The Library Oath

With all respect and modesty to George R.R. “Just get Off Yer Arse and Finish the Damn Book Already” Martin . . . this is what happens when Emma and I start trading GOT signals at work and begin discussing the Circ desk as if it’s a wall 700 feet high, made of ice:

Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall educate people, answer any question, and read to children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my reference desk. I am the candle in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the knowledge of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Library, for this night and all the nights to come.

—The Library Oath

The spooky thing is that it only took a few minutes to adapt the original. Now I just need to get a bunch of t-shirts printed with this and show up at ALA Mid-Winter.

Lunar Calendar Silly

Since today is Chinese/Lunar New Year’s Day, and this is the year of the Horse according to the Chinese zodiac, and my editor just brought Three’s advertisement to my attention, here’s a bit of horsey silliness to start your day.

But since we still work in libraries, here’s a bit of library silliness to go with it: some astounding book sculptures by artist Terry Border.

So Happy New Year if you’re of a mind to observe it (I was raised near and now work in proximity to Manhattan’s Chinatown, so it’s hard for me not to), and Happy Friday if you aren’t. It’s all good.

7 Uses I Can Think of for Google Glass

Google Glass just got some cool new glasses frames. This is a nice development, especially for those of us who are visually challenged enough to need prescription lenses.

Beyond the fashion sense (or lack thereof) involved in this, I decided that while the gizmo itself is still a bit on the goofy side, it became something to lust after when combined with a real-world application (read, “sight”). That led me to wonder whether it was being used in libraries. And that led me to to do a bit of searching to find that yes, indeed, libraries are putting the tools to the test:

Library Journal has this report concerning the uses that Colorado’s Arapahoe Library District has put their new equipment to, while OEDb managed to think of 6 things libraries can do with Google Glass. Meanwhile the folks at Claremont Colleges Library haven’t actually begun to use their new equipment but they are gearing up for an exploration of its uses a bit later this spring.

While I’m not a GG developer and the technical facets of developing for this type of tech are beyond me (for now), I do have a list of tings I’d ultimately like to see Google Glass do:

1. Call Number Linking: At the moment we have StackMap installed on our online catalog. It’s helpful, but it’s tough to carry a monitor off to the stacks with you. . Why can’t location maps be projected on a Glass screen that leads you to the correct shelf?

2. RFID Linking: Scan a bar code with your eyes and watch the ILS register a checkout or a discharge.

3. Combine BookMyne with Google Glass: Since BookMyne is a SirsiDynix product (which allows you to search the online catalog from a iOS or Android powered device) you’d have to substitute your own vendor’s equivalent, but I think the application is there. The utility of building a similar type of functionality into Google Glass should be obvious.

4. Metadata Scanning: point Google Glass at a shelf of books that have been tagged with RFID sensors (or, since we’re talking about optical recognition technology, possibly just a call number tag) and watch the title, author, and borrowing history flow past your eyes. There’s no reason to stop there, either. If a book isn’t available you should be able to shoot an e-mail request for it or place it on hold with a spoken command.

5. Inventory Control: Metadata scanning taken to the umpteenth degree. The only difference would be the scale of the project. Except in this case, you’d scan a shelf of books visually and log them as ON SHELF. 30,000 print items in an hour? With a few people and the right tools, why not?

6. HelpDesk: Google Glass can already send e-mail; having the institution help desk on speed dial and a built in metadata cache fill in appropriate data about the nature of the request should be elementary.

7. Self-help instructional videos from the user’s POV: This should be a no-brainer, and it’s one of the uses that OEDb has already described in their blog post.

I’m sure there are other uses, but these are what come to mind as I go over my daily grind in tech services. I comprehend that this is a bucket list; I have no clue what level of attention SirsiDynix or other ILS vendors are planning to unleash on Google Glass, if any. But  I think that these are natural things to wish and work for as we progress from handheld devices into handless ones. The vendor that provides these new tools will clean up. It’s that simple.

Something to think about.

Neil Gaiman Envisions a Future With Libraries

The wild and wacky world of the RFID gates gets ever stranger.

The short version is that a technician will be in today to attempt to finish the work last week’s technician began. The gates have some tracking ability but still do not alarm when a book passes through them. This after the new part we received was installed and the gear tested remotely by one of their better developers.

The long version is that I got one of the vendor’s troubleshooters to remotely log in to the gate reader. There is a possibility the gates need to be replaced. There is a possibility that our gate management software needs to be replaced. It is definite that a number of applications we’ve been running are no longer supported by the vendor. (The CircControl app we’ve been using is among these. Nice of them to tell us, huh?)

I’ve set up an appointment for them to log in with the developer that we’ve been regularly communicating with on problems concerning the gates, and they will do a complete test of everything we have installed.

There are days when I question why I bother to come to work.

