this issue were not met with an appropriate response. It took a few letters from ordinary Personal Members, and a flood of Twitter discussion, to galvanise the Board into taking a stand.

I truly feel that ALIA’s response is not enough. I wanted ALIA as an institution to take a position. It didn’t happen. But this new statement of support from the Board is more than we had. NGAC, Katie, yours truly and many others have worked hard to make it happen. I am grateful that the Board took the time to read and discuss my letter, and I am gratified that they have responded at all.

If nothing else, it demonstrates that this system works. Andrew talked today about the value of remaining an ALIA member, a topic on which I continue to seesaw. It’s true that I couldn’t have written my letter were I not an ALIA member. I know it spoke for librarians who, for various reasons, are not ALIA members themselves. Yet I find it difficult to support an organisation that had to be cajoled into supporting its members. I wonder if other groups are a better fit for me.

I’ll finish by clarifying an important point. I am not a queer person. I am, so far as I know, a straight person. This fight is not about me. It is about you, rainbow librarians of Australia, who deserve all the love and support and empathy and advocacy I can muster. I was not asked to fight this battle. I choose to fight it because it’s the right thing to do. I can shout pretty loud, so I choose to use my voice to amplify others.

I’ve made my point. I’ve cast my vote. I encourage you all to do the same.

Please vote yes. 🙂

An open letter to the ALIA Board of Directors on marriage equality

Board of Directors
Australian Library and Information Association
PO Box 6335
Kingston ACT 2604

By email: aliaboard@alia.org.au

19 September 2017

To the ALIA Board of Directors

I write regarding your recent statements on marriage equality in Australia, a topic currently the subject of a voluntary postal survey, to be issued to Australians on the electoral roll. While I have debated writing you for several days, your response to NGAC dated 11 September 2017 and released by NGAC on 18 September has compelled me to speak.

As a Personal Member of ALIA, I am extremely disappointed by your handling of this issue. It has been apparent from the outset that ALIA, as a professional organisation, clearly cannot bring itself to say ‘We support marriage equality’. Your actions are a source of intense professional shame.

Your stated reasons for this reticence demonstrate ALIA’s priorities loud and clear—that you prioritise the interests of Institutional Members (including faith libraries, whom you did consult) over those of Personal Members (including the ALIA LGBTQ SIG, whom you did not consult). You prioritise the rights of members ‘to hold an alternative opinion’ on what you claimed to agree was a human rights issue. You consider this topic so important that you relegate your recent statements on it to the ALIA FAIR Twitter account, which has just 12% of the followers of ALIA’s main account, and which seemingly enables ALIA to distance itself from its own political advocacy. Even then those statements are issued from individual Directors, not the Board itself.

You have gone out of your way to disassociate ALIA from any statements of support made by Directors, members, SIGs or committees. This suggests that ALIA is fearful of potential backlash from opponents of marriage equality. I don’t want my professional organisation to be so terrified of backlash that it refuses to stand for anything. I want ALIA to take a stand. I want ALIA to speak for me.

Compare your statements with those of the Australian Society of Archivists (ASA) and Professional Historians Australia (PHA). The ASA’s statement demonstrated their willingness to stand up for their members and the wider LGBTIQ community. PHA’s statement went even further, recognising the work of LGBTIQ individuals in historical pursuits and the right of all Australians to be regarded as equals before the law. Neither statement told their members how to vote, yet both organisations affirmed their support for marriage equality and the welfare of their members. There is nothing stopping ALIA from taking a similar approach.

Your responses to this issue smack of an organisation trying desperately to be neutral. To please all parties. To tick all boxes. Yet this survey presents us as voters with only two boxes, and we may tick only one. To abstain—to claim neutrality—is to do just as much harm as it would to vote no, for abstention is both an implicit endorsement of the status quo and a sign that you do not consider this issue important enough for you to voice an opinion.

Librarianship is not, has never been, and will never be a neutral profession.

You campaigned for months for the release of Ukrainian librarian Natalya Sharina from house arrest. The language you used then to defend her was noticeably stronger than the language you use now to defend your own members. You were not neutral on that issue—because being neutral would have been inconsistent with library values.

