Confucius and the Contributor

The other day the Feral Cataloger was consulted on a severe case of reaction to AACR2 rule 21.1C1b. A colleague who had been working with catalogs for decades suddenly discovered that editors cannot be main entries. She was in pretty bad shape–afterwards she described the experience as “a habit of the brain, completely blasted apart.” A calming manatee was summoned to stabilize her mood, and I was able to dispense some advice about cuttering in the 800s to reassure her that title need not be the last word in DDC subarrangement. In order to inoculate her and other unsuspecting colleagues against the future shock of editors in RDA, though, I felt I should write another entry in my dissertation series and discuss the most significant finding of my research: the relationship of editors to authorship.

It was probably my friend’s familiarity with The Chicago Manual of Style that lulled her into thinking that editors are always treated like authors. The editors of Chicago style leave none of their fellow editors behind when it comes to citations in a bibliography. Even if editors do not merit the first place in a full citation, they can always be included in the third place. The only requirement is their appearance on a title page. It is true that the earliest American cataloging rules had a similarly expansive view of authorship. In Cutter’s 1904 Rules, you need only look at the list of definitions and read  “Editor, See Author” to know where he stands on the matter.

It seems so simple, but even Cutter could not accept that all editors were authors. A “collecting editor” merited the place of author in Cutter’s catalog, but not the editor of a periodical or editors of collections “known chiefly by their titles.” Rules 4 and 5 in my copy of the ALA 1949 cataloging rules are filled with underlines and scribbled annotations from the cataloging students who once owned it. “Don’t get confused between author of introd. and editor!” wrote one. By the time of AACR1, many words were needed to explain exactly what made an editor or compiler worthy of main entry. Goaded by Akós Domanovsky’s lengthy and scathing analysis of the subjectivity of editors as authors, the AACR2 editors defenestrated their sundry fellows from the main entry, and it has been that way in cataloging ever since.

It seems like Chinese editorship has nothing to do with Cutter’s American habit of seeing editors as authors.  The position of the first Chinese editor, Confucius, is stated flatly in the Analects: “I transmit but do not create; I believe in and love the ancients.” (Lunyu 7:1, trans. Wing-tsit Chan) The first part of that quote, 述而不作,  is a classical catchphrase so embedded in literate culture it was immediately suggested by the character dictionary as I typed the pinyin just now. Scholar-editors throughout the millennia have always taken the stance that they, like Confucius, do not “make” (“作” zuo, the literal meaning of the last character in the phrase). The Confucian editor faithfully transmits the texts he finds, making judicious changes that only perfect texts and restore their author’s original intent. Certainly the Sikuquanshu bibliographers believed that they were doing just that as they reconstructed damaged texts for the emperor’s library.

In the bibliographic summaries, though, more specific words describe the transmission work that the editors did. In one case of a reconstructed work, the editors reveal that they consulted, compared, sought, collected, supplemented, put together, copied, and revised the text. This evidence shows that the editors’ work is an example of the conundrum of “activist judges” versus “strict constructionists”: it is easy to find activism in any editorial judgment even if the judge does not admit it himself. But the Sikuquanshu bibliographers would never refer to themselves as editing (編 bian)  in the bibliographic description, even though their handiwork is found throughout the library.

Bian–editing–as a relationship designator is most common (second only to the word 撰 zhuan “written by”) in the Collections (集  ji) class, where it is used in two different senses. One is for a compiler of an anthology. Editors of anthologies “collect,” “transmit,” “collate,” and “select,” (輯,述, 較, 採), as explained by the bibliographers in the summaries for such works. These are the collecting editor functions that Cutter also privileged, so it is easy to see the reason why they merit a relationship designator in the bibliographic description. The more common use of bian with regard to editing collections is in conjunction with zhuan as a relationship designator. These are cases where a personal author’s works are collected posthumously for publication, and the editor’s name does not appear in the description, only in the summary. These editors are essential to the survival of the author’s works, and the Sikuquanshu bibliographers tell many tales that show the devotion of the author’s relatives, friends or students in preserving written legacies, even in one case the tenth-generation great-grandson of a Song scholar who performed the service. In traditional China editing is a natural by-product of a personal and familial relationship. But the bibliographers would not elevate the status of the word bian when the editor’s role was to transmit the works of the writer-author. 