In the meantime, this wonderful essay by Neil Gaiman on the future of libraries has been making the rounds of my social media networks. It deserves your full attention. Especially this bit:

I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons – a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn’t read. And certainly couldn’t read for pleasure.

It’s not one to one: you can’t say that a literate society has no criminality. But there are very real correlations.

And I think some of those correlations, the simplest, come from something very simple. Literate people read fiction.

Fiction has two uses. Firstly, it’s a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if it’s hard, because someone’s in trouble and you have to know how it’s all going to end … that’s a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, you’re on the road to reading everything. And reading is key. There were noises made briefly, a few years ago, about the idea that we were living in a post-literate world, in which the ability to make sense out of written words was somehow redundant, but those days are gone: words are more important than they ever were: we navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto the web, we need to follow, to communicate and to comprehend what we are reading. People who cannot understand each other cannot exchange ideas, cannot communicate, and translation programs only go so far.

The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.

I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children. Every now and again it becomes fashionable among some adults to point at a subset of children’s books, a genre, perhaps, or an author, and to declare them bad books, books that children should be stopped from reading. I’ve seen it happen over and over; Enid Blyton was declared a bad author, so was RL Stine, so were dozens of others. Comics have been decried as fostering illiteracy.

His response: Bah! There are no bad books, there is nothing below one’s reading level, and there is no book that cannot be taught as an act of literary statement.

Read fiction. Read it all. Enjoy every moment. Encourage others to do that same.

On the days I wonder why I bother, this is why I keep showing up.

Read the whole thing here.

Monday Cancelled Due to RFID Fail

Our RFID system is a bit of Hell in a small package. When it works properly, which just lately has been less and less often, it acts like an automated kiosk combined with a robotic guard dog.

The gates guard the entrance to the library; they are connected to the internet with an Ethernet cable. Matching gate tracking software supplied by the vendor and installed on our circ PC tracks comings and goings. If a bo0ok is properly checked out via the circ computers, the gate reads an active tag and doesn’t go off. If the tag was improperly scanned or something similar, it reads an inactive tag and goes off.

This is standard stuff. Or, it should be.

Two weeks ago, the gates started sounding and nothing would make them stop. We pulled out the plug and the gates stopped, but when we plugged them back in five minutes later, they refused to go off for any reason.

E-mails were written, phone calls were made. A new gate part was sent over. A tech guy was sent over this morning to install it. I’ve worked with the vendor’s tech staff for three years and they know their stuff.

But Gate Guy doesn’t work for the gate vendor–he’s a subcontractor. So now that he’s here, he needs to get instructions from the vendor. That takes three phone calls, the draining of his cell phone battery and finally, a conversation with the guy at the vendor I generally talk to for gate related issues anyway. Finally, this is lower Manhattan and Gate Guy has the equipment truck with him, but his parking spot runs out at noon and he needs to find another one.

Finally, Gate Guy has found out that the part the vendor sent over as a replacement is not the same part which is inside the gate.


I’ll let you know.


Update: 3.44pm

Better news. The gates now have limited functionality, in that they can see (by way of the gate tracker software) tagged objects nearby, but still can’t sound the alarm.  That means another visit by another Gate Guy . . . kill me. Please.

Finally, a Library Display

As you surmised from the title of this post, I owe you a library display. Here you go.


The theme for October was “Monsters: Real & Imagined” so we worked to find a selection that we felt was worthy of the idea.

The obvious choices included the historical references: biographies of Joe Stalin, Adolf Hitler, and Mao Tse-Tung were inevitable, as were the books on applied psychopathy (People of the Lie by M. Scott Peck, and The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein, among others.) Haunted, by Chuck Palaniuk actually dealt with ghosts, and Grimoires, by Owen Davies, dealt with the practice of harvesting them in fact and legend. Monsters in America, by W. Scott Poole, deals with the American obsession with ghouls, ghosts, and assorted beasties. Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein, and Judith Halberstam’s Skin Shows deal with gothic horror and the technology of monsters.



I’m particularly proud of the title card:


There’s some duplication here: Stalin, Hitler, and Mao, for example. Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter was a nice touch, though I think Brian Cox did a decent job of playing the same character in Manhunter.

Classic monsters from the 1930s on the left (note the closeup of Karloff as Frankenstein on the right), followed by zombie art. Personally, I didn’t think that Bernie Madoff belonged among serials killers, but I wasn’t prepared to argue, either.

I can’t take credit for including Toshiro from The Grudge, Michael Meyers from Halloween, or Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance from The Shining (that goes to Kate with some backup from Emma) but I did insist on using Heath Ledger’s Joker. Not to detract from Mark Hamill’s career as the voice of the Joker, but Ledger’s Joker scares the crap out of me.

Emma insisted on including Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford, and we all agreed on including Charlize Theron as Aileen Wournos from Monster. And the creepy little girl with the explosion in the background has been making the rounds on the intarwebs; it seemed wrong to exclude her.

