Catalogue and Classify Those Tweets


The recent announcement about The Library of Congress acquiring the back archive of tweets got me thinking again about meaning in Twitter hashtags. I jokingly suggested that L.O.C. might like to classify them all. Thinking about it properly, classifying them might be useful. I’m not thinking about all tweets, but hashtags mentioned in the tweets.

If you are a library holding references to resources on your catalogue, a catalogue record for and linking to a hashtag url for an event eg #jisc10 or a subject eg #rda might be useful. Twitter provides useful & concise information, links to resources, discussions, etc, so why not make use of that? I know you have to read some waffle too on Twitter, but you often have to read through more waffle in a book.

You could index the hashtag in the same way as your normal stock. ie with subject headings and classification codes. I know tweets are lost into the ether after a few days, but for more permanent links you could use a url pointing to a twitter archiving service like Twapperkeeper, if tweets about the hashtag are being stored. These services are more likely to hold onto tweets for much longer.

I wonder if this is the intention of the Library of Congress?

Share it with RDA


One of the key points behind RDA is being able to re-use bibliographic data held in library management systems, outside of the system. If you release this data into the wild, it’s likely that someone else will come up with an interesting and innovative way of using it, way beyond its original purpose on the library system.

In the past, library communities have managed to share data between their systems fairly successfully – as long as you catalogued your stock according to the rules. We achieved this sharing process through the use of MARC formats.

Unfortunately, I think the use of MARC formats, specifically MARC21 (the dominant MARC format in the English language speaking world), will be the thing that undoes the RDA plan to share data outside of the catalogue.

MARC21 records are stuffed full of punctuation that will need to be stripped out before you can share it. There’s no doubt that this can be done – if you added the punctuation in the first place, based on rules, you should be able to strip it all out again. However, it would be a lot more helpful when going down the “Let’s open this data up to the world” route if we didn’t have to do this. Why should users of the data have to frustrate themselves with this process?

So, now RDA is with us, isn’t it time to look at MARC21 and do something about this barrier to sharing data?

RDA for the People


I’ve known RDA was coming along for us cataloguer librarian types. I knew what it was all about, but until recently I’ve been trying to work out why it’s so important and what difference it will make? How will it change what I’m doing in my day job? I know you’ve got the practical side of things – how MARC cataloguing on our library system ties in with the new RDA rules, but apart from this, what’s the big deal?

I think the big deal and most important thing for me, is that it puts into words and agrees rules on what a lot of cataloguers have been trying to do for some time now – providing information in catalogue records with a focus on helping users of the catalogue, rather than as an academic and formal exercise in cataloguing.

Whenever I’ve been cataloguing over the past 15 years, it’s always been a case of “this is cataloguing – it needs to fit the standards set out in MARC and AACR2, but it also needs to give the users what they want.”

I know I’m not unique in this situation – other cataloguers recognise that MARC needs to be tweaked, based on the information you know the users will make use of and how individual library systems work.

In recent years there’s been a change in the way we look at cataloguing – defining the purpose from a different angle, acknowledging that the information world is dominated by internet search and presentation and shifting accordingly. We needed to give the users a way of searching/interacting with the catalogue in a way they’re familiar with.

This is why for me the most important part of the RDA changes are:

(1) Recognising users needs, including the type of information they want to see eg. fiction genres

(2) Focussing on keyword search styles

(3) Presenting information in a human readable form –  no longer inverting subject headings and moving away from abbreviations

(4) Display issues

(5) Reducing the need for editing of data.

Now that RDA says it’s okay to focus on the users needs, I can sleep soundly in my bed and not worry about whether I’m offending another cataloguer by using the incorrect form of an abbreviated inverted main title entry, with trailing responsiblity codes, or not!

PS. I just made up the ‘abbreviated inverted main title entry, with trailing responsiblity codes‘ statement for illustration and you don’t have to worry that it doesn’t make sense. It would only be us cataloguers who’d be able to tell I was talking rubbish anyway 😉

Knobbling the Winter Olympic Catalogue Results


In my role of ‘Keeper of the Keys to the Catalogue (once removed)’ for a public library service and ‘Man with Access to Official Twitter Account’, I thought it would be a good idea to promote some of our books around the Winter Olympics. This included trying to get a few more loans out of the curling books we bought after Team GB did so well some time ago. 🙂

I wanted to point our Twitter followers to a few handpicked books on our library catalogue, rather than a huge wodge of titles and I wanted to do it as simply and quickly as possible. However, as I tried to pull out a few relevant skiing books I knew it wasn’t going to work using any of the search methods available, despite working out different combinations of words.

In the end I realised I was trying to make the search methods work for me, when the catalogue records should be doing the work instead. As a cataloguer/classifier I’d always been taught that cataloguing/classification should be consistent. The sacred laws of UKMARC should be obeyed. I can’t complain with this as a general principle, but in some cases if you want to achieve something different, you need to do something different to make it work. As long as it doesn’t affect the end user, as far as I’m concerned it’s fine to do it. In fact, in this case, it was for the benefit of the end user that I decided to take a different angle with this.

I decided to hashtag the catalogue entries I thought would be of interest. I know cataloguers and classifiers commonly tag records anyway, but the difference in this case was that I only tagged a handful of records, rather than tagging the entire stock with these new hashtags. Using the hashtag format would indicate that these tags had a unique purpose. It’s the same idea as giving a Twitter message a hashtag only if it’s related to a particular event ( eg ‘#van2010‘ for the Winter Olympics). You don’t need to tag all of your Twitter messages and, in the same way, you don’t always need to tag all of the records on your catalogue.

Winter Olympic Catalogue Search Results

I suppose it’s like partial/filtered indexing, where you limit the results to a subset of items, based on rules you define, rather than retrieving the full set of records. If I’d just searched for ‘skiing’ for example it would have given me 208 records. I didn’t want our users to have to trawl through all of these records. Using my method I limited the results to a single page of 7 items. Anyone searching the catalogue could still retrieve the 208 skiing records if they wanted to, but my tags pointed our Twitter followers to this limited set, as a sort of mini promotion. In fact, as I only tagged about 35 titles out of the thousands of titles on our catalogue you could say it was almost micro-indexing.

I basically pre-weighted the catalogue records so that they give me exactly what I wanted. If it was an Olympic event it might call for a stewards enquiry for knobbling the competitors!

The tags didn’t need to make any sense to anyone, as they’d just be used to query the online catalogue. They just needed to be unique, so the more obscure the tag the better – I didn’t want any unrelated items in the search results. In the end I created tags such as ‘#woski10‘ (skiing), ‘#woiho10‘ (ice-hockey), ‘#wotd10‘ (Torvill and Dean). There were about seven hashtags in the end.

After running each hashtag search, they were saved as links ( shortens long url’s). The links were added to appropriate Twitter messages, which were scheduled to run at various times over the Winter Olympic period.

Twitter Olympic Tweets

I’ll be checking the items a few weeks after the Olympics are over to see if this has increased their use.

I’m also wondering if I could have made extra use of these hashtags via a Yahoo pipe mashup, but I’ve no firm ideas at the moment about what would be useful. Maybe a link between books and related Team GB/ Winter Olympic web pages, Flickr photos, Youtube videos would have been a good idea.