Practicum days 10, 11: Cataloging

January 15, 2012

Can you say “more fun than a barrel of monkeys”?

I admit it. I’m a competitive person. Very competitive. No, don’t tell me you’re competitive. I’m more competitive than you. And than you. I’m ALL the competitiveness.

So when I started my practicum and I was told that I would have to work in two libraries because my main host library did not let students work on the catalog, the thing I wanted most in this world (aside from world peace and a pony) was to work on my host library’s catalog.

After the debacle with my second host library, and given that my original host library is interested in employing me when they have a job opening, I reminded the library director that she had mentioned the possibility of my working on correcting MARC subfield errors. She checked with the cataloger, who said she’d rather I didn’t do that. The cataloger had thought about it, and preferred —

that I catalog the English language children’s books for the Yemima Center library!

Yes, that “earthquake” which rocked the universe was a student being allowed to mess about in the catalog. And yet we didn’t beat the Mayans — the earth has yet to end.

Day 1 I did the English language kids books. And fun was had. And catalogers and staff were impressed. And a lasting impression in the catalog was made!

The second day I was given even more of a challenge — catalogs of art exhibitions.

Look at that — my work is in the catalog. Available to the public. Searched for by millions (or at least by me).

Other progress was made. I’ve become friendly with the morning guard and he now lets me into the library before 8 am. I’ve been registered as having a Cockpit account and access to Aleph 500. (Now if only the computing department would work out my user name and password so I could catalog on my own dime and not have to keep stealing the library secretary’s account. Good thing she’s so nice about it!)

Dates: Jan. 10, 12 2012
Hours: 8.5 (Jan 10), 7.5 (Jan 12)
Total hours to date: 86 hours 10 minutes

The practicum that wasn’t

January 3, 2012

So I was supposed to do my second practicum at the university library in Ariel. I’d been warned about the library by students who had worked there and even by casual hitchhikers. The reputation the library has is all the nightmare stereotypes about librarians put together, with an added dash of the icebox.

The director had asked me to come at 8 am. I’m not a morning person, but when I’m asked to show up, I do. Not only wasn’t the director in yet, she’d told no one I was expected. I waited around half an hour until I was told that she’d called and I was to work on straightening out bookshelves for four hours.

Now, we’ve been explicitly told that straightening out shelves is not what we are meant to do in our practicum. We’re there to help if we can, of course, but primarily we are there to learn.  But OK, it’s one morning, the woman has for some reason been delayed, yadda yadda.

I’m shown how to straighten the shelves (come on, teach me this? I do know that 610 comes before 610.1, which comes before 610.16. Teach your grandmother to suck eggs, mkay?) and then I learn that all the librarians are off to come conference and I’m to do the straightening myself. Anything I might have hoped to learn as incidental knowledge has just flown out the window. One of the librarians gives me the penny tour (not even the nickel tour, mind you) and decides that since we ended up on the lower level, I should start straightening there.

I’m no great housekeeper, but the dust levels in this library were ridiculous. I was wearing a jet black skirt. Without touching my skirt at any point, jut from what fell off the few books I had to rearrange, this is what my skirt looked like after 10 minutes. That white is not a photographic artifact; that’s all dust.

There were cobwebs that literally covered two shelves, top to bottom, side to side. I ended up borrowing the cleaning lady’s broom to sweep those away, because I wasn’t going to reach through with the spider still sitting there in the middle of her web!

At 10 am the director sent someone to call me up to her office. She spends most of the time telling me how much she hated learning in the program I’m in now and also tells me that HR hasn’t yet authorized my being in the library for a practicum. (Remember — she’s the one who told me to come in today!) But since I’m here already, I shouldn’t waste my [20 minute] drive; I should stay and do 9 hours of shelf organizing (out of 50 which are supposed to be devoted to cataloging, classification, and acquisitions).

I went back downstairs and sent my practicum adviser a frantic email. (Thank heavens for smartphones.) There was no way I was going to survive 9 hours of this! Within a half hour she emails me back that she’ll find me an alternate placement, and as I’m writing her a thank you she calls me to tell me to get out of Dodge.

Never have I been so happy to leave a library in my life!

When I compare it to Beit Berl, the contrast is amazing. There I had the sense that the librarians wanted to know what I knew and what I could do so they could challenge me while giving me tasks which would serve the library’s needs. Here no one asked me anything; I had no sense that communications of input from me was required or requested. I’m usually Bouncy Betty, eager to have work thrown at me, and here I was working slowly, ignoring mistakes I saw that weren’t what I’d been asked to do (like a Cutter being פלי when the rest of the volumes in the series, by the same author, were פיל).

