Archive for the ‘Books and publishing’ Category

Making Book 15: Policy and Library Technology

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

Technically, this one isn’t a book (and it doesn’t appear in the book section of my vita)—but in terms of effort, reward and readership, it should probably count as a book. Instead, it’s an issue of Library Technology Reports, a periodical (also sold as single editions) from ALA TechSource.

I believe this is the last book (or booklike thing) I wrote while still at RLG. I believe this came about after some conversations with Patrick Hogan.

Library Technology Reports are relatively short and have a fairly standard format. Each one (I believe) has a single topic and a single author.

The issue has seven chapters of roughly equal length:

  • Thinking in Policy Terms
  • The Copyright Spectrum
  • Technology, Privacy, Confidentiality and Security
  • Policy Prerequisites and Technology Limitations
  • Policy, Technology, and the Digital Corpus
  • Library Policies and Social Policy Issues
  • Sources and Resourcs

I was pretty happy with this one, and it was the last traditionally-published monograph I had for six years.

Crawford, Walt. “Policy and Library Technology.” Library Technology Reports 41:2 (March/April 2005), pp. 1-63. ISSN 0024-2586.

Making Book 14. First Have Something to Say

Friday, November 29th, 2013

Four years between Future Libraries: Dreams, Madness & Reality and Being Analog. Four years between Being Analog and First Have Something to Say. Sort of a slowdown from the 11-books-in-9-years pace before those books, and that was probably a good thing.

In the 1999-2003 period, I was doing lots of other things. How much? Well, you could look at my vita:

  • In 1999, I had four articles published in American Libraries, two articles and three columns in ONLINE, eleven “Crawford’s Corner” sections in Library Hi Tech News, six “CD-ROM Corner” columns in Database (first half of the year) and its successor, EContent (second half of the year), along with an ITAL article and one in Media Spectrum.
  • In 2000, I had three articles and guest-edited a section in American Libraries (I guest-edited and wrote the introduction for a theme section on the future of ILL, which strikes me as mysterious even now), did one article and three “PC Monitor” columns in ONLINE, six “CD-ROM Corner” columns in EContent, the last ten “Crawford’s Corner” sections in Library Hi Tech News—and the first issue of Cites & Insights. There were also a handful of pieces in other publications, including a guest editorial in ITAL.
  • In 2001, I had six articles (three with a running title) in American Libraries, three “PC Monitor” columns in ONLINE, ten “disContent” columns in EContent, and thirteen issues of Cites & Insights.
  • In 2002, I actually had a column in American Libraries, with eleven columns published that year—along with a dozen “disContent” columns in EContent, three “PC Monitor” columns in ONLINE, fifteen issues of Cites & Insights and a couple of other things.
  • And in 2003, I had eleven “The Crawford Files” columns in American Libraries, eleven “disContent” columns in EContent, three “PC Monitor” columns in ONLINE and 14 issues of Cites & Insights.

2003 and 2004 were the peak of my column writing, I believe: the American Libraries ended in November 2004 after reader surveys and other editorial decisions.

Somewhere in there, I wrote this book, subtitled “Writing for the Library Profession.” Portions of it were based on American Libraries articles and, in one case, on a “disContent” column. It’s shorter than most of my earlier books (141 6″ x 9″ pages) and I believe it’s one of my best-written and most useful. If you haven’t read it, you should: I believe it’s still in print.

One indirect effect of doing this book: I did not do camera-ready copy (or prepare a PDF), partly because I’d given up on Ventura Publisher (the Corel-owned Windows version was unstable, in one case nearly preventing me from finishing a project) and Dianne Rooney didn’t feel that MSWord (at the time) offered sufficiently high-quality typography. Her choices for the book were Berkeley Book for the text and Benguiat for the headings. I was delighted with the results—so delighted that I eventually paid for a license to download and use Berkeley and Berkeley Book, which were neither among the typefaces that used to come with MSOffice or Windows or on the brilliant 500-typeface Bitstream CD-ROM that used to ship with Corel Ventura Publisher. It was money well spent; Berkeley and Berkeley Book are among the best serif typefaces I’ve ever seen, and I continue to use them for Cites & Insights (now Berkeley—Berkeley Book was a little light for C&I) and some self-published books.

Crawford, Walt. First Have Something to Say: Writing for the Library Profession. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2003. ISBN 0-8389-0851-9 (pbk.)

