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Where is CILIP?

Librarywebbie comments on the Guardian article about Bangor University proposing to sack most of its professional library staff: Question is, why is there no mention on CILIP’s website? I hope they are lobbying strongly. I had the same thought last year when Kent librarians went on strike over the County Council’s plans to reduce the number of professional library staff from 84 to 54.6 and put more responsibility on unqualified or paraprofressional staff. Have a look on CILIP’s website and see if you can find anything on either story. The CILIP South East Branch issued a newsletter in September 2004 and still didn’t comment on it. I understand that CILIP is not a union, but the status of professional staff is surely central to their cause. I notice their website does have information on the Tsunami and recovering libraries there which, though very laudable, seems to be rather further from their remit.

Et In Arcadia Ego

In Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln’s Da holy blood and the holy grail, a great, or rather disproportinate fuss is made of the fact that Poussin’s painting Da Shepherds has a tomb with the Latin inscription Et in Arcadia ego (it’s not even a proper sentence, see!!) on it and that this inscription is an anagram of I tego arcana Dei: Behold! I conceal the secrets of God. Scary stuff.

What other secrets are hidden in these words, I thought to myself about 10 years ago. I then proceeded to derive English anagrams from the letters of the phrase Et in Arcadia ego. In the true spirit of Baigent et al.’s book, I lost the paper on which I recorded these arcana. While clearing some old papers this weekend, however, I found the document, which had gone brown with age, notwithstanding that it is a brown envelope. Below are the results, in which conspiracy theorists will find a large amount of wisdom about the CIA. No coincidence I would suggest.

  • Die in a goat race
  • O, I date a Grecian
  • Eradication age
  • I decorate again
  • I enrage CIA toad
  • I dare to in a cage
  • Iago cried at an E
  • A nice area to dig
  • I ate a rice gonad
  • A CIA orange diet
  • A CIA agent or die
  • CIA are eatin’ God
  • I create a God, Ian

See Da Shepherds site referred to above for more background or, better still, read the original and best Da holy blood and the holy grail. I believe Dan Brown’s Da Vinci code covers much of the same ground (I’m the one who hasn’t read it) but it must surely be less entertaining as Baigent et al. actually purport to be uncovering the truth.

Any further contributions are of course welcome; threats to shut down this site on the grounds that it reveals secrets that should not be revealed are not.

Nadgers

Following on from my post entitled Oh dear, it seems I was way too slow in using Google’s cache, or anyone else’s for that matter. However, I’m sure the world will not weep too much, and the one post I did want to salvage was found as a lonely txt file on my computer. This was the Et In Arcadia Ego one, where I spoke of threats to close the site down. Is this any coincidence?

Oh dear

Aurlog’s server went down at the weekend, making its several websites, including Aurlog and Aurochs.org, unavailable. It is now back and most of the affected sites suffered no loss of files. However, the one affected site was Aurlog. As you can see below, sil managed to recover the entries going back to early December. The rest will be recovered more manually when I have time. Please accept my apologies in advance, therefore, if your aggregator is filled with drivel you’ve seen before over the next week or so, although another chance to air that joke about the Russian snooker player is not to be sneezed at.

Why MARC is bad

Bad is probably too strong a word, but MARC has severe failings, most of which seem actually to date from its conception, rather than being exposed by changing practice. That said, the main failing seems to be that it was not designed to be used with OPACs and this seems to have shaped its shortsightedness. I have used the shorthand $ to refer to subfields (e.g. $a to refer to subfield a). All references are in fact to MARC21 (formerly USMARC) which is now the de facto standard since the demise of UKMARC, which was arguably better in many areas, and only MARC21 Bibliographic (rather than Holdings, Authorities, etc.). Information on specific MARC fields can be found on the online Concise manual. I’m sure there are more things: please add to the list.

