Friday, February 15, 2013

Challenges of Cataloging a Zine Collection

The other day, I flipped through a copy of Zine Librarian Zine #3. In it, there's a great article, written by Amanda Stevens, on cataloging a zine collection. This ties in quite nicely with what I'm currently learning in library school.

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In class, we're learning about metadata. Simply put, metadata is "data about data" - or information about a source of information, like a book. So for the book Little Women, the metadata would include its author (Louisa May Alcott), its format (print or electronic), its genre (fiction), and its subject matter (Sisters-fiction; Family life-New England-fiction). When writing metadata, it's common practice to use Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) for the purpose of maintaining a uniform, standard language. Metadata is essential if you're a librarian or archivist who is organizing an online collection. It's also useful if you're a patron of a library or archive who is typing in search terms to find items in an online collection.

One thing that's tricky about organizing an online collection is deciding on search terms that adequately describe what's in the collection and that make sense to those searching the collection. Amanda Stevens touches on that in her article, "Adventures in Zine Subject Cataloging," published in Zine Librarian Zine #3.

On the shelves of the Anchor Archive Zine Library in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Image from bilateral/Flickr.

Stevens volunteered to catalog the zine collection at the Anchor Archive Zine Library in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in Canada. In her article, she said, "The biggest challenge has been to create a catalogue that is easy to use, makes sense to Anchor Archive patrons, and fits the DIY ethic of zines, yet incorporates enough library standards to function as an effective tool for searching and managing content." That's quite a task! She admitted "one of the most difficult aspects" of this task pertained to subject terms. And she was loathe to use Library of Congress Subject Headings.

"When you decide to use subject terms, you also have to decide if you're going to use a controlled vocabulary (a predefined set of terms) or natural language," said Stevens. "If you decide to use a controlled vocabulary, you have to decide which one to use. Unfortunately, there aren't many to choose from. Most libraries use Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), but I ruled these out right away because many [of the terms] are outdated and problematic...and I don't think hierarchical subject terms (e.g. 'travel-Arizona') are necessary" for the zine library's electronic catalog.

When cataloging a zine collection, there are no hard-and-fast rules to follow. Much does depend on the collection itself - the medium, size, location, space constraints, etc. - and those who would use it. There are also the personal politics and professional training (or lack of) of those who are organizing the collection. Ultimately, it's best to organize a collection in a way that facilitates the easiest and most efficient access to it for the users of that collection.

To read Amanda Stevens' very interesting article in its entirety, go to THIS LINK.

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