ALIA’s core values include a commitment to ‘respect for the diversity and individuality of all people’. The debate on the scope of Australia’s marriage laws—for that is all it is—presents a golden opportunity for you to walk that walk. To respect the diversity of library workers and library users alike. To support the right of all couples to have their relationships recognised by law. Your actions so far have sent a very clear message that you do not respect our diversity, and by extension, that you do not respect us.

It is not too late for you to set this right. The survey is still in progress, and you have ample opportunity to show your support for, and solidarity with, LGBTIQ library workers and library users. You do not have to tell people how to vote. You can acknowledge the breadth of opinion on this issue, and how the influence of Institutional Members had previously guided your stance. All you have to do is issue a brief statement affirming ALIA’s position, as informed by NGAC and Personal Members across Australia. It can, in fact, be four words long.

‘We support marriage equality.’

I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

Alissa M.
ALIA Member

Flatland and the limits of fiction

The original cover of Flatland (image courtesy ArchDaily.com)

The other day I decided I’d better get started on the books in my enormous to-read pile, preferably before I have to return half of them to the library I work at. The topmost book just happened to be Flatland: a romance of many dimensions (1884) by Edwin Abbott Abbott (1838-1926). A colleague had recommended it to me as part of a potential display on ‘flat’ books. (We share a building with a public library branch, and I was thinking of doing a book display which, for once, had nothing to do with local history. I seem to recall being in a flat mood at the time.)

I hadn’t even opened the cover when I was distracted by the book’s call number. This happens to me a lot.

530.
11
ABBO

Flatland, as far as I can ascertain, is a work of fiction, and has been since 1884. Why was it classed in non-fiction? Is this a common view? Who made this decision, and why did they make it?

Firstly, let’s examine this number. DDC 530.11 is the home of general relativity, among such physics luminaries as Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Lawrence Knauss and Brian Cox (whose works on the subject are definitely not fiction). Einstein popularised (and drew on others’ efforts in consolidating) the theory of general relativity in 1915.1 That is, over thirty years after Flatland was published. How can this be?

Is it because Flatland is primarily about science, and the term ‘science fiction’ didn’t exist when the book was published? Did the cataloguer of this particular item even know it was a work of fiction? I flipped the book over and read the synopsis. “Flatland (1884) is an influentual mathematical fantasy […] A classic of early science fiction.” Hmm. Looks fairly clearcut to me. Maybe they weren’t in a synopsis-reading mood.

I then looked at the book’s CiP details. Which call numbers did they provide?

PR4000              823.
.A22                8
F53
2009

‘Aha!’ I exclaimed, to nobody in particular. So even the CiP cataloguer knew it was fiction, and classified it as such! The LCC call number PR4000 is English literature > 19th century, 1770/1800-1890/1900 > Individual authors (with A22 F53 presumably being the cutter for Abbott, Edwin. Flatland), while DDC 823.8 is Victorian-era English literature. I’m beginning to get a bit cross at our cataloguer by this point, who seemingly hasn’t read either the synopsis or the CiP data.

I’ve now spent over an hour investigating this book. I haven’t even started reading it yet.

Interestingly, the CiP for this work was done by Library and Archives Canada, as the editor of this particular version is Canadian. Hmm. Did Library of Congress treat this book differently? (No offence, Canada)

I had a peek at the Libraries Australia record for this edition. This record is an LC copycat job, using the original Canadian data, but making a few slight changes…

QA699              530.
.A13               11
2010b

Bingo!! So that’s why the cataloguer of my copy of Flatland thought it was non-fiction—because Library of Congress did too! … Or did they?

While DDC 520.11 is for relativity, as discussed above, LCC QA699 includes a fascinating—and critical—scope note: Geometry > Hyperspace > Popular works. Fiction (Including Flatland, fourth dimension)

According to LC, it is so crucial that Flatland be classed with non-fiction works on hyperspace that it’s literally namechecked in the scope note! This is amazing! But why did they do that? And why was this logic reproduced in DDC?