When I consider the relationship designators in RDA for editors, I think it is a happy thing that the word editor has been reconsidered from the days of AACR2 when s/he was out in the streets, merely preparing “an item not his or her own” for publication. The RDA editor now has a home at the expression level, that is, at the point when the author’s ideas become specific in the realm of language. In RDA, you can be designated as editor or editor of a compilation or editor of moving image work. (RDA I.3.1 Contributors) Editors plain and simple revise or elucidate content, or prepare a work for production; editors of compilations select and put together other works (by a single person or multiple ones); and editors of moving image works assemble, arrange, and trim films and videos. Interestingly, the first two designators ask the cataloger to judge whether the editor might not actually be operating at the work level, as an author who makes a new work out of an old one, or as a compiler who creates a new work out of data or information rather than from other writer’s texts. These distinctions that require a cataloger to judge the true nature of the word “editor” ensure that a new generation of cataloging students will be highlighting and making personal notes just as they did in the 1949 ALA rules, but to me they speak to the cross-cultural commonalities of editorship. The disparate situations of Cutter, the Sikuquanshu bibliographers and today’s catalogers all acknowledge that certain conditions must be met before an editor ascends to the status of author.

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Flinging the Files, Flinging the Foucault

Dissertation FilesEven though the daytime temperatures are still punishing here at Feral Cataloger headquarters, the feline staff are sensing the change in the angle of the sun and starting to pack in extra helpings of Sea Captain’s Choice. I’m also responding to the internal shift that comes from a lifetime of making the start of school year my season for renewed focus on desk work. Last fall marked a decade since my Ph.D. graduation, and I was faced with the painful realization that the dozens of boxes filled with books and papers from my doctoral days no longer deserve the space they’re hogging in the garage. Since deriving publications from my dissertation will not turn me into an “adoptable faculty member,” the garage space can be put to better use–perhaps for stockpiling cases of Turkey and Giblets paté in case of an earthquake. So this fall I am flinging all the files. As I go through the paper, though, I can’t but act like the doting parent who snaps pictures of her children’s school masterpieces to archive the memories. A blog post or two about my research seems like a fitting digital scrapbook to memorialize the hard work and deep thought that are stored in the boxes.

The boxes in the garage remind me of the research I intended to do after graduation. My academic career was supposed to be devoted to cross-cultural empirical study of the conceptual principles of cataloging and bibliography. The dissertation came into being as Michel Foucault threw down a gauntlet with this statement: the author-function “does not affect all discourses in the same way at all times and in all types of civilizations.” I wanted to somehow test his assertion that authorship would be constructed differently in traditional China. The Sikuquanshu, that monumental manuscript library commissioned by the Qianlong Emperor in 1772, threw down another gauntlet: its 3474 book summaries were available in 1500 facsimile volumes at the UCLA Library, and they challenged me to prove I could read classical Chinese and imperial edicts and put my summer course on Manchu script to use. The Sikuquanshu is an open window into the minds of the bureaucrat bibliographers of the eighteenth century–what else could I have studied that was more important?

I used to have trouble justifying how a dissertation with the title “What is an Author in the Sikuquanshu?” addresses the concerns of LIS. There was snideness from some faculty at UCLA: “Why doesn’t she go to the history or literature department if she doesn’t want an LIS degree?” The research wasn’t about library operations or information-seeking behavior, and flinging Foucault was simply not done under the tutelage of my advisor in the 1990s. In this RDA century I can easily explain the connection to you: the qualitative study I did was about what we now call relationship designators, and that is going to be very handy as I work on the current chapter in my cataloging textbook.

Research wonks will want to know that I calculated a 1-in-k sample, bought the Chinese input method emulator program for Windows 95, and photocopied 352 of the tiyao (summaries) out of the encyclopedia-like volumes, then read and transcribed data from the lot in Excel. Yes, this was a dissertation with limited twentieth-century technology-everything was done by manual input off paper.

Here are some of the things I learned about how the imperial bibliographers used “relationship designators.”

