Censorship by Omission: Closing off fiction in cataloguing


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Notes and power-point slides of a paper on the use and disuse of Library of Congress subject headings in fiction cataloguing at the National Library of Australia which was presented at the BSANZ 2010 Annual Conference, on censorship in literature.

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  • Good afternoon, and thank you for coming to our talk today. My name is Elizabeth Caplice, and this is Julianne Miller. We are going to be discussing Censorship by Omission – the closing off of fiction in cataloguing. We are specifically looking at the use of Library of Congress subject headings to identify the subject matter of Australian Fiction, as catalogued in the National Library of Australia, and why the use, or lack of use of these is important.
    I will now hand over to Julianne to talk about Library of Congress Subject Headings.
  • Thanks Liz,
    Library of Congress Subject Headings are a controlled vocabulary created by the Library of Congress in the United States and were first published in 1898. Currently the lexicon stands at 5 large volumes of over 300,000 headings and references covering many aspects of all nearly all topics including medicine, sociology and history.
    This controlled vocabulary is coded into countless library catalogues as descriptive metadata in the 600 field of what is called a MARC or, Machine Readable Cataloguing record.
  • This slide gives you an example of a MARC record, with 2 Library of Congress Subject Headings attached to it, which are represented in the 651 fields.
  • And here we have the public view of the same record, as it would appear in the National Library’s catalogue. You can see that the fields represented by a 651 in cataloguing are appearing in a grouping called “subjects” in the public view.
    If patrons were searching for library items about the politics and government of Australia in either the 20th century or 2001 onwards they will find this item in their results list.
  • But! when members of the public do go the National Library of Australia’s catalogue, would they actually search by subject? Is this form of descriptive metadata actually used, by individuals searching for what they want? Or is it dead data?
    We performed, with much assistance, a series of inquiries to determine the use, or disuse of LCSH by the National Library’s catalogue using public. Just a note that all figures are approximate.
    We identified 59,000 records in the catalogue as Australian fiction but found that only 23,000 of them had any subject headings.
    That means that more than half of the National Library’s Australian Fiction, was potentially lost from user searches due to a lack of Library of Congress Subject Headings.
  • And we also found that the catalogue users were utilising subject searches, illustrated by our figures that show:
    Between November and April, 2009 to 10, there were nearly 4 million searches performed. 86,000 of those searches began with subject search criteria.
    50,000 of those searches were subject browses and 79,000 searches were subsequently narrowed by subject facet.
    These figures, we believe, clearly illustrate that subject headings are indeed used by the public to search and locate what they are looking for and that 36,000 items of Australian Fiction were effectively censored from search results by this omission.
  • The national library of Australia purchases a select amount of books published overseas to compliment the items taken in under the legal deposit provisions and to be held in perpetuity. This is where I work, acquiring and cataloguing monographs published overseas.
    Non-fiction items are selected to put Australia and Australian opinions into the wider global context. Fiction items are purchased either because of their international renown (prize winners/nominees, etc.) or because they are written by Australians who have been published overseas.
    In this context I noticed more often than not, that international cataloguing agencies such as the Library of Congress and the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) were generally cataloguing their fiction to a higher level, meaning the non-indigenous records held more descriptive metadata than locally catalogued material.
  • At the National Library, Australian fiction is catalogued according to a specific set of rules called a pattern sheet. An international standard originally created by the Library of Congress they exist for a variety of works and act to create uniformity across the board.
    The Australian Fiction pattern sheet states that subject headings are assigned to Children’s animal stories, Biographical and Historical fiction. No subject headings are to be assigned for works on vague topics however if you do decide they are required, you should use no more than 2.
    Assigning subject headings to an item is usually time consuming for the cataloguer with at least title, contents and back cover blurbs needing to be read to determine themes and topics. You then have to locate appropriate subject headings and subdivisions in the Library of Congress list which you feel appropriately describe the item.
    Take into account THIS record, catalogued by the National Library of Australia, for the 2009 Nick Cave novel, The Death of Bunny Munro. You can see that the record contains no subject headings.
  • THIS slide, for the Scottish published edition of the same book, originally catalogued in the United Kingdom contains 3 subject headings all denoting the fictional themes clearly present in the book.
    What is vague to one cataloguer will be as clear as day to the next.
    We believe that the current Australian fiction cataloguing policy at the National Library leaves a great deal of interpretation up to the individual, an unavoidable fact of cataloguing but one which can be limited.
    Should cataloguers have a standard of at least 1 subject heading denoting items are Australian Fiction no matter what themes or topics appear vague to them? Should subject headings be left to other libraries and information agencies where fiction items are dealt with routinely and have that information collaborated?
    I will now hand over to Elizabeth to talk about how she came to notice this and how Australian Fiction has come to be regarded in the library world:
  • Subject headings for Australian fiction first got my attention when I was doing an honours thesis. I was searching for books not by title, or author, but by their major themes – in this case, the theme of young adults engaged in same sex romantic relationships. When you are looking for books on a research topic as specific as this, in an area which has not been studies enough for there to be a great deal of pre-existing, secondary sources on the topic, subject headings really come into their own. They are, in fact, one of the only ways to access collection material.
