On Pedantry and Cataloging. Part 2 / by Netanel Ganin

This is a follow-up to my previous post, where I reflected on the role of pedantry in catalogers.

I rosy-red glasses’d it.

Did I tell any overt lies? I hope not, but I certainly painted a very flattering portrait of myself as a noble cataloger while some hideous figure molders in my attic.

Let me remind you of my origin story — how I became interested in cataloging. There was a book on the shelf which seemed to me to be in the wrong place, I became a nuisance and eventually got it moved.

Now yes, you can argue that I was fulfilling the needs of the user which I waxed on about in the last post. After all, at that point I was the user! Moving the Iron Maiden book to be with its friends would’ve certainly allowed patrons to find them all together — but is that why I pushed for it? Is that truly the reason that it bothered me?

No. Or at least, not the whole reason.

Another story from my past:

In second grade I corrected my teacher (Mrs. Ruback! how are you? I’m doing well, thank you) on a minor “me vs. I” grammar usage. Yes, I was that kid — and I was him for a long time. My mom used to say they’d put “but I was right” on my tombstone.

I’m not going to go on a long psychoanalysis of why I get pleasure from knowing rules and correcting others on them. (N.B. to any psychologists out there, I’d be happy to be in an MRI machine and correct people for your study). To an extent, I grew out of that impulse. As I’ve said on twitter before, I’m a recovering grammar snob

This piece on literacy and privilege was an eye opener for me. I’ve learned so much since I was a young jerk (and older jerk) smugly correcting people while blissfully unaware (or more likely, willfully ignoring) that being ‘right’ is often reserved for those who are more privileged in one sense or another. After all, they’re the ones who make the rules.

To bring it back to cataloging.

I wrote many high-falutin’ words about the cataloger who is pure of heart and sure of deed, who only corrects others to ensure that the user will find all their resources…that may be more of a platonic ideal than the reality.

The truth is, when I get to bust out some persnickety particular of…



I know, big shocking news. I’m kind of a pedant, and I bet I’m not alone.

Though I am working on wanting to be ‘right’ for its own sake, I wanted to set the record a little more straight, and be a little more real about who and what I am.

I still stand by my words of what we should be, but I’m not there yet — maybe you’d like to walk with me?


On pedantry and cataloging : a reflection / by Netanel Ganin

I didn’t like my response to this tweet the other day — it was sarcastic and defensive and lacking in respect for Erin, the other conversants, and the actual topic they were discussing.


I wanted to reflect on why I reacted that way, and what a more nuanced thought-out response would be.

I’ve been a cataloger (professionally) for about a year. Before that the only cataloging I did was in a classroom setting. I need to remember that I’m coming from a place of still being wet around the ears and rah-rah-rah excited (in a naive pollyannish way) about my profession, peers, and work. Others who have years of experience under their belts probably know a lot more about what ‘it’s like’ than I do.

Another thing I need to stay cognizant of is that I’ve missed a lot. Sure, library school’s cat ‘n’ class courses do a bit of the history of how and why we got to where are today, but there’s only so much time for that. We didn’t cover (and I’d argue can’t adequately explain) the sheer amount of print and digital ink spilled over the current rules. When I learned the MARC standard, there wasn’t a lot of room to mention the history of every field and subfield, discuss the changes, and why things were changed.


It’s something I get very aware of when I ask about a ‘wrong’ cataloging entry on twitter and someone responds that it was correct at a time. What may strike many as needless rules lawyering and arbitrary changes from AACR2 to RDA strikes me as the normal way of doing things because I only learned RDA. Again, this is not to cast aspersions on my lib-school. They did a great job trying to teach us the current cataloging standards and still impart the terminology and rules of yore so that we could be aware of them. I know about the rule of three, and various abbreviations used in AACR2 — but it’s always been in the context of ‘we don’t do it this way anymore’.

So really the two points I want to remind myself of are the same point. Listen to other catalogers when they talk about the work, because there is history and legacy that you don’t know about, and could value from knowing more about.