Tomorrow I have a meeting with the director of the Beit Berl library to sum up my practicum there. I had been planning on bringing cookies with me for the librarians. After today I’m so appreciative of them I decided to add homemade pomegranate jam-filled dark chocolates just to show them how much I’ll miss them.

Practicum Days 7, 8, & 9: Periodicals

January 2, 2012

Back to Periodicals for the rest of my practicum at Beit Berl. Second verse same as the first, so I’ll just list the highlights:

  • Finding an article ILLed from Belgium that no one else could find because the librarian who sent the request gave all the details — only he gave the wrong details. Me, I know from nothing, so when I was told the article couldn’t be found in the journal “Leshoneynu Le’am” I did what a lot of students did over the course of my work in the reference room — I looked in the journal “Leshoneynu” — et viola.  There it was. ILL customer and library staff happy.
  • Lots of distance reference:
    • School drop-outs amongst Bedouin
    • influence of life experience on math teachers
    • Arab society: dating with chronic diseases
    • comparison of teacher attitudes to curricula and lesson plans: special ed and regular ed
    • List of works by/about Zalman Errane

I also learned how new volumes are incorporated into the collection, both in terms of processing and decisions about shelf space. I was supposed to continue my main reading room work of checking syllabi, but there was no time. I’ve been told use of library is steadily increasing, and based on what I’ve seen during my practicum, it’s increasing by leaps and bounds.

I also taught one of the main reading room librarians how to make the salted chocolates she loves but can’t find in Israel. Yes, I’m a full service librarian.

The main project I worked on was updating the database of MA, MED, and PHD dissertations the library holds and preparing a subject-based index for the holdings. The original index was very good, but very un-automated: heading were applied as character styles instead of heading styles, the TOC was created by hand and not automatically, the TOC was not linked to the relevant section of the document, etc. So I reformatted the whole thing and brought us almost up-to-date. One of the problems of a practicum is that you have such limited hours; you find yourself leaving projects in the middle.

But a really good thing happened: all the librarians with whom I worked liked me, both as a librarian and as part of the team. They asked if I wouldn’t like to work in the library and I answered that of course I would, but one of the rules f Fight Club is that you don’t ask the library director about Fight Club, so I couldn’t talk about employment. Three of them made an end run around me and talked to the director, who called me in for a talk, with the upshot being that there will be a job available when I finish my studies and if I’m still looking for work then, I’ll be at the top of the candidate list. So I’ll keep my fingers crossed. (Of course, it’ll be hard to write my term papers that way…)

And so I leave Beit Berl. Tomorrow I start the second half of my practicum, which is supposed to focus on cataloging, at the university in Ariel. It’s a very different atmosphere. I gave someone a lift home today and she told me she studies in Ariel. I told her I was going to the library in the morning and she told me, in a voice full of pity, “Good luck. You’ll need it.”

Not that I’m apprehensive or homesick for the Beit Berl Library already. No. [Runs off to sob into pillow]

Dates: December 26 & 29, 2011, Jan. 2, 2012
Hours: 7 (Dec. 26) 7.5 (Dec. 29) 7/5 (Jan 2)
Total hours to date: 70 hours 10 minutes

Practicum Days 5 & 6: General Reading Room

December 20, 2011

Days 5 & 6 were spent working all day (8 am – 6:45 pm) in the main reading room.

In many ways it was similar to what I had done in the periodicals room, mainly because students don’t seem to grasp the difference between the two areas: periodicals only has periodicals and databases, the main reading room only has books and databases.

Along with helping students and climbing endless stairs to the galleries (where we keep the 500-end of the DDC books — and why are we not handicapped and high-heel-wearing-librarian accessible?) I also did a lot of distance reference, went over syllabi for the spring semester to make sure we had all the relevant books and journals in the library and on the shelves in sufficient quantities. I also did some of my “information officer” magic by calling on contacts outside Libraryland for help when a search came up dry (a client who does psychoeducational assessments would know the relevant professional literature and confirmed that the reason we found none in English is because none exists on that particular topic.)   One night none of the usual librarians had evening shift; the cataloger replaced them. She and I spoke of matter internet and catalog; I helped her sign up for the Autocat mailing list and introduced her to Librarian Wardrobe (and the the phenomenon of tumblr in general).  In return, she taught me how to process Elchanan Adler’s error reports from ULI bound cataloging records.

Dates: December 19 & December 22, 2011
Hours: 10 hours, 45 minutes (each)
Total hours to date: 48 hours, 10 minutes

Practicum Days 3&4:Periodicals/Reference

December 18, 2011

I’m beginning to hit my stride and my milestones. Of the 70 hours I am to do at Beit Berl, I’ve finished 26.5, and I’ve progressed to the point where I’m not only allowed to do real work, but I’ve been left in charge of a reading room on more than one occasion.