I then decided to browse LC’s collections at QA699 to see what else was there. The most recent work appeared to date from 1971, with the bulk of works (excluding revised and edited editions, of which the book in my hand is one) dating from the late 19th and early 20th century.

A quick scan of works in QA699 suggested almost all of them were indexed with the LCSH $a Fourth dimension. The scope note for this heading reads: Here are entered philosophical and imaginative works.
Mathematical works are entered under Hyperspace.

LC holds 100 items with this heading, but it also holds 5 items indexed $a Fourth dimension $v Fiction, which are not classed in QA699. These items include a book about Flatland: the movie edition (2008) and four novels published in the 21st century.

So what is this telling me? Flatland, according to LC, is a ‘philosophical’ or ‘imaginative work’, which suggests they think it’s too intellectual to be considered merely a work of fiction. But this seems like a load of crap to me. Isn’t all fiction inherently ‘imaginative work’? Is Flatland accorded this kind of respect because it’s old, was written by a white man, and has increased in intellectual stature over time? Did the cataloguer at LC who originally wrote the QA699 scope note (however many years ago that was, and may or may not have been the same cataloguer who processed Flatland) decide that this work was not mere literature, fit for the P class, but a higher-order piece of writing that ought to reside near the subjects it fictionalised?

Hmph. This reeks of classism to me.

But it also explains why the book in my hand has the entirely inappropriate DDC call number 530.11: the cataloguer at LC probably looked up the closest thing to ‘Hyperspace’ in DDC (that being ‘Relativity’), either didn’t notice or didn’t care about the ‘Fiction’ aspect of QA699, classed the book where DDC said to and moved on with their life, with dozens of subsequent copy cataloguers not knowing, not caring, or not being paid enough to reconsider this choice. I’ve stopped being cross at our cataloguer, who clearly saw no reason not to defy the ANBD record. I can understand where they were coming from.

For me, the question now becomes: will I change it locally? Technically I have this ability, but because it’s not a local history book I’m supposed to refer it to our collections team. They have way more important things to do than change the call number of a perfectly findable item, especially because nobody’s yet complained about it.

I’ll think about what to do next. For now, though, after several hours of investigation and writing, I might actually get started on the book.

I think it’s the least I could do.


  1. For a longer explanation of why I didn’t just say ‘invented’ like everyone else, see this piece on ‘Who invented relativity?’ http://www.mathpages.com/rr/s8-08/8-08.htm 

Cataloguing tabletop games: an introduction

A closeup of the Settlers of Catan board. (Picture courtesy CatanShop.com)

In my apparent capacity as Oz library twitter’s Resident Cataloguing Boffin™, I was recently asked if I had any thoughts on cataloguing tabletop games. My first thought was ‘A tabletop game about cataloguing? That’s the nerdiest thing I’ve ever heard (and I’ve played the Wikipedia card game1)! Also, sign me the hell up!’ My second thought was ‘Oh, right, metadata about tabletop games. Actually, you know what, I know nothing about this.’ Naturally, my third thought was ‘But I will find out!’

This post is not a professional guide to best-practice tabletop game cataloguing, rather a collection of stray thoughts with a couple of sample records at the end. I’m trying to get out of the habit of needing to write absolutely perfect blog posts—often a work in progress is good enough!

NB: I’m assuming that if you’re interested in this post, you probably have at least a basic understanding of how MARC works, such as fields for authors, titles and publishers. Therefore I’m focussing on aspects of tabletop game cataloguing that differ from your standard books / serials / online resources dealio.

As it turns out, most of the literature on games cataloguing relates to video games. OLAC has produced an excellent guide to video game cataloguing, which I highly recommend if you’re in need of guidance. For tabletop games specifically, however, the pickings are a lot thinner. Slouski et al. say as much in their EBLIP article.2

Descriptive cataloguing

The most important field in a tabletop game record is the 300 field. Here is where the physical components of the game are recorded in detail: boards, pieces, dice, cards, everything.