  • The normal situation was single authorship. In 86% of cases, the bibliographers placed only one person’s name in the bibliographic description, and the most common relationship specified between person and work in the description was 撰 zhuan (composed or written by). That relationship designator was chosen for 71% of all cases across four classes.
  • There were differences among the four classes of works with regard to relationships. In Histories (shi 史), multiple authorship participants occurred more frequently than in Classics (jing 經) or Masters (zi 子) or Collections (ji 集). In Histories there was a greater variety of words chosen to describe the functions of names; in Histories the authorship participants compiled (zuan 纂), and collated (jiao 校), and the bibliographers often used words that highlight the fact that historians were often writing for imperial history projects. In the Collections class, which contains many writers’ posthumously published works, the bibliographers also included the names of printers and relatives who transmitted an author’s legacy.
  • Biographies in the summaries accompanying each book were also an important feature. The bibliographers were building a collection for the emperor’s purposes, so they took a bureaucrat’s perspective. Their goal was to portray writers as loyal Confucian officials, even if their lives did not quite fit into the template. An author in  the Sikuquanshu is a man with an official biography, a life beyond the name in the bibliographic description.
  • As a contemporary cataloger, my favorite cases were those in which the author was questionable or not known. The bibliographers were very scrupulous about assigning some kind of relationship indicator to every work they summarized, so 4% of the sample was marked 舊本題 jiubenti — “old editions are labeled …” to show questionable attribution—and 1.7% had the phrase 不著撰人名氏 bu zhu zhuanren mingshi–“the writer’s name is not recordedto show anonymity.  Being part of the evidential research movement (which looked for historical and textual evidence to justify editing decisions), the bibliographers carefully collated these books with questionable pedigrees. Almost half the time they found an author for the work or found evidence to overturn the traditionally assigned author, but they retained the traditional names and anonymity in the bibliographic description. They imagined themselves iconoclasts who were correcting errors, but that rebel attitude didn’t extend to changing the labels presenting the old attributions!

On that note I will leave you to ponder the disjuncture between bibliographic description in eighteenth-century China and that of today–while we can recognize the words in the Sikuquanshu descriptions as separable elements, perhaps their function for the library’s chief reader (the emperor) was a snapshot of the work that couldn’t be altered. Would it be recognizable by the emperor as the same work if the names were corrected?

You’ll probably head back to Facebook now, but before I quit for the day and feed the staff I will reread some of my favorite moments in the dissertation. Like footnote number 294 on the Thirteen Classics that were carved in stone as part of the Sikuquanshu project (they had typos)! And the really fun subsection on page 202 about the annual distribution of Uighur muskmelons to the Sikuquanshu staff (junior staff got 1/4 melon each)! And the graph in Figure 4–it’s still awesome!

Spending about five years of my life in the company of the Qianlong emperor was a cool thing. It’s too bad that my Chinese history advisor was right: the market for this knowledge dried up in 1912. Oh, and was Foucault right about cultural difference? Yes and no. Chinese authorship as seen by the literati in the high Qing is hardly an exotic “other,” even though its situation in a system of imperial patronage is more extremely circumscribed than European authorship of the same time. But that’s an analysis that someone else in mainstream academia will have to do, because these files are being flung.

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The RDA Worldwide Show Plus One

I have to admit that I questioned the need for yet another RDA presentation at ALA 2012 and almost decided against going to RDA Worldwide on Sunday. To atone for my prejudice against it, here is a report about it that shouts to the world: This kind of program justifies the continuing existence of the face-to-face, big-tent ALA Annual. There was no other channel of communication or venue where all of this information about international cataloging could have been brought together except in Anaheim. The speakers brought humor and personal insight into their talks that made them easy to listen to. Where else could there be such a group of presenters and an audience who could share a laugh at quips about the Preußische Instruktionen?

DNB RDA Project Structure

Christine Frodl of the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek spoke first about the systematic planning for RDA in German-speaking countries. Those of us who have been buffeted by many years of RDA Wars in the U.S. were impressed by the clear, centralized path the German speakers have taken to RDA adoption, as well as their well-organized program for training. They have put together several training courses in Moodle that are accessible to anyone. Just a click on the button als Gast anmelden and you can enter any of the RDA or FRBR courses (which are, of course, in German).

Frodl revealed that the RDA transition is part of a greater movement toward internationalization in German library standards. The community is making their move into MARC21, a language of tags that is new for German librarians.  The Germans are also part of EURIG, the European RDA Interest Group, which had its launch in January 2012.

After we returned from a fire alarm evacuation, the remaining presenters shortened their presentations to keep within time limits, but there was still a lot of rich detail in their talks.

Ageo Garcia of Tulane University was introduced as the librarian behind almost all the Spanish translations of cataloging rules and tools, from DDC to RDA, and he gave a hemispheric view on the work in cataloging rules to the south of the United States. The International Meeting of Cataloguing Experts in Buenos Aires, 2004 was the start of a new era of discussion among Latin American countries to work toward better cooperation in this area of librarianship. That meeting spurred a series of regional conferences and a commitment beginning this year for an annual meeting on cataloging, in Monterrey. (I believe.  I wish I had his slides to refresh my memory on some of the details.)

The key issue in Latin America is the diversity of circumstances in different countries. The penetration of MARC21 is uneven (with many libraries still using the card catalog), and the Library of Congress has been instrumental  over the past decades in providing technical assistance for the regional development of cataloging cooperation. RDA will be published in Spanish by Rojas Eberhard editores under the title of Recursos, Description, Accés–it was essential to keep the acronym across the languages! What startled me in his remarks was how important the IMCE were  in jumpstarting worldwide discussion of cataloging and FRBR. We in the U.S. tend to fixate on the old AACR3 train wreck of 2004, while all around the world everyone was preparing the track bed for RDA through the International Statement on Cataloguing Principles.