  • It uses totally different organisation to AACR2, which it MARC an attempt to encode. AACR2 is nothing if not scrupulously numbered and organised, subdivided into tiny rules. The best examples for this can be found in the notes fields (5XX). Notes in AACR2 follow a prescribed order and are logically numbered; in MARC, notes are numbered, but in a totally different order and often not at all, leaving far too many notes in the general note field (500). When cataloguing videos, for instance, AACR2 has the cast note first then the crew note; MARC made the cast note 511 and the crew note 508. Persuading cataloguers to put the notes in reverse numerical order, as should happen, is not easy.
  • MARC encourages cataloguers to create a good display, rather than think logically. AACR2 runs through the sources of information, the description of the item, then the application of headings. By making the 100 field come before the 245, MARC encourages cataloguers to make the main entry decision first.
  • MARC relies on restricted numerical sequences to encode information, making much the same mistake as Dewey when he confined himself to 10 digits and put the notation before the logic of the scheme. A good example is the 246 which uses the first indicator to show the kind of added title concerned. This means that only ten possibilities are allowed. Most will end up with first indicator 3 for Other title. There are only a certain number of avaible fields, i.e. below a 1000: this should be enough, but the 500s are getting rather choked, and may be a preventative to any scheme of putting them in the right order. Another example are the indicators, which are undoubtedly useful, but are restricted to two in number, so that when mnemonic meanings clash, confusion ensues: the 2nd indicator of the 245 and 440 fields does the same job as the first indicator of the 740. The confusing mess of the fixed-length fields (LDR, 008, etc) does not help. Numbers do make it more international (except if you don’t use Roman numerals of course) but the AA of AACR” stands for Anglo-American and the creators of various MARCs have till now been too concerned with internationalism.
  • It duplicates and sometimes even loses the effect of ISBD punctuation as prescribed in AACR2. For instance, the place of publication, publisher, and date of publication have clearly defined punctuation: Place : Publisher, Date. These three elements are put in subfields $a, $b, and $c and the punctuation must be put in after each element: $aPlace : $bPublisher, $cDate.. Why have data elements defined twice?
  • MARC sometimes even loses the effect of ISBD punctuation. Take 245 $b which can mean Other Title Information or Parallel Title: whereas the ISBD punctuation makes this clear with either a comma or an equals sign, MARC uses $b for both. With complicated records, entire parallel titles, subtitles, and statements of responsibility can end up bundled up in a $c, which is meant to hold the statement of responsibility but which luckily has an “etc” in the usage notes.
  • MARC allows you to do things which are technically not allowed. A good example is, ironically, uniform titles. AACR2 is clear on the point that the initial article should be omitted from uniform titles (rule 25.2C). This means The Bible becomes Bible. However, the the second indicator of the 240 field allows you to specify the number of non-filing characters. Why? The whole point of uniform titles is that they are uniform. I can only think that this was allowed to accommodate the policies of a particular library, but if it is contrary to AARC2, and especially when more and more catalogues are being combined in various ways (e.g., OCLC Worldcat, the RLG union catalogue, and COPAC, it seems unwise to differ unless you really have to. My personal beef is the 533 field which allows you to create a catalogue record based on the original of something like a photocopy, then add a note saying (something like) “this is a photocopy” even though AACR2 instructs you to catalogue the copy and provide a note on the original. This has particular ramifications for things like ebooks, where most records are being created the 533 way, often by computer, and mainly because netLibrary, part of OCLC and therefore close to the Library of Congress, persuaded LC to introduce a Library of Congress Rule Interpretation to let them do it. A rant on LCRIs and the maintenance of library standards is probably better left for another time.

It seems that MARC is unsure of how detailed it wants to be and how it wants to store information. There is a fair case, I think, for lumping all the 245, 260, and 300 in one field as description which can be searched by keyword. The headings should provide the entry points (including a specific field purely for adding the main title. This might present problems with brief display and such like, though it might be possible to extract information from the super245 by using the metadata delimiters- the punctuation- already included in an AACR2 record. Failing this extreme solution, AACR should be redesigned at the same time and in the same process as MARC, so that they are completely integrated, so that tags and punctuation are not doing the same job, so that OPACs are free of the tyranny of card catalogue records, and so that cataloguers can concentrate on making the correct decisions for description rather than playing around with irrelavent numbers.

Pope announces England win

The Pope, or the lay preacher for the Unitarian church of Rome as he is now called, has admitted that Martin Luther did in fact have a point. Speaking at the opening of the city’s first public convenience for bears, he went on to congratulate the English football team for holding their nerve and not throwing away victory with minutes to go and sparing the poor fans the ordeal of watching the English have to win two matches to scrape through to the second round of the European Championship.

What a cataloguer does all day

In response to a comment by kyrogenix, there follows a dry summary of what a typical traditional cataloguer does with his day.

If anyone asks me what I do as a cataloguer, I say that I spend my time describing books. I put books on the library catalogue database and add headings to make them easier to find. There are a variety of largely international standards that are used, the most important being the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules 2nd edition (AACR2), MARC21, and Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH).

Cataloguing theory and rules were originally formulated before computers were in widespread use, so modern cataloguing is in theory a two-stage process:

  1. Preparing a record using AACR2
  2. Encoding this record in MARC

In practice, these are done simultaneously.

Preparing a record

A book is described using the rules set out in AACR2. These set out what information goes into a record, how the information is formatted- including punctuation, capitalization, standard abbreviations, forms of names, etc.- and how the record is organised. A catalogue record is divided up using standardised punctuation, which is as valid on a printed catalogue card as on a computer record, and does much the same job in dividing up a record as metadata tags. Preparing the record itself consists of two parts:

  1. Writing a description
  2. Adding headings

The description for a books looks something like the following:

Harry Potter and the prisoner of Azkaban / J.K. Rowling. — London Bloomsbury, 1999. — 317 p. ; 20 cm.