Ideally there would be defined MARC fields for game duration and number of players, but there aren’t, so they get thrown in a 500 field. (This is the sort of thing where a dedicated schema for games would be really handy. I know there’s a schema for video games3, but again, not much for physical games. If anyone’s got plans to invent one, I’m super interested!)

If the game publisher has a specific internal catalogue number for the game, record it in 028, along with a designator: 028 50 $a 3061 $b Mayfair Games

In a bygone age, I might fret about assigning a 100/110 (main author) field at all, considering games are almost always better known by their title than the name of their creator. Fortunately we live in a more enlightened age where the dictionary catalogue is dead, long live keyword search, so I’m not worrying about a game’s authorised access point potentially being a little obscure.

Content, media, carrier types

McGrath suggests using 336 ## $a tactile three-dimensional form solely for objects intended exclusively to be perceived through touch, and items with some visual content.4 This would be used in conjunction with 337 ## $a unmediated and 338 ## $a object. In addition to these fields, I’ve seen 380 ## $a Board game5 suggested in accordance with RDA 6.3. I can see the point for items of realia without appropriate genre/form terms, but considering a 380 in many instances would duplicate a 655 I’m not sure I’d bother, to be honest. Your mileage may vary.

Subject indexing

LCSH doesn’t make this easy for cataloguers, either. Would you believe there is no accepted form subdivision for board or tabletop games? There’s one for computer games: sensibly enough, it’s $v Computer games. I’ve seen $x Games used a bit, but this isn’t a valid heading for tabletop games (for one thing, that’s a topical subdivision, not a form one).

In the meantime, in accordance with my penchant for pragmatic cataloguing, I’m going to go ahead and invent my own subdivision! If your library is a stickler for LC rules, perhaps don’t try this at home, but maybe someone will suggest this subdivision to LC. (Also, if you’re contributing records to OCLC, Libraries Australia or other union catalogue, definitely don’t try this at home, or the software will convert it to the above-mentioned $x Games invalid subdivision.)6 I’ll be using $v Games, in conjunction with the existing genre/form terms 655 #7 $a Board games and 655 #7 $a Puzzles and games.7 If the difference between these two genre terms is not meaningful to your users, feel free to choose one or the other for local use.

Personally, I’m not wild about the topic/genre crossover in LCSH; that is, I would personally prefer a heading like 650 #0 $a Logic puzzles to feature items about logic puzzles, rather than items that are logic puzzles. But maybe that’s what users want. I could be totally off base with this. Let me know!

Sample record 1: Settlers of Catan

The below example is adapted from Libraries Australia record 59644071, itself likely imported from another union catalogue and created by an unknown library. I was going to catalogue this from scratch but discovered someone else had done the hard yards for me 🙂 The copy record is surprisingly good, I’ve only needed to make a few adjustments.

000 01765crm a2200397 i 4500
005 20170306145003.0
008 121024s2012    ilu||| g          gneng d
020 ## $a 1569052018
020 ## $a 9781569052013
028 50 $a 3061 $b Mayfair Games
040 ## $a ABCD $b eng $e RDA
082 04 $a 794 $2 23
100 1# $a Teuber, Klaus, $d 1952-, $e designer.
245 14 $a The settlers of Catan / $c Klaus Teuber.
246 30 $a Catan.
264 #1 $a Skokie, IL : $b Mayfair Games, $c [2012]
300 ## $a 1 game (19 terrain hexes, 6 sea frame pieces, 9 harbor pieces, 18 circular
    number tokens, 95 resource cards, 25 development cards, 4 building cost cards,
    2 special cards, 16 cities, 20 settlements, 60 roads, 2 dice, 1 robber),
    1 game rules and almanac booklet : $b cardboard, wood ; $c box 24 x 30 x 8 cm.
336 ## $a three-dimensional form $b tdf $2 rdacontent
337 ## $a unmediated $b n $2 rdamedia
338 ## $a object $b nr $2 rdacarrier
500 ## $a For 3-4 players.
500 ## $a Duration of play: 60 minutes.
500 ## $a Detailed description of contents on box.
520 ## $a Summary: "In The Settlers of Catan you control a group of settlers trying to
    tame the wilds on the remote but rich island of Catan. Start by revealing 
    Catan's many harbors and regions: plains, meadows, mountains, hills, forests
    & desert. The random mix creates a different board for virtually every 
    game"--Container.
521 ## $a Ages 10 and up.
650 #0 $a Competition $v Games.
650 #0 $a Natural resources $v Games.
650 #0 $a Colonists $v Games.
655 #7 $a Board games. $2 lcgft
710 2# $a Mayfair Games Inc. $e publisher.