Meanwhile, in the South Pacific … Chris Todd of the National Library of New Zealand began her presentation with this slide reminding us that the issue of size and distance is key in New Zealand’s situation with RDA. In this regard, she urged the audience to think of her country as “a very small U.S. state, very far off, where people have strange accents.” New Zealand is not at the JSC table, so they follow the Library of Congress’s decision-making out of expedience. On the one hand LC’s hesitation to adopt RDA caused New Zealand’s planning for the changeover to lose momentum; on the other hand, online access to LC training materials is a great boon to NZ catalogers, even if attending webinars means listening at the computer in pajamas in the middle of the night. Also at odds with New Zealand’s local practices is the March 2013 start date for RDA. New Zealanders will delay adoption past that month because it conflicts with vacation season in the southern hemisphere. A final policy issue is language; while we may think of New Zealand as an English-speaking country, there are actually three official languages (English, Maori, and New Zealand Sign Language).

However, the groundwork for RDA adoption is in full swing: the National Library  is committing to training and Barbara Tillett will offer seminars for them later, a cataloguer’s wiki has been set up, and Todd emphasized the value of  being part of the working group going through the instructions together. They have had many serious discussions about long-held beliefs and practice, particularly when going through RDA instructions with the phrase “if considered important …” New Zealand has only two library schools and no local cataloging trainers, so there is a lot of work for everyone to do.

The last speaker on the program began with a meditation on why he was scheduled last–was it because he was the least experienced on the panel, or because China was the country least involved in international cataloging standards? Li Kai, cataloger from the National Capital Library and blogger (note: 他也有不一样的中文编目笔记) on his way to Syracuse University this fall, left the audience amused and enlightened with his wry observations on cataloging futures in his country. First he presented the results of a survey of catalogers’ thinking about RDA modeled after Elaine Sanchez’s work. Despite the size of the Chinese library community, he struggled to find enough respondents, and the results were not encouraging: the overwhelming number of catalogers reported unfamiliarity with RDA, despite recent seminars on it in China. Because RDA translation just started in May 2012 and will not be finished until late next year, Li feels that this is unlikely to change and agrees with Charlene Chou’s “#4” scenario: there is likely to be no efforts in RDA adoption at this time.

Li’s major emphasis was on the fragmentation of the Chinese cataloging landscape. A difficult issue for the adoption of rules with an AACR2 lineage is the fact that Chinese cataloging rules privilege title entry, and the concept of  “authorized access point” and the concepts of FRBR have little resonance in cataloging practice. Then professionally, there is little cooperation between the National Library of China and CALIS, the agency responsible for public libraries. Furthermore, the longstanding practice in China is to use Chinese descriptive rules for Chinese materials and AACR2 for Western materials, so a unified approach under RDA and FRBR would require a radical change in cataloging culture. The future of cataloging in China will require bridging these divides if it is to stop being at the fringes of international cataloging standardization.

As a bonus international perspective, I heard Rebecca Lubas of the University of New Mexico at the OLAC Membership Meeting later that evening. She spoke of her work traveling to the National and University Library of Kosovo to provide training in audiovisual cataloging for their librarians. Her talk was illustrated with great photos of her trip, including the one below that shows the high regard in which Bill Clinton in held in Kosovo. (The photo links through to her flickr photostream set from the trip.)

Bill Clinton Statue

Her experiences presented a stark contrast and unexpected resonances with the RDA Worldwide program. While we may have chuckled about the “isolation” of New Zealand or the international disconnect of China, Kosovo’s isolation does not have a humorous angle. This was Lubas’s second trip to the country to provide technical assistance, and she mentioned that her travel expenses to this far corner of southeast Europe paled in comparison to the library’s cost in translating her instructional materials into Serbian and Albanian (translators knowledgeable about cataloging do not come cheap). Kosovo follows AACR2 and other common cataloging standards, but is not yet on any path toward RDA, nor a member of EURIG. Lubas is planning to do an introductory session on RDA and FRBR via videoconference rather than in person, but is uncertain about the ability of technology and communication links to support an interactive session with Kosovo. The link between Kosovo and the future of cataloging is very tenuous compared to the links in larger, wealthier countries.

I left these programs feeling that my perspective on RDA was truly broadened. Comparing and contrasting different national situations highlights how different the world is now than it was back when Anglo-AmericanCR2 was the new code on the block.