    So, when I was searching for American, or English, or any foreign titles which were readily available on Amazon.com, there was ample metadata provided on the bookselling website. However, older Australian titles, or Australian books not sold overseas, often have less metadata on the local bookselling sites. As well, this is problematic because it was not libraries providing access to materials, but rather commercial enterprises. Despite being held in the National Library of Australia, being Australian publications, they were not able to be located. They were inadvertently censored from my research simply due to a lack of access points.
    The main reason that the lack of subject headings on fiction is a problem at the National Library of Australia is the simple fact that the NLA is a legal deposit institute. A copy of each book published in Australia is sent there, and it’s the National Libraries role to both safely house these items for perpetuity and make sure these items can be accessed. As a researcher, a lack of subject heading on collection items makes books significantly harder to find, access, and to provide information to library users.

    Here are some examples of both past and present National Library records which don’t have subject headings:
  • This is the record for the first edition of Patrick White’s novel, “Voss.” There’s no information about the content provided. There is no information to even suggest that this is a fictional novel by a significant Australian writer. As well, none of the seven English language copies of Voss that the NLA holds have subject headings applied to them.
  • And here is a recent republication of White’s “Tree of Man.” Here you can see that the same problem exists in contemporary cataloging. Fiction novels, even ones by Australian’s Nobel Laureate are still now being described with only the barest details and no access points.
    The question is – why does it appear that the National Library’s policy been so conservative towards fiction cataloging?
    There are two main reasons: one – the reflection of a larger, historical cultural bias against fiction as a legitimate form of literature, and two – the cost of cataloging.
    After industrialisation, with increased literacy, there was no distinction between low and high brow fiction. In this respect, actually, it was all low brow (including now considered classics, Dickens, Bronte, etc...) as fiction itself was frowned upon as a lower form of writing. With the development of critical apparatus around the mid 20th century, such as literary awards and university subjects developed around fiction, it has gained acceptance as being worthy of study.
    The National Library’s policy, therefore, only reflected the larger historical academic bias against fiction as being as important as non-fiction.
    Feeding into this is the budget issues. If fiction is considered, in some ways to be less important and academically legitimate, it makes sense that it would not be prioritized. Cataloging is an expensive part of library work. It is very time consuming, especially the application of subject headings as they require some level of knowledge of the content of the item, and requires a great deal of technical skills and continual professional development and training to keep these skills up to date. Fiction is also a particularly time intensive, and therefore, expensive item to catalogue and add subject headings to. This is because often topics and subject matter is can be very difficult to ascertain from the book itself, and requires researching on, for example, publishers’ websites, for more information about the title, or a brief skim of the book to get an overview of potential major themes.
  • The National Library has been working to provide greater access to fiction. One excellent example of this is the policy change which took place in the 90’s regarding Mills and Boon novels. Mills and Boon’s were collectively catalogued under one uniform record. However the National Library changed this policy and practice, in response to some members of the academic community suggesting greater access was required. Since then, Mills and Boon’s titles have been catalogued individually. This illustrates how the cultural bias is no longer such a pressing issue in regards to why fiction is not catalogued.
    It’s our opinion that something similar needs to happen in regards to subject heading application – the question is, given the ever present budget restraints on the National Library, how best can we do this?
  • I will outline here three ideas which we think have potential to be used, in collaboration with internal National Library of Australia cataloging, to provide greater subject access to material. These three are TROVE, Bookseller and Publisher Data, and user generated data.
    As well as collaborative options, there is always the possibility, were the funds made available, for retrospective cataloging, done in a similar way to which new acquisitions and legal deposits are catalogued. However, this is out of scope to discuss, as it’s a fairly unlikely thing to happen. Another possibility would be to perhaps undertake occasional projects of retrospective maintenance of particular areas of the fiction collection, with the intension of adding subject headings. This too, though, is a very expensive process, and would require an abnormal injection of funds. The options I’m discussing here aim to circumvent the difficulty, and expenses of traditional original cataloging – not because they are superior, but because original cataloging is so expensive that retrospectively adding subject headings to over 36 000 records is simply out of scope right now.
  • The new collaborative, national library service, Trove, offers a great deal of potential for value adding to National Library metadata. The slide shows the Trove record for Bunny Munro, by Nick Cave, and you can see here the subject headings which show up. These have been harvested from other libraries, and collected here, in Trove, to provide a comprehensive record for an item, and show which different libraries around the country have holdings of the item. Trove collects different editions, revisions, and printings of the same work under the same catalogue record, as well. This too helps bring information that otherwise would be fragmented into one place.
    Different libraries have different purposes. For example, a university library’s collection will be tailored for use by the students, according to the subjects offered. Books which the National Library will hold, as they are Australian publications, may be given more subject headings in other institutions. This data is harvested and used by Trove, as you can see in the slide, to show a richer record.
    The problem is, libraries which exist as reference collections, with books to be used and discarded according to what is needed by the clients, will also lose and discard the metadata in the records when books are removed.