After finishing my day in Cataloging I was to follow the progress of the books into the general reading room, but the head of reader services (who also works part-time in the cataloging department. Can you say dream job?) was not at her extension when the library director wanted to set up the next step of my practicum, so I was sent to the periodicals reading room instead. It was probably best all around, as one of the periodicals librarians was going to be out one day and another day was going to be fully engaged in at her second task, inter-library loans (everyone at the library seems to have two roles), so I got to fill in for her as second chair at the periodicals reference desk.

After a short introduction to the catalogs and the way to use them in reader services I was off, helping students during peak hours. There were two students I helped over the course of an hour or more, helping them make sense of the references their lecturer gave them, find the periodicals, access the e-journals, print and photocopy, even find books on the topics they were researching. It was a great feeling when they thanked me sincerely. I rarely get thanked working as a solo librarian.

Other things I got to do over the two days I worked periodicals:

  • Compare a print journal and its electronic version to see if the two were identical so that the print holding could be removed from the collection. Found that of the 5 issues, 2 had significant amounts of copy missing from the electronic version and so recommended that those issues of the print holding be kept.
  • Built an Excel sheet to replace a destroyed Access database to keep track of periodicals sent to the bindery.
  • Researched a report for the library director on distance reference services in Israel and overseas.
  • Researched a difficult reference question which was referred to the distance service because it took hours to find any results, and I had to use databases which are not on the Beit Berl library’s website list.  (See my day in Acquisitions for thoughts about going outside LibraryLand resources.)

I also read a lot of training materials, watched and discussed a lot of administrative duties, and ghosted a training session for students. In that training session I saw the two students from way up at the top of this post and I made sure they had found everything they needed the week before and encouraged them to come by any time they had an information need the library could fill. They remembered me and thanked me again.

When I met with the library director she wasn’t entirely certain how I’d fill the rest of my 70 hours, but I’ve already been asked to come back to periodicals for at least one more day so the ILL librarian can take care of end-of-year business. I’ll take that as a compliment.

Today, I conquered periodicals. Tomorrow, the world (or at least the main reading room — one of their librarians is on vacation so I’ll fill in for her as I did in periodicals).

Dates: December 11 & December 18, 2011
Hours: 8 hours each day, 16 hours total

Total hours to date: 26 hours, 40 minutes

Practicum Day 2: Cataloguing

December 18, 2011

As opposed to my stint in Acquisitions, during which I learned but I can’t say I had fun, I had a better time than I expected during my day in Cataloging.

The library director told me that my day in Cataloging (which also includes classification and indexing) would be much like my day in Acquisitions. If it was important not to let a novice make costly errors in Acquisitions, it was trebly so in the public face of the library, the catalog.

I started the morning with an explanation of how the catalog works in Aleph 500, starting from the basic entry created by the Acquisitions department. I think the cataloger was prepared for the standard library school student and was ready to explain what MARC fields are; I hope she was pleasantly surprised to find that I knew the basic fields and most of the indicators/subfields within the fields. It certainly made the teaching time shorter and more pleasant and led to the day being a lot more fun for me. Soon she was showing me how she catalogs, classifies, and indexes a book, and we were happily trading 008s and 040s and 651s and $a and $z and 04s.

Early on in the day I learned a very important trick which boosted my confidence about cataloging in Hebrew no end.

In Hebrew many words have alternate spellings, either defective or plene (inclusive or exclusive of matres lectionis).  Standard policy until recently was that all bibliographic datasources — indices and catalogs — used defective spelling, without matres lectionis. Recently the trend has swung the other way, perhaps as a result of computerization and the increased use of these datasources by the public, who don’t want to be bothered with remembering what letters are included in defective spelling and what aren’t — they just want to type the word and find the result as easily as they do in Google. Since I’m not a native Hebrew speaker and I disliked my grade school Hebrew grammar teacher, I have no inborn sense of when a letter is just a letter and when it’s serving as a matre lectionis. But wonder of wonders — the cataloger showed me that she searches the National Library catalog and copies their spelling. I can do that!

I was surprised by how much copy cataloging there was, but in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been. In class we’re always being told to check the National Library, Bar Ilan, or Haifa University. I suppose I should have been surprised that there isn’t more consortia cataloging; each university and college catalogs on its own, and if they want to copy from each other, it is their own private secret. There is a national control, with Prof. Elchanan Adler sending libraries error reports before the local cataloging is passed over to the OCLC. (A side note — Prof. Adler is my hero, because like me he’s an American who came to Israel as an adult. Unlike me, he had a rock solid knowledge of LIS and of Hebrew grammar before he arrived. Well, I can try my best, can’t I?)