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June Poll: DDC Instruction

The question for cataloging instructors this month: how much time do you allot to the DDC unit in your cataloging course? I’m trying to gauge the structure of chapters and exercises in the textbook, and your answer will help me address your needs better.

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The Feral Cataloger is Listening

Adobe, Feral Cataloger Staff MemberThis is Adobe, a new hire on the Feral Cataloger staff. He applied for a position in April, and we’ve assigned him to be junior meal monitor. He listens for the sound of rattling and dishwashing in the sink and comes to the door to alert everyone that it is mealtime.

We ferals are experts at yowling to get attention and food, but at this ALA I’ll be listening rather than pontificating from atop the walls. My goal is to cruise the exhibits and programs to listen for the big trends in cataloging that need to be incorporated into cataloging education.

At this ALA Annual I am spreading the word officially: I am in the process of writing a new cataloging textbook. The working title is HumanCrafted Metadata, and it will be published with helpful electronic resources for both students and instructors. So, I would be delighted to hear what cataloging instructors want in a new textbook. The goal is to get it out in 2013 so it helps everyone make the RDA transition in the classroom. If you see me at ALA, stop me and give me an earful about your instructional needs. I will be at many of the cataloging programs and at the LITA Linked Data preconference on Friday.

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An Unexpected Delight: Succession Planning

Just before the exhibits opened this evening, I ended up in an unforeseen session that turned out to be unexpectedly fun and valuable. Some background: unbeknownst to the hordes of ALA attendees, a tiny group of cataloger types have been meeting under the leadership of Sylvia Hall-Ellis along with Angela Kinney and hiding behind the impenetrable acronym of ALCTS-CAMMS. On the Friday of each Midwinter and ALA we talked about the state of “competencies and education for a career in cataloging,” and in New Orleans the group resolved to finally put on some kind of guided discussion (or whatever ALA calls this class of thing). Fast forward to today, and one of the other regulars mentioned that the group would meet at 4 pm. We agreed to do our duty once again (since we had time to kill before the exhibits opened) though we agreed that it seemed like the group was never going to get around to doing anything.

Were we in the right place? Arriving at the room it was filled to capacity–dozens of librarians filling every chair and lining the walls, with Angela Kinney of LC chairing the session and announcing the theme of “succession planning in cataloging.” I have to say, if I hadn’t been seated at the opposite end of the room from the door … Well, it didn’t seem like there would be much to say of interest. But one of the stalwart members had connected with a young, newbie cataloging manager from U of Louisiana Lafayette, April Grey, who got everyone talking when she shared her experiences of taking over a small department staffed by workers with 25-30 years experience (each, not total!)

She and Angela led a lively, friendly, supportive discussion about what measures cataloging departments could take to deal with problems that are arising because of shrinking budgets and staff who are being offered retirement. April started a thread about using a wiki to capture procedures and local decisions, and there was much practical advice shared about types of technology that could be used for the purpose (from PBWiki to LibGuides) and the human factors of inputting the information and how it was used by staff afterwards. Discussants came from all over, from Vermont to Puerto Rico, from the National Library of Medicine to San Diego, and of course a number of Texans were included.

April offered her insights on what would help aspiring new catalogers make the leap over the chasm from “two years experience” to department head, since the current employment environment almost compels that as a career path. Shadowing a manager as she goes about her day would have helped her immensely, she said, which is something that just about any librarian mentor could make happen.

It would be impossible to summarize all the subsidiary issues that came up from such an experienced group of cataloging managers who were willing to speak freely, but one important lesson that was repeated from a variety of speakers was the need to cross-train staff. In a time when key staff can go away and not be replaced, no cataloging department can afford to have each person be an island of self-contained knowledge. Those whose staff shared traded work with colleagues felt that it not only provided a safeguard in succession, it also unleashed creativity and energy to tackle inevitable change, from RDA to new metadata formats and tools.

There was some continuation of discussion that had started earlier in the ALCTS ALISE Bibliographic Control Educators Practitioners Meeting, a reward for attending both sessions. I’m glad I didn’t follow my first impulse and go off to take a (much-needed) nap. A high five for all who made this happen today!

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Seeking Snacks in Dallas

You might have assumed from the long silence that this was just another abandoned blog, but no! The Feral Cataloger was out standing in the fields, gnawing on the pile of DDC information that she snatched in New Orleans. Having heard there would be open snack buffets here in Dallas, I have returned from the wild to grab what I can and write commentary about it, hopefully more quickly than I did at previous events. They’re setting up the break treats in the ballroom at ALISE– I need to go check them out. TTFN

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