The second half, are catalogers pedantic? [for the record, Erin was not quoting her own writing, the quote was from somewhere else and she was responding to it in her writing so please don’t read this as a rebuke directed at her]

When I hear that, it sounds like a criticism — the implication being that catalogers are too focused on the rules qua rules and not enough on serving the users. That’s why it gets my hackles up — because I try to think a lot about the user.

  • “Might someone search under this portion of the title? Toss it in a 246 1 3”
  • “A patron may want a summary of this resource and its table of contents — go fetch those and add them (or type them in yourself)”
  • “People sometimes like to know where a movie was filmed, do the leg work to code a proper 033/518”

All that we do should be for the user — I can’t imagine a more terrifying twilight zone episode than a room full of catalogers discussing bibliographic description and subject analysis only for the camera to pull back and reveal that the world has ended and everyone’s dead.

Perhaps that is the image some have of us. And as I said above — I can’t truly understand the amount of frustration many have felt at cataloging debates and arguments that have gone round and round in the past (and probably continue in the present) but that isn’t what I aspire to, and it isn’t what our profession should aspire to.

I’m not trying to act wide-eyed innocent however, I ‘get’ it. We catalogers probably didn’t fall into this line of work because we aren’t persnickety, detail oriented, rules followers. I am no exception:

Yet it absolutely makes sense to use –Film adaptations under an author’s name for a DVD of their work, and I can easily imagine a user clicking “Grisham, John — Film adaptations” expecting to find all the DVDs in the library which are adaptations of his work, regardless of boxed-sets or singletons.

So then why argue against it Netanel? If you claim to serve the user, why is this your pet peeve? Because we’re not consistent. If some catalogers are using –Film adaptations that way (technically incorrectly) and others aren’t, then how are we helping our users find film adaptations if they can’t know to depend on that heading to point them in the right direction? Its absence may indicate to them the lack of film adaptations in the library’s catalog, even though the library may hold those adaptations.


I guess what I’m trying to say is, what may seem like pointless pedantry may still serve the user. I think consistency from catalog to catalog in both description and access is valuable for users. The only way (I can see) to achieve consistency is through the creation and following of rules.

But that also means revisiting those rules! We should never end up cutting off the sides of the roast just because Bubbe used to do it that way. We need to be always evaluating  (and re-evaluating) what purpose our rules have and keep the end point (helping the user meet their information needs) in mind.

The other piece I want to point out is data-conformity. Here I mean the machine part. Increasingly, the work catalogers do is processed and parsed by machines who are even more pedantic than catalogers can be. Misplace a semicolon and just see how your php does! (If this is an incorrect joke, please replace it in your mind with one that makes more sense). It may seem weird to structure a date range like this “[1951,1952]” but if the machine receiving the data is looking for dates in edtf it has to be that way.


Fellow cats, let’s talk about our rules, let’s talk about what they’re for, let’s talk about who they’re for, and let’s keep what’s good. Let go of the rest.


Stop it with Yer Dang “Hebrew Fiction”

Oh there’s Netanel, off on another of his patented rants about Hebrew fiction and how much he hates it.



My beef is with

650 _ 0 Hebrew fiction.

and its very good friend:

650 _ 0 Israeli fiction.

If I had a Spanish-language specialty, I’d probably be complaining about Spanish fiction, but my specialty is Hebrew, so here we are.

Now look, you know and I know (and I know that you know) that subjects belong in 650s and genre/forms belong in 655s, we’re not going to rehash that whole biz here.

You, right now.


So then why am I even bringing this up? Well here’s the thing, I feel you. There currently aren’t any LCGFT terms which adequately cover “language of fiction” or “national origin of fiction” — heck I’ll even give you the benefit of the doubt that you’re trying to enter

655 _ 7 Hebrew fiction $2 lcsh

and maybe OCLC is just flipping it to a 650 upon controlling the heading. Because the thing is people do want access to their fiction by these facets, so I understand your impetus to give them that access.

What I’m suggesting is that we’re going about this the wrong way. If we push for authorizing every “$language fiction” and “$nation fiction” as LCGFT terms, we’re going to end up with the same bloat we currently suffer from in LCSH.