After I watched and listened to explanations of how the new books were cataloged and showed that I had some knowledge and was quick to learn, we moved on to taking care of corrections. Because of the move to plene spelling in place of defective, many books have had to be pulled from the shelves to correct author surnames. The classic exaample, taught in most of our classes, is the author Amos Oz. In Hebrew he spells his name עוז (which translates to “strength”), but since the ו us a matre lectionis, it was removed in defective spelling, leaving him עז (which translated to “goat”). As there is time in the cataloging schedule, authors like Oz are being allowed by the catalog to spell their names as they wish. However, that means books have to be pulled from shelves and re-Cuttered. At the same time, problems with the MARC coding and incomplete indexing is being fixed.

As I was not allowed to touch the catalog, what the cataloger very generously did was sit by her computer while I worked with the book, telling her which fields needed to be fixed and what fix needed to be made. In addition, she asked my opinion about some topics that arose in the indexing, such as a change from change 651 to 610 for concentration camps & ghettos and adding in English terms (LCSH) to match the Hebrew index terms.

I think I could happily catalog all day. There’s a level of precision demanded that satisfies me, and I’m used to working alone, in silence. Until I worked the reference desk, I was certain cataloging was where I’d try to get a job; now I know I’d be happy there, but I no longer feel it’s my only real option.

I’ll be doing another round of cataloging when I start the second section of my practicum in a different academic library where they will let me work in the catalog. It will be interesting to look back on this entry and see if my impressions still hold true.

Date: December 1, 2011
Hours: 6 hrs, 50 minutes
Total hours to date: 10 hours, 40 minutes

Practicum Day 1: Acquisitions

December 18, 2011

Since I’m basically following the progress of the book in our college library as the course of my practicum, my first stop was Acquisitions. In some ways it was the department that I’ve learned the most from (4 days and 3 departments into my practicum) and in some the least.

To start with the negative: Acquisitions is serious business. There was no way they were letting some student with no experience touch their acquisitions, and rightfully so. I got to sit on the side and watch as the two acquisitions staff did their work, but I didn’t actually get to do anything. As a kinetic learner, that meant that I took the least away from this department.

To continue to the positive: I’m learning collection development this semester, and a lot of the theory makes much more sense now that I’ve spent a day with the practical side of acquisitions.

What I did: First I had a talk with the head of the department, who explained how she goes about deciding what to buy for the library, based on syllabi, lecturer recommendations, area literature, and publishers’ catalogs. She also went through the physical process, showing me the Acquisitions module of Aleph 500 (Ex Libris). All books for the system of libraries (the main library, the pedagogical center, the arts college, and the Yemima Center for Children’s Literature) are bought by the central acquisitions department. Because of language issues, the Arab library does its own acquisitions, cataloging, and reference work — in most ways, it’s the one completely independent library, though it is housed in the main library building.

From there I went to shadow the English-language acquisitions process, learning how to check if the lecturer-requested book is the latest version, how  decisions are made about which supplier to use, how to check whether an authorized supplier really can get a book that appears back-ordered or whether the idea is a dud. Along the way I learned a lot about how budgets are actually spent in the library, international shipping, international credit, and how to fudge both of those issues. I also was taught how to make a basic listing in the cataloging module of Aleph 500, because acquisitions opens the entry using the ordering information and website for their own uses; the entry is later corrected and improved based on the book in hand.

My last stop for the day was the Hebrew acquisitions staff member, who had saved books which had been delivered so I could see the process  they went through after it has been decided upon, purchased, and delivered. In this step of the process basic cataloging takes place based on the item in hand — title, subtitle, author, etc. and the system is checked to see if the book is already in the catalog. If it is, the DDC number and Cutter are written in the book and the book is sent directly to have a bar code printed and affixed prior to shelving. Whether it is or is not, an item number is assigned to each copy of the book and written in Aleph and in the book, all stamps are stamped into the book, and a due date page is added. Books which were not previously in the college catalog are then walked over to cataloging (it’s a small office), which was my next stop.

I found it interesting that Acquisitions was the one department which used datasources outside LibraryLand — Google and commercial websites. It didn’t surprise me to hear that though the department head is a trained librarian with decades of experience, the other two staff members are not librarians and came from fields far removed from LIS. I see that I tend to use external datasources more readily and more frequently than the librarians I know; it seems to be a different way of looking at data and its source of authority. I hope that as I continue my training and gain experience I maintain the flexibility I have in finding data without becoming tunnel-visioned.