Making Book 13: Being Analog

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

I failed to mention a couple of things when discussion Future Libraries: Dreams, Madness & Reality. To wit:

  • While I prepared the camera-ready copy, that happened after careful discussion and negotiation with the designer at ALA Editions, Dianne Rooney, to arrive at mutually-agreeable layout and typeface decisions and details.
  • Art Plotnik approved and shepherded this project. At some point, I started working with Patrick Hogan, who I consider a friend as well as colleague and who I’ve worked with on a number of projects since (including an already-contracted future project). I should note that friendship has never prevented Patrick from turning down a project that didn’t make sense for ALA Editions, which is as it should be. (And that I had long since forgiven ALA Editions for turning down MARC for Library Use—that was under a long-since-retired acquisitions editor.)
  • If you’re wondering why I use the subtitle for that book whenever mentioning it, it’s because another book entitled “Future Libraries”—really a collection of essays not primarily by librarians—came out around the same time.

So how did this book come about—four years after Future Libraries: Dreams, Madness & Reality was published and five after it was written? From the preface, following a paragraph on the earlier book and my belief that it continued to be “a vital treatise on what libraries should and should not be”:

The glory days of the all-digital brigade are in the past. Within librarianship, the peak may have been 1990-1994. Since Future Libraries, visions of virtual libraries seem to be fading away. Some futurist voices continue to argue for the death of print and the convergence of all media, computing, and communication. The narrowness and emptiness of these projections are becoming apparent to most people.

But still they come. Some librarians still assert the all-digital future, either as a desirable goal to be worked for or as a tragic inevitability. Some politicians and campus officials still move to dilute or deny funding for libraries because they have been told books are disappearing. Librarians must still cope with these harmful, limiting attitudes.

Later, I ask: “If we’re not bound for a new paradigm and we can’t plan for an all-digital library—then what do we plan for, and how do we think about the medium-term future?” This book, based largely on my speaking and writing about these topics between 1993 and 1998, was an attempt to help answer those questions.

In some ways, this book was my sequel to Future Libraries: Dreams, Madness & Reality, but in a very different way. I believe it was a very good book (but then, I would, wouldn’t I?). It did reasonably well, although not nearly so well as the earlier book (but then, I didn’t have Michael Gorman as a coauthor!). One way to compare the two is to look at citations, as recorded in Google Scholar. As of Tuesday, November 26, 2013, Google Scholar shows Future Libraries: Dreams, Madness & Reality with 318 citations—and Being Analog with only 48. (If you’re wondering: MARC for library use has 61—well, actually 92 split between the two editions, Cites & Insights 6.2 (Library 2.0 and “Library 2.0”) has 101, and “Paper Persists: Why Physical Library Collections Still Matter,” published in Online, has 51.)

I prepared camera-ready copy for this one as well, this time using Arrus BT from Bitstream as a text typeface and Friz Quadrata BT as a heading typeface. Yes, I really do like Friz Quadrata for headings… The book is 245 6″ x 9″ pages.

I need to read the book again, maybe next year on its 15th anniversary. I’m afraid that the first paragraph quoted above may have been too optimistic, but maybe not.

Crawford, Walt. Being Analog: Creating Tomorrow’s Libraries. Chicago and London: ALA Editions, 1999. ISBN 0-8389-0754-7 (pbk.)

Making Book 12: Future Libraries: Dreams, Madness & Reality

Monday, November 25th, 2013

It wasn’t the first speech I gave. It was actually the 21st. But it was the first case where the people inviting me—Arizona State Library Association’s Library Automation Round Table—didn’t have a specific topic in mind.

I did. From my preface:

Over years of reading, listening, and thinking, I had been aware that some silly and simplistic visions about the future of print and libraries emerged from time to time. More recently, such visions seemed to come from supposed leaders in the field and to be accepted by some librarians as “inevitable,” without the librarians thinking about the bases for the visions and the consequences of the dreams. Their catchphrases—virtual library, universal workstation, buying back our own research, death of print—began to seem menacing as well as annoying, particularly when I began to hear of libraries with needed expansions threatened by people saying “but five years from now, there won’t be any books to put on those new shelves.”

I gave a speech entitled “The Death of Print, Xanadu, and Other Nightmares, or, Brother, Can You Paradigm?” in October 1992 at AzSLA. It was well received.

I gave a few more speeches on various aspects of these problems (think people in 1992 weren’t already proclaiming the inevitable death of print books within five years? think again!) and noted some striking essays and articles in the area by Michael Gorman. We exchanged some notes—as my preface says, “(via Internet e-mail),” and concluded that a joint project might make sense.