In the days of card catalogues, there had to be a main index card which held the full description: this was called the main entry; to make it easier to find, added entries were created to provide brief pointers to the main card. In the world of the computer, this is irrelavent as there will only ever be one copy of the record, corresponding to the main index card; however, a great deal of effort is still expended in deciding what the main entry is according to the vastly overcomplicated rules of AACR2. In most cases, it is simply the author- in this case J.K. Rowling- with an added entry under title. Books such as the Bible or the Oxford English Dictionary will have the title as main entry (not God or Oxford University Press).

There are even more complicated, though more useful, rules determining the form of the name, and this is in fact one of the strengths of library metadata over many new efforts, which have not yet addressed this question adequately. Standardisation has been greatly helped by authority files, which are registries of such headings. These are becoming international, and the main one now is the Library of Congress Authority file, a free version of which can be searched at DRA Web. The entry for J.K. Rowling is Rowling, J. K.. The authority file notes that this is to be used in preference to:

  • Rowling, Joanne K. (Joanne Kathleen)
  • Rowling, Jo
  • Scamander, Newt
  • Whisp, Kennilworthy
  • Roling, G’e. Ke
  • Rowlingov√°, Joanne K.
  • Roling, Dzh. K.

(Try looking at Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616). As a main entry, this heading is added to the top:

Rowling, J. K.
Harry Potter and the prisoner of Azkaban / J.K. Rowling. — London Bloomsbury, 1999. — 317 p. ; 20 cm.

Any further headings (including subject headings) are added to the bottom; the title is automatically treated as a heading.

Endoding the record in MARC

MARC originated in the 70s primarily as an exchange and publishing format (rather than necessarily as a cataloguing tool). It split into various versions (e.g. UKMARC, USMARC, and UNIMARC. These are now starting to unite again as MARC21, which is basically a revised version of USMARC. MARC uses numbered fields for various parts of the record, and lettered subfields for smaller parts of the record. Strange things called indicators give more information about fields. For instance, the 260 fields holds the publication information, in which subfield a holds the place, subfield b holds the publisher, and subfield c the date. The Harry Potter record in MARC21 looks something like this:

	100 1_ a Rowling, J. K.
	245 10 a Harry Potter and the prisoner of Azkaban /
	         J.K. Rowling.
	260 __ a London 
	       b Bloomsbury,
	       c 1999.
	300 __ a 317 p. ;
	       c 20 cm. 
	

Notice how the AACR2 punctuation is retained in the MARC record. In the 260 field, the distinction between the place, publisher, and date is effectively maintained in two different ways by punctuation, and by subfield names, which seems a little silly.

Those are the basics: most cataloguers would also add subject headings (LCSH can be searched on the DRA Web site mentioned above) to most books, if not always to fiction, and assign classmarks, using Dewey Decimal Classification, Library of Congress Classification, or some such scheme, all of which have their own MARC fields. There is a lot more to it than this: if nothing else, I have only looked at book cataloguing. The rules are still not fully equipped to deal with videos, ebooks, CD-ROMs, websites, etc, but they are slowly getting there and can do it if required.

Next time you have a book in your hand, look behind the title page for the CIP data which may be provided: it will look like the AACR2 record above; and if you ever search a library catalogue, look for a MARC display option: it will look like the MARC record above.

Catching gangsters with tinted windows

The Liverpool Echo reports that new legislation allows the police to “purge” gangsters, who can be issued with warnings if their car’s glass is over 25% tinted, and whose cars can ultimately be crushed (via Transport Blog). I don’t know what I think about this: it makes me smile and sounds extremely entertaining, although I can’t help thinking it seems a little like victimisation. As long as they victimise genuine gangsters, then fair enough.

A scholar writes

One of the reasons moving me to collect and print the principal Phoenician Inscriptions is, that I consider the general use of the square Hebrew character joined to the general practice of writing it in the way we call ‘backwards,’ is an immense bar to the popularisation of Semitic research. For its general inconvenience this character seems to me simply detestable. Circumstances have hitherto secured for it a kind of supremacy among its congeners. What little I can do towards dethroning it I will attempt. Certainly if so inconvenient a language should much longer remain the ackowledged standard of reference for the increasing number of Semitic dialects which we group around it, the task of popularising Semitic researches will be hopeless indeed. (PhƏnician inscriptions / by Dunbar Isidore Heath. Part I. London : Quaritch, 1873). On such enlightened attitudes was our Empire built. If only the Phoenicians and Israelites had written the King’s English it would have made Semitic study so much more easy and convenient.

Railway deaths

Seven people died in the Berkshire train crash at the weekend which made headline news. Nine people die every day on average because of car accidents. From the Tranport 2000 Facts and figures section:

In 2001 the total number of casualties in road crashes in Britain was 313,309. The number of people killed was 3450, 37,110 were seriously injured and 272,749 were slightly injured. The total killed or seriously injured was 40,560. The KSI figure includes 3144 child pedestrians and 674 child cyclists. The total number of people killed in the Paddington rail crash was 31. The average number of children abducted and killed by strangers is seven a year.