Tomorrow, I’ll post my notes from last week’s SirsiDynix NYC User’s group meeting.

Your Monday Dirt Pile

Here it is . . .

Pile o dirtI apologize for the crappy quality of the graphic, my phone is due for an update but you get the idea.

This particular pile appears on the corner of Canal Street as it intersects Varick Street in lower Manhattan. It’s not huge but it’s noticeable and it’s less than 200 feet from the front door of the building in which I work. It’s not even very tall as dirt piles go . . . 4 feet or so.

What amazes me about it, besides the fact that no pedestrian I saw on my way to work even noticed this thing except to walk around it, is that there’s no indication of how it arrived. There’s no ripped up pavement, no ditches, no uncovered pipes or gas tubes. There are no tire marks from where a truck would have had to pass. Nothing.

Are drive-by dumpings a thing now? I hadn’t heard.

I think it effectively symbolizes the beginning of the second week of the government shutdown. And on that topic, I direct you to this report from Inside Higher Education which describes just how the shutdown is affecting ongoing research efforts in the U.S.

In short:

In addition to forcing the closure of government buildings  where research is conducted — such as the Library of Congress and presidential libraries — the shutdown was also cutting off access to myriad electronic resources on which many researchers depend. Websites that were not operational included those of the Library of Congress, the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Science Foundation, the Bureau of Economic Analysis at the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the Education Department’s research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences.

PubMed, a free repository of biomedical and life science research maintained by the National Institutes of Health, was operational but a notice on the site warned users that it would not be updated during the shutdown.

Researchers who had traveled to Washington for the purpose of using federal resources to advance their work said they were frustrated by the shutdown.

When a pile of dirt drops randomly out of the sky, you know that things are falling apart.

On a more positive note, I’m going through the manuscript of my wife’s second zombie novel, and to be honest, it’s pretty neat. She’s expecting a publication date later this month. I will, of course, let you know when that happens. And the first book remains available to readers of stout heart and strong stomach on Amazon.

Happy Monday.

Looking for a New Director

I’ve been away, mentally, at least.

Work has consumed pretty much every erg of mental energy I had to give, and squeezing that last few thousand words out of Book 3 of the Blockade has taken the rest, so blogging has taken the hit. It didn’t help that my editor recently introduced me to EVE Online, a sci-fi MMPORG which can be an amazing time sink.

Let’s just call it incredibly busy. (Except for the EVE parts. Okay, that’s not true . . . EVE takes a mental effort in a way that WOW or SW:TOR didn’t, but I’ll post something about that at a future date.)

There are a number of projects under way which are making us a tad nuts. The school we share shelf space with is moving away and taking their stuff with them. We have a metric ton of old reserve materials to hunt down, update, re-catalog, or delete from the ILS, as the case may be. The ILS itself is due for a major overhaul or possibly a migration to something else–I’ve taken quite a liking to the parts of OCLC Worldshare I’ve seen, for example–in the next year or two.

On top of that, we are now looking for a new library director. If you think you have the chops for the post, here is the job description that was recently posted, and you can forward your application here. (Good luck.)

I mostly just wanted to apologize for not being around more. Back to Tuesday and Thursday posts. Promise.


Bush Presidential Library Opens

The George W. Bush presidential Library opened last week. The reviews were both mixed and predictable:

The Nation lamented the “collective amnesia” of the exhibit, while USA Today compared the physical space to other similar venues, and also took a look inside.

The New York Times pointed out up front that “[i]f every memoirist is the star of his own story, every president is the hero of his own library,” before going on to say that oh yeah, Bill Clinton did the same thing and Obama probably will, too.

The Washington Post didn’t produce an article per se (not that I found) but did liven the coverage up with a lovely 26-color slide show.

The Houston Chronicle stopped at publishing a total puff piece but still managed to maintain a subtext of “Good Old Boy Elected President, Loves America, Repels Muslim Hordes.”

The Huffington Post even did a piece on Bush’s public outpouring of emotion at the ceremony, but then took the opportunity to say that not everyone shared that view (“Protesters Gather Outside George W. Bush Presidential Library Ceremony.”)

Ultimately I think Jon Stewart and Tim Naftali tapped closest to the vein here with the former’s “Disasterpiece Theater” coverage and the latter’s column, “Presidential Libraries are Educational Centers, Not Shrines.”

It goes without saying that the office of President is a managed position. There are crowds of people telling him the details of what’s going on in every corner of the country and globe, and recommending courses of action to him. Bush was no different, but he may have been the most micro-managed president in American history; I’ll leave that to history to judge (and so far, Uncle Dick Cheney looks like the Acting Guy in Charge, at least regarding foreign policy in the Middle east from 2001-2008.) Additionally, the Bush family has lived for generations surrounded by a great deal of private money which generally gets what it wants. Regardless of the veto power the National Archives has over the content of the Bush Library–over the loud objections of the Bush Foundation–congress has made these very public venues more vulnerable to private money. That’s a reason to be wary of who co-funds them and why.