This book was the result. Oddly enough process of writing, editing, layout and revision (yes, I prepared the camera-ready copy using Ventura Publisher, this time with Zapf Calligraphic—Hermann Zapf’s own rethinking of his classic Palatino—and Friz Quadrata for headlines) was done entirely by physical mail and email; we used diskettes to exchange files and email for discussion. We met twice face-to-face during the process (at Midwinter and Annual 1994) but didn’t work on the book during either meeting. (This may seem odd, given that we were only about 172 driving miles apart at the time, but we never saw the need to arrange joint working sessions.)

Even at the time, it was slightly odd that I was coauthoring a book with Michael Gorman. Some years earlier, he had written a column that hurt me and everybody else at RLG—not surprisingly, since he was arguing that the organization should be shut down. In later years, his views moved sufficiently apart from mine that, while we discussed a second edition at one point, it’s hard to imagine that I would do something like this with him again. At the time, though, it made sense.

The book was a major success, and I’d like to think that it moderated—at least for a while—the absurd claims that print was on the verge of disappearing and that the networks of the time could really provide viable replacements for traditional media and libraries. We still get absurd claims, but at least based on more robust technology, and I think there’s more of a tendency for librarians to shout “Bullshit” (or some polite equivalent) when it’s being spread.

This was the first book I did through ALA Editions—the first publisher we approached.

Crawford, Walt, and Michael Gorman. Future Libraries: Dreams, Madness, & Reality. Chicago and London: ALA Editions, 1995. ISBN 0-8389-0647-8 (pbk.)

Making Book 11: The Catalog Collection

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

This book—yes, it was a book, ISBN and all—was ahead of its time: It would have been much more plausible to do a few years later.

On the other hand, I’m not sure it would have made any sense a few years later. In retrospect, it probably didn’t make any sense even at the time.

I believe there are something like 36 or 48 copies of this in existence. (WorldCat shows 19 libraries holding it). The even dozen number has a reason…

The Catalog Collection was a supplement to The Online Catalog Book (see previous post) with nearly twice as many screen shots, some of them reproduced at larger size. It was published as a three-ring binder—a three inch three-ring binder—intended to be updated annually. That never happened, for any number of good reasons. It was brutally expensive ($150 or $135 for LITA members)—but that’s mostly because it was brutally expensive to produce. To wit:

  • I prepared the camera-ready pages (as I did for The Online Catalog Book).
  • Since I expected to have additions, etc., each chapter had its own page numbers, with the table of contents just listing the chapters.
  • To make the book a little more manageable, each chapter began with a separate page, printed on gold paper, consisting of the chapter number, name of the catalog, and name(s) of the contributor(s).
  • I prepared a dozen copies by having a local copy shop copy all 840 bloody pages onto three-hole paper (duplexing for the chapters, single-sided for the gold separators: I did the collation afterward), creating a huge stack of paper, then collating the copies and putting them in the three-ring binders, inserting the cover and spine sheets, boxing them and mailing them to LITA headquarters. LITA actually handled distribution, for a cut of the price.

I must have thought this was an important project; it certainly made no sense in terms of revenue per hour. If it had actually been successful—if we’d sold, say, 100 to 200 copies and seen the need for updating—it would have been too much to handle.

Did I mention (in discussing the other book) that I provided suggested records and searches to the contributors, to provide some level of comparability among systems? I did, and they did.

Anyway: The great ungainly beast didn’t do very well. All things considered, that was a very good thing.

I was going to say “with Lulu, it would have been easy”—but that’s not quite true. The thickest 8.5″ x 11” book Lulu will produce is 740 pages. I would have had to break this down into two volumes. (Given that Lulu normally uses 60lb. paper, the equivalent of 24lb. copier paper, a 740-page limit isn’t unreasonable: That’s a very thick book, more than 1.5″ thick not including cover. The contents of The Catalog Collection‘s three-ring binder are more than two inches thick.)

This was also the last book I did for a couple of years. That’s not surprising.

Crawford, Walt (ed.). The Catalog Collection. Chicago: LITA (distributor), 1992. ISBN 0-8389-7594-1. Published by arrangement with G.K. Hall. Limited edition.

Making Book 10. The Online Catalog Book

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

This (full title The Online Catalog Book: Essays and Examples) is the last book I did for G.K. Hall, the only book I did with them that was 8.5″ x 11″, the last book of mine that appeared in both paper-wrapped hardcover and paperback—and the only book of mine that Hall published that probably never earned out its advance (modest though that was). It was also one of two books I’ve done where I wrote a relatively small portion of the book (although, in this case, it was enough to constitute a book-length manuscript in today’s terms): the first 129 pages of a 546-page book.

