Cataloging, Tagging, and LibraryThing, Oh My!

I read the Keck article with great interest. I have used LibraryThing to catalog my own books, but not taken advantage of tagging and networking other than the tag that tells me what room of my house a book is in. I plan to look up the groups he talked about to see if they are still in operation, and spend some time examining the LibraryThing “hive mind”.

Another aspect of LibraryThing crossed my path last week. A missionary friend visiting our church invited me to come organize their small library in South Africa. East Mountain has grounds and a house for 14 students to come for one year internships that include Bible training and ministry. They also have short term 1-3 week internships, and Bible classes one Saturday each month in two other locations. Their library is small, about the size of a good pastor’s library. Tinycat is a subsection of LibraryThing, specifically designed to be used as the catalog for a small library, and for a non-profit classroom type library it would be free. The Keck article fed right into my thinking of the past week, and now I am contemplating how to make the tagging options of LibraryThing work to the school’s advantage.

I am so excited to find ways that God can use librarianship in missions; and not just librarianship in general, but cataloging, which is the specific direction I want to go!


Keck, Andrew, Jennifer Bartholomew, and Pat Ziebart. “Using the hive mind to access the reference shelf.” Summary of Proceedings…Conference of the American Theological Library Association 62 (2008):329-340.


The Plan

In Theological Librarianship class this week we read about a Strategic Plan. Here are some brief thoughts on that.

Purpose. Goals. Mission. Policy. Budget. Collection. Technology. Teaching. Hiring. Job descriptions. Staff development. Administration. Faculty. Peers. Collaboration. Accreditation. Assessment. Research. Past. Present. Future.

These are the pieces of the strategic plan of a library. It defines the purpose, envisions the future, and fleshes out the facets of the purpose within the vision. It is bigger than the to-do list of projects, it selects and defines the projects. It flexes as the future becomes the present, never quite being exactly what was planned, but moving with the reality.

Of course the above is idealistic. The reality is not nearly as lofty or poetic. As Project 2000 illustrates, attempting to predict the future needs placed on theological libraries, and planning ways to meet those needs, is a difficult business, and it must be done with intentionality, purpose, and flexibility. Stewart’s experience of top down planning, and Wood’s experience of bottom up planning, makes me wonder why you can’t have both. Librarians know best how the library is used and what the trends in that world are. Administration sets the overall institutional goals that the library needs to support. Both perspectives are needed when developing a strategic plan.

But not only do administration and librarians need a say in this plan, there are also faculty and students. These are the constituents the library exists to serve. To serve them, we need to know what they need. This requires collaboration with faculty, and assessment of student needs and uses of the library.

Article Summary #5: Discovery and Literacy

Revelations from the Literature: How Web-Scale Discovery Has Already Changed Us

The author of this article looked at library literature to see what librarians are saying about discovery tools. Her findings show that this is a hot topic among librarians. The students’ desires for Google type searching rather than advanced search techniques, the desire to make it easy, drives this push for a simple one box search. But is that the answer to teaching information literacy? It does not appear to be “the” answer. Studies are showing that while a discovery search system does increase overall exposure to the library’s collections, but a decrease in the use of specialized subject databases. Students still need instruction, about the discovery tool and about advanced searching, subject guides, and interlibrary loan. If the student only uses the discovery tool, they are faced with the same limitations as a Google search. They get too many irrelevant hits and do not know how to limit their searches, and the tool does not access all of the relevant resources. In this sense, the discovery tool could become an obstacle to the overarching goal of information literacy.

Discovery tools are changing rapidly. They “affect every facet of library services, from electronic resource committees, which evaluate and choose different services, to the IT department, which deals with installation and troubleshooting of the software, to cataloging, which integrates the discovery tool to index library holdings records, to public services, which connect the patrons to using the services effectively.”

I think we as librarians need to use every resource we can to connect our patrons to the information they need, but we cannot forget that information literacy is also a goal. Getting students to use the system is important. Teaching students to use a system wisely, to evaluate information, to find the best information, is at least as important.


Librarianship as Ministry

A reflection on this week’s reading for Theological Librarianship class.

In my job search I have been asking myself questions about “calling” and “ministry”. This week’s readings seem to fit right in with my thoughts. Dr. Morris’ description of a typical day could describe a typical day in a secular university as well as in a Christian one. Beth Bidlack’s comparison of a seminary library with a university library of religious studies could also be extended out to a secular college library. I’m not saying all of these are the same, but the vocation of librarianship in general involves serving our patrons, and this is ministry. “Whatever you do, do as unto the Lord.” This scripture passage doesn’t just apply to a Christian environment, it means wherever you work. A librarian catalogs, answers reference questions, teaches a class, even shelves books to help people find information. I show the love of Christ in my conversations, even in a secular environment. I believe that we are each called to and have a ministry in our professions, no matter the environment.

The other side of that is the special nature of a seminary, where men and women are being trained for ministry in the church. My conclusion for myself is that work in a seminary library requires a different level of commitment; I must be committed to the spiritual work of the institution, and be in agreement with what is being taught, particularly if I am teaching. Seminary takes calling and ministry to a deeper and more direct level.

Article Summary #3: Metacrap

Metacrap by Cory Doctorow

Great read!  Unfortunately it is kind of true…

Metadata is data about data, and (on a very basic level) it is encoded in documents and web pages to make them searchable. But there are some problems inherent in metadata creation.

  1. People lie for their own benefit (to get you to read their stuff/ buy their product)
  2. People are lazy (guilty on this one)
  3. People are stupid (spelling, punctuation, grammar)
  4. People don’t know themselves
  5. Schemas aren’t neutral – competing interests
  6. Metrics influence results
  7. There’s more than one way to describe something


Alas, Meta-utopia doesn’t exist, and info-ninjas can’t fix J. Random User’s mistakes.


Doctorow argues that Google’s use of implicit metadata, how many links point to a page and who linked it, is more reliable than human created metadata.  It seems to me that good metadata would beat Google any day.