Date: November 29, 2011
Hours in department:
Total hours: 3.5

Practicum 1: Introduction

December 9, 2011

To get a government license as a librarian in Israel, one must do 160 hours of practicum. Of that, 40 hours are field trips to see different kinds of libraries, with groups discussions afterwards. (We’ve visited large public library systems, the National Library, a prison library, etc.) The other 120 hours are done in a host library, getting a taste and overview of an entire system.

After looking at my resume, my GPA, and my talents, the lecturers in charge of placements decided that my best chance of employment would be in a academic library. They were probably right — I’ve interviewed at public libraries and was told that it would be a waste for me to work in reader services because I could “do so much more”.  (They don’t offer me a job doing what they think I can do, or even bother telling me what they see me as, but…) A library that would like to hire me if they could get a budget for additional staff tells me they know it’s only temporary, until I move onto something “better.”

I’ll be doing my 120 in two different libraries, a 70/50 split, because there are things the primary library will not allow student librarians to do, such acquisitions and cataloging. The first 70 hours will be at the library at the college where I am studying LIS, Beit Berl. The other 50 hours will be done at the Ariel University Center of Samaria.

In Beit Berl I will be doing my practicum hours following the progress of a book through the library — acquisitions, cataloging/classification, reader services and reference, and then the special offices like inter-library loans.

#CPD23 Thing 23: The Librarian in the Mirror

October 17, 2011

So, on to the final Thing in CPD23, and time to reflect on what I’ve learned and look ahead to where I want to go.

What I’ve learned can be summed up in my 6 word story: new apps + cool colleagues = better librarian.

I was familiar with most of the apps we Thinged. (Yes, that is a word. Even if verbing weirds nouns.) A minority I didn’t know, but I knew and used equivalents. As in library school, the CIT portion was my secret super-power. But the colleagues I met while using the applications were, for me, the real benefit of the program. My RSS feed and Twitter lists are now bulging with good sources of information whose links I follow up on as a sort of every-day CPD mini-program, and that’s a habit I plan to maintain. (Thankfully, it’s easier to stick to than my post-holiday lose 3 kilo plan.)

My biggest change in the wake of CPD23 is that I realized that though my library school has no formal mentoring program I could create my own by getting my lecturers enthused about my career potential. Over the summer I did this and will soon be starting my internship a year early. My goals for the coming year (along with trying to keep up my GPA as well as I can) are to learn the Aleph catalog system and how to work with patrons and by the end of the year to have landed a part-time library job , preferably in an academic library.

And now, off to my two weeks of summer vacation!

#CPD Things 21 & 22: Giving to Get

October 10, 2011

The whole question of library jobs and library job interviews is one I’m seriously considering right now,because I’d like to transition from my information professional job into a mix of part-time library work and part time information work. After 14 years, I need a change, but library work doesn’t pay as well as information work, so it can only be a partial change at this point.

In considering the kind of work I would both be good a (and thus of value to my employers) and would enjoy, I’ve been gravitating toward academic libraries. I prefer working with slightly older people and I get along best with the 20-30 age group that is usually in those libraries. My knowledge of English would be a real asset as would my command of computer applications, social media, cataloging skills, and history of teaching college-age students, and my ability to think on my feet and learn quickly wouldn’t hurt.

The big thing I’m missing, which is a must in an academic library, is knowledge of the Aleph (Ex Libris) system.

Which is where volunteering comes in. This summer I volunteered to create and catalog a music collection in a public library, which gave me an opportunity to learn issues involved in cataloging special collections, music, keywords, quick searches for information to add to the records, and a very thorough intro to the proclivities of the Agron system. Lots of that can carry over to Aleph, but it’s not enough.

Last week I had my pre-semester meeting with my faculty. She was joking with me that I work too hard and ought to take time off, read a book. “I don’t read books, I catalog them,” I said, and when she laughed, I told her that I was serious, that I spent my summer vacation cataloging and that I wanted to apply for academic jobs but have neither the certificate (well, duh — that’s why I’m in school) nor that one crucial qualification.

Long story short, my schedule was rearranged so at the end of this school year I’ll be able to have my government certification as a librarian (and spend the last year getting the information certificate) and they are arranging for me to volunteer, with supervision, in an academic library, so that within a few months I can start applying for jobs and be able to say that I have the proper qualifications or as near enough as does not matter.

Volunteering works — it’s often the only way to get the experience needed to get a job, And tooting your own horn, in a  modest fashion, works wonders, too.

By this time next year I expect I’ll have at least a part time library job, mainly due to volunteering. And I’ll blog about it when I do.