Five years ago, a book like this would have been nearly impossible to prepare; five years from now, it may be easy. At present, we’re somewhere in the middle: It wasn’t easy, but I hope you’ll agree it was worthwhile.

Libraries have increasing opportunities to make their online catalogs work and look the way they would like (and that will serve their patrons). Libraries can certainly benefit from a range of examples to see what’s possible and how it seems to work. From a user’s perspective, the online catalog is the set of available screen displays: that’s where the user and the system connect.

Remember that this was 1991-1992: most online catalogs either used PCs as terminals or could be used on PCs, so screen-capture software made it possible to grab screen images—but it was also very early in the development of the web, with no graphical browsers yet available (Mosaic showed up in 1993). Nor were most online catalogs available remotely to anyone interested in looking at them—at that point, it wasn’t easy to confuse the internet and the web.

I thought it might be plausible to update Patron Access: Issues for Online Catalog and add a substantial appendix showing a few screens from each of perhaps two dozen catalogs. I verified that nobody else had plans to gather together screen images from a wide range of catalogs and proposed a book. Originally, the expectation was that it would be a 6″ x 9″ book with 150 to 200 pages of my text followed by 250 to 300 pages of contributions including 400 to 500 screen shots covering perhaps two dozen online catalogs.

A call went out on PACS-L for volunteers. (Remember PACS-L, the Public-Access Computer Systems list?) I got more than 20 responses including several locally developed catalogs (remember when libraries developed their own online catalogs?). I also prepared a list of 42 vendors offering online catalogs and sent letters out to all of them for which I didn’t already have contributors. “Several vendors responded; many did not.” A second mailing brought a few more responses—but more than half of the supposed catalog vendors, including a few that at the time regularly advertised in the library press, never responded in any way, not even to say “we’re not interested.”

I finally identified 42 contributors representing 40 different systems (and two very different versions of each of two systems). Thirteen were library-developed; the rest were commercial. Since I couldn’t establish a rational basis for rejecting half of the possibilities, G.K. Hall agreed to a larger page size and more pages, and I gave up on updating Patron Access, instead providing a series of informal essays on catalog design issues, leaving three-quarters of the book for examples.

Ten contributions didn’t arrive (people change jobs; crises arise; priorities changes). The balance of systems changed: The book finally included seven locally developed systems and 25 commercial systems, including two CD-ROM products and systems ranging from ones running on a single PC or Mac to some very large multicampus systems.

After an ordeal of coping with a variety of screen capture programs and the resulting output (things were a bit less standardized 22 years ago!), I managed to put it all together. A quote from the preface: “There were times—as I was trying to find a workable graphics conversion routine or appropriate reproduction scale for certain screens—when I began to question my sanity in taking on this project. That question has no easy answer, but the remarkable variety of interesting contributions that emerged did keep me going.”

This was definitely a book of its time. The first 12 chapters were informal essays (by me) on various aspects of online catalog design, ending with the information for contributors (they got a set of instructions, including a suggested list of areas to cover in screen shots). The remaining 32 were contributions, each on a specific online catalog, with some introductory comments by the contributor(s) and a series of screen shots. The 32 systems were arranged alphabetically—from The Assistant as used at Arkansas Supreme Court Library (The Assistant was a commercial online integrated catalog designed to operate on single microcomputers or networked workstations) through Winnebago CAT, Winnebago Software’s online catalog system. In most cases, there were a couple dozen screen shots.

This was a massive book. Text was set in two columns of 10-point type, so there was a lot of text on each page; most figures were reproduced three to a page, except for a few cases where half a page was needed for clarity.

I suspect some of the advice in the first 12 chapters continued to be useful; some might still be. I discussed user-centered design, coherent interface design, the common command language (for good reason, many of the catalogs back then were at least partly command-driven) and a range of other topics.

But Wait! There’s More…

Most contributors submitted quite a few more screens than would fit in the book if it was to be publishable. Most readers wouldn’t need to see all the screens—but I thought a few vendors, consultants and libraries might find them valuable. So, with G.K. Hall’s permission and the cooperation of LITA, I prepared a companion publication that included (gasp) more than 1,400 screens in more than 840 pages. But that’s #11, an ambitious plan that was both before its time and pretty much too late. More on that later.

Crawford, Walt (and many contributors). The Online Catalog Book: Essays and Examples. Professional Librarian Series. New York: G.K. Hall, 1992. ISBN 0-8161-1996-1. ISBN 0-8161-1995-3 (pbk.)

Making Book 8: Desktop Publishing for Librarians

Friday, November 15th, 2