Sample record 2: Tantrix

The below example is adapted from Libraries Australia record 41011711, which looks to have been imported from OCLC. The original was an AACR2 record and in worse shape, so I’ve upgraded it to RDA. (Apropos of nothing, this is a great game.)

000 01592crm a2200349 a 4500
005 20160113135201.0
008 060612m19912003nz |||            gneng d
040 ## $a ABCS $b eng $e RDA
082 04 $a 794 $2 23
100 1# $a McManaway, Mike. $e designer
245 10 $a Tantrix / $c created by Mike McManaway.
250 ## $a 8th edition.
264 #1 $a New Zealand : $b Tantrix Games International, $c c1991-2003.
300 ## $a 1 game (56 bakelite tiles) ; $c in plastic hexagonal travel bag, approx 
    16 x 16 x 4 cm + $e Instruction booklet, (48 pages : illustrations ; 13 cm)
336 ## $a three-dimensional form $b tdf $2 rdacontent
337 ## $a unmediated $b n $2 rdamedia
338 ## $a object $b nr $2 rdacarrier
500 ## $a "Tantrix was invented [in 1987] by Mike McManaway...This 8th edition 
    now includes contributions from all over the world." -- booklet, page 4.
500 ## $a For 2-4 players.
520 ## $a The game consists of 56 Bakelite tiles with painted links of red, green, 
    blue, and yellow. Each tile is unique, and with all the tiles you can play 
    both the solitaire puzzles and the multiplayer game. The Tantrix game 
    includes 25 Tantrix puzzles and a strategy game.
650 #0 $a Mathematical recreations $v Games.
650 #0 $a Logic, Symbolic and mathematical $v Games.
650 #0 $a Logic puzzles.
650 #0 $a Educational games $x Study and teaching (primary).
655 #7 $a Puzzles and games. $2 lcgft
710 2# $a Tantrix Games Australia. $e publisher

Final comments

I hope someone out there finds this post helpful 🙂 With libraries diversifying their collections to appeal to a broader cross-section of their userbase, non-traditional items like board games may become more integral to a library service. It’s all well and good to acquire cool things like these, but if your users can’t find them, they may as well be hidden entirely. I’m also very interested in any comments or suggestions you may have: drop me a line on Twitter @lissertations or by email (hello AT lissertations DOT net).

Thanks for reading, and happy cataloguing!


  1. I’d just like to point out how stupendously difficult this thing is to google. I don’t often wish the internet had a left-aligned browse search, but today I did. 
  2. Slobuski, T., Robson, D., & Bentley, P. (2017). Arranging the Pieces: A Survey of Library Practices Related to a Tabletop Game Collection. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 12(1), 2. http://dx.doi.org/10.18438/b84c96 
  3. Lee, J.H., Perti, A., & Clarke, R.I. (2014). UW/SIMM Video Game Metadata Schema
    Version 2.0.
    Retrieved from http://gamer.ischool.uw.edu/official_release/ 
  4. McGrath, K. (2012). Cataloging Three Dimensional Objects and Kits with RDA. Slides accompanying a talk delivered March 28, 2012. Retrieved from http://downloads.alcts.ala.org/ce/03282012_RDA_3D_Kits_Slides.pdf 
  5. McGrath, op. cit., slide 63 
  6. Many thanks to Netanel Ganin for making this excellent point on Twitter. 
  7. It’s worth noting that 655 #7 $a Board games was only added to LCGFT in June this year (at Netanel’s suggestion, cheers!), and isn’t yet listed on the Free LCGFT on LC’s website. It was seemingly extensively used as a genre/form term for years before that, though.