In any case, read Tim Naftali’s column and know that the Dear Leader syndrome of recent American Presidential politics rolls merrily on.


Lessons From a Batchload Reclamation Project: Part 2

Uploading our catalog’s export to the tech folks at Serials Solutions was uneventful. Their alert that they could see the data in the records was welcome. Their notation that there were no location holdings in them was easy to rectify: I just had to make sure that the “Export 999 field” check box in the Export Records menu of the Utility Module in Symp0hony Workflows was checked on the next go-around.

At some point however, I checked the boxes above and below it as well. The former exported the junk tags; harmless for most purposes, useful for a few. I didn’t think they were really necessary for either project, but figured better too much information than too little and I checked it.

At some point, I checked a box that was marked “Export Symphony catalog key to MARC tag 001″. Now, if you use Workflows and have checked that box yourself while exporting records, you can probably see where this is going. For everyone else, here’s the situation.

We uploaded the exported files to OCLC. They processed the data as we’d arranged in our paperwork and posted the files to their web page. You click the link, download the file, and read it back to your ILS.

Except our files didn’t reload.

I decided that I needed to take a look at the records themselves and wanted to do so within OCLC Connexion Client. I’d been trained to use Client as a primary cataloging tool by my former boss at NYAM and had trained the cataloging staff here how to use it as well. It felt familiar. In there, I felt that I could troubleshoot matters more effectively than I might otherwise.  But I didn’t want to import a ginormous file into it.

So I explained the situation to the staff at OCLC’s batchload desk and they were happy to break the files up into smaller chunks, each one with a maximum size of 9,000 files (Connexion Client has a maximum of 9,999 records per file and I wanted a buffer.)

I downloaded the new files. I saw everything that we’d sent, and everything that OCLC had done. The OCLC control numbers were indeed in their 035 fields. Our local control number tags were in their own 035 fields.  What I didn’t see anywhere were the Sirsi control tags in 035 fields.

Unfortunately, I didn’t know how important that was at the time. I have since learned that in a properly created export file, Workflows adds its own control number to a new 035 field in each record specifically so that you can match on that number when you re-import the records.

What I did know was that the records refused to load. I tried using the 020 to match on the ISBN number . . . that worked, but it also created a load of duplicated records that did no one any good at all and which were later deleted.

I tried matching on the vendor 001. No go.

I tried matching on the OCLC 035. No joy.

I tried matching on the (non-existent) Sirsi 035 a few times. Nada.

I tried matching on the 245 but that created a similar problem to the attempt to match on the 020: titles matched but duplicated records rather than replacing and updating them. So that didn’t work.

In between all these attempts to use the data I’d exported, OCLC was insisting that I was doing something wrong and Sirsi was telling me that OCLC had wrecked our data.

Finally, I arranged a phone conference with Sirsi’s senior analyst and had him log in remotely to my PC to see what he could see. The punchline was this: you remember that check box that exported the catalog key to the 001? That should not have been checked. Catalog keys cannot be used as matching points on a Bibload report in Workflows.

In other words, I had 129,000 records of garbage.


Sometimes the best thing to hear is that you’ve screwed up. It frees you to trash what you’ve done and start again from the beginning. So I did.

This time, I made sure that the catalog keys were not exported to the 001. I made sure the export files were no more than 9,000 records long. I made sure that each file was checked in Connexion Client before I uploaded it to OCLC’s server. I made sure the file names had the correct syntax.

On top of this, OCLC very graciously re-processed our data for free, owing to the fact that the project was still current and that the result had been a case of garbage-in-garbage-out.

This time when the files came back, they uploaded perfectly and updated our original records without problems. That done, I re-exported another set of records for Serials Solutions and their metadata people will work on that shortly.

So. The takeaway:

1. I don’t care what The Cult of Done Manifesto says, pretending you know what you’re doing is not almost as good as knowing. There is no substitute for hands-on experience. Do as much research as you want, but getting your arm stuck in the machinery and pulling a bloody stump out is an effective lesson all its own.

2. Cataloging and Systems Librarianship are like hiking and swimming: both are useful skills, but hardly interchangeable.  Catalogers don’t do systems work and the systems folks can’t catalog. Luckily there enough of us accidental systems librarians out there that we can get the requisite work completed, if not always as quickly as we’d planned for.

3. Experts are experts in their systems, not each others. Which means that . . .

4. Experts will blame each others systems for what goes wrong.

5. Ask for a favor. You might be surprised, as I was when OCLC told me they would re-run the project at no additional cost. And finally . . .

6. Fixing it makes everything that came before before seem better.

These are things to remember for future projects.

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