    If, perhaps, the National Library of Australia’s catalogue could take a more active role in harvesting, collecting and preserving this valuable data, just think of how much more information could be provided to users?
  • Here is an example of the metadata provided on amazon.com’s page for Bunny Munro. Booksellers, often using the data provided by publishers, have, and provide, a great deal of information on the contents of books, for the purpose of selling them. There are problems, of course, with this data – it does not use controlled vocabulary, and it would probably cost the library to purchase it – however, it is still an interesting possibility.
    For example, it would be a possibility to add information, such as blurb text, or publisher data, directly into the ‘notes’ field of the catalogue record. This means it would be searchable in the library catalogue, and you would circumvent the problems of assigning controlled vocabulary in the form of Library of Congress Subject Headings.
  • User generated data, as illustrated in this slide here, is another way of adding more information on content to collection material. The examples shown here are from Amazon.com and librarything, a social cataloging site which you may be familiar with. This data is all information added by users, for users, in the form of ‘tags’ – an informal form of cataloging An example of a really effective set of user generated data would be the Newspapers Digitization Project run by the National Library of Australia. Here, users can correct text, add tags and information to pages, and generally add huge amounts of value to material. Trove, similarly, allows for tagging of material.
    There is here, the possibility of collaborating with both the users, and other organizations such as librarything. Tagging only becomes really viable when there is a large number of tags – this way, you can ascertain which tags are used most often, and are more likely to be more relevant to more users.
    I’ll now pass over to Julianne, who’ll talk about RDA, and how this will influence and possibly aid access to fiction.
  • In the near future, one of the current bibles for cataloguers will be gone, the Anglo-American cataloguing rules second edition is being replaced with Resource Description and Access or RDA. Combined with a tightening of policy on the cataloguing of Australian Fiction, RDA may assist in the normally hefty task of subject analysis for fiction.
    The conceptual model behind RDA, FRBR or Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Access, already facilitates clustering of records in Trove and may in the future allow cataloguers to better see the hierarchical relationships between versions of a work.
    This will hopefully affect subject analysis positively as a work’s main themes and topics generally shouldn’t vary between editions, revisions, printings, etc. allowing for faster subject analysis and hopefully, a decrease in the cost of cataloguing.
  • In conclusion we believe that:
    Library of Congress Subject Headings as a form of descriptive metadata is invaluable to library catalogue records.
    Current policy pertaining to the cataloguing of Australian Fiction could be improved and clarified.
    There were several contributing historical issues as to why subject headings were not always applied to fiction such as budget restraints and cultural bias.
    However, we think that this does need to change, in order to be providing the best access we can to fiction. There are ways of overcoming this, through different forms of collaboration, and the possibilities of RDA.
  • Elizabeth and I would like to thank you all for coming and also to leave you with one final point:
    Metadata creation is inherently in the hands of the creator but it is the duty of the information agency to make the resource available to users.
  • Censorship by Omission: Closing off fiction in cataloguing

    1. 1. Closing off fiction in cataloguing
    2. 2. Library of Congress Subject Headings  Are a controlled vocabulary created by the Library of Congress  Provide descriptive data  Are coded into the 6xx fields of MARC (MAchine-Readable Cataloging) records  Allow users of the National Library catalogue to search and locate materials based on their subject
    3. 3. MARC Record
    4. 4. Public Access
    5. 5. Why use Library of Congress Subject Headings?
    6. 6. 2009-2010 November-April: Total 3,850,000 searches 86,000 subject search criteria 50,000 subject browses 79,000 narrowed by subject facet
    7. 7. Australian fiction and the National Library
    8. 8. The Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave
    9. 9. The Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave
    10. 10. Fiction and cultural bias in Australia Do we want to put something about HISTORY in the title?
    11. 11. Voss
    12. 12. Tree of Man
    13. 13. Mills and Boon
    14. 14. Collaborations  Trove  Publishers and Booksellers  User-generated data
    15. 15. Trove
    16. 16. Publishers and booksellers
    17. 17. User-generated
    18. 18. Hierarchies of data: RDA AND FRBR  Current Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, second edition (AACR2) will be replaced by Resource Description and Access (RDA).  Systems may eventually facilitate bibliographic clustering through the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) conceptual model.  Hopefully this will quicken the time consuming task of subject analysis and lead to a decrease in the cost of cataloguing.
    19. 19. Conclusion  Library of Congress Subject Headings as descriptive metadata is valuable to library catalogue records.  Current policy could be improved and clarified.  Contributing historical issues include budget and culture.  There are ways of overcoming these issues; collaborations and the possibilities of RDA.
    20. 20. “Metadata is inherently in the hands of the individual creator but it is the duty of the information agency to make certain the resource is available to the users.”
    21. 21. With great thanks… Pam Gatenby Margy Burn Erica Ryan Lori Cameron Alison Dellit Marie-Louise Ayres Amelia McKenzie Jenny Stephens Karen Johnson Maurice Timbers Mark Triggs Philip Hahn Francesca D’Castro Catherine Argus Catriona Anderson National Library of Australia Manuscripts Team Purchased Monographs Team