On the care and feeding of libraries

National Geographics

A photo of Cincinnati's very own Ohio Book Store found completely accidentally on THE INTERNET

After hosting the offical opening ceremony of the Norm De Plume Memorial Wing of the Scripsi household record collection (technically speaking, this collection of LPs is merely a long-term loan), and then watching Sense and Sensibility on Masterpiece Theatre, in which Edward Farrar replies to his sister’s dastardly plan to rennovate the Dashwood family library: “libraries are supposed to be full of dusty old book”, the question: what exactly is a library? has been weighing on my mind.   A collection isn’t so much a bunch of junk as a bunch of junk in relationship to other stuff . . . this can consist of arbitrary groupings, but the essence of a library, at least one of any use to anyone who wants to find something specific in a reasonable amount of time is that it organized, and in a way that makes sense.  This requires what is known as metadata or as Wikipedia points out it is called: metacrap, as in: “The opposers of metadata sometimes use the term metacrap to refer to the unsolved problems of metadata in some scenarios. These people are also referred to as ‘Meta Haters.'” Nowhere in my life have the uses and abuses of metacrap become more apparent than in in-the-works automation of the Mercantile Library catalog. Only Library School students should have to suffer with the knowledge of exactly what part of a bibliographic record goes where, and why, but the fruits of this sacred knowledge are many and splendid, and nowhere more evident than in that second greatest of all human inventions: WorldCat. But as any easy-lending collector of books quickly learns, maintaining the integrity of your collection is a bitch (scroll down on this link to “ex libris”). Thou shalt not steal could just as easily be rephrased: though shalt not contribute to the second law of thermodynamics regarding entropy: which, simply put is the bane of every librarian’s existence: it’s a lot easier to make a mess than it is to clean one up.  And returning things to their proper order takes, sadly, work.  Although that leads to all sorts of other questions like: what, exactly is proper order?  Well here on planet earth, in this particular millenium, it’s called the Alphabet…  26 letters, get this: in a row.  Kind of like numbers, except more interesting.  So simple and yet somehow ingenious.  In the next installment of On the care and feeding of libraries, we will explore this beguiling series of 26 letters.  And in closing, I offer the following non sequiter: 2009 Word-a-Day Calendars are now only $5.  Buy yours today, or Scripsi is in deep metadata.

-Ed Scripsi

Published in: on February 2, 2009 at 6:13 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. ah, chaos… in our home library, my s.o. has taken it upon herself (spurred by some cable tv show about design) to organize books by color of cover. i’m thrown by this, although it’s highlighted exactly how arbitrary our own 26-letter-in-sequence system is. as they might be giants ask: who put the alphabet in alphabetical order?

  2. I think we should use the Prelinger Library’s system.

  3. […] mobile shredding units) whirring away outside of downtown business institutions.  In the case of a library, say a library that has just converted those cases of catalog cards to Machine Readable Records (MARC), the […]

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