Let’s leverage the metadata we already have to give users these facets. The “Lang” element (characters 35-57 in the 008 field) contains a three digit code which can be dereferenced into a language. The “Ctry” element (characters 15-17 in an 008) contains a code which can be dereferenced into country of publication.

Write a macro that upon presence of a ‘1’ or ‘f’ in “LitF” (character 33 in an 008 or 16 in an  006) generates a 655 of “X fiction” upon export. We can treat them as we do pattern headings and any [Language] fiction is allowed, without needing to add every term individually.

Whadda ya think?



As the very wise and detail-oriented MarcinaColdClimate has pointed out to me:

I have erred!

“Ctry” is place of publication of this manifestation — if for example (her example to be precise), you were cataloging a Canadian publication of Tintin, you’d end up with

655 _ 7 Canadian fiction.

When of course Tintin is Belgian.



Linked data.

Pretty good idea, right?

No, but seriously — in the work Name Authority Record — place of origin of work (RDA 6.5) is recorded in 370  $g. Our more-clever and powerful cataloging tools will be able to easily fetch that data for us. Problem solved.




As always — check out the full approved list

I New LCSH, You New LCSH, we all New LCSH for New LCSH


A couple notes before we begin:

This is the first new LCSH with contributions from yours truly! Three of my proposed headings were added to this list:

  • Cisgender people
  • African American sexual minorities
  • Berit (The Hebrew word)

I wrote about proposing Cisgender people way back in August of 2015, I proposed African American sexual minorities in February of 2016 and Berit in March of 2016. I mention this because I wish the SACO process was less opaque and closed-door. Berit was proposed through my work as a member of the Judaica SACO funnel so I get to use the official Class-Web proposal system. This isn’t to say that all proposals entered through that system are bumped to the head of the queue and reviewed in the order they were received. Far from it! I proposed ‘Peace in rabbinical literature’ through that same system in February and it still hasn’t been placed on a tentative list for review.

The other two, because neither is specifically Judaic in nature, I had to propose through the non-SACO system. That is, I used the entry form that anyone can use to propose a subject heading. I received no feedback for either until March when I drew the eye of the very helpful Paul Frank of LC. He was kind enough to push my proposals right onto the May tentative list and then they were approved. But it’s frustrating that so much pestering (I emailed many different contact emails at LC to little avail) is needed!

I understand that the Policy and Standards Division of LC is understaffed and underfunded (write to your congressperson! Fund the Library of Congress!) I do not begrudge them the speed of the work. Yet to submit headings and then have no sense that they’ve been seen or received is disheartening.

Acoustic Warfare

I can't be sure, but i think that vuvuzela has been added by a third party
I can’t be sure, but I think that vuvuzela has been added by a third party


Bicycles in motion pictures

Cartoon image of a thief stealing a bicycle
Get it?

Bloody Marys (Cocktails)

Watch out Dean, that cocktail is evil!


Someone in the fansubbing community, is this funny?

Icelandic sheepdog

Picture of Icelandic Sheepdog
voff! voff!

Lunar calendars

Some conspiracy nonsense about blood moons and 5776
Spoiler from the future…your prophecies didn’t come true last year

North (The concept)

Canada Geese flying north
They do move in herds…

North (The concept) in motion pictures

Poster for motion picture: North
Don’t tell Roger Ebert I used this

Paranormal fiction, Scottish

Cover art for "Scottish Werebear by Lorelai Moone"
Not fun fact: There are no bears in Scotland anymore

Peer-to-peer travel

Pictures of Air B 'n' B horror stories
Still cheaper than staying in a hotel

Sex in video games

Still from 'Leisure Suit Larry'
There’s been sex in video games since forever

Socialism and individualism

Picture of Ayn Rand
At least she had good taste in hats

Steampunk fiction, Canadian

Cover of 'Clockwork Angels' comic book
You know if there’s a chance for a Rush reference, imma put one in

Superheroes–Religious aspects

Image from 'Superman Returns'
Superman is a JEWISH allegory, c’mon!

Water–Mercury content

Sailor Mercury
Dang! The Mercury content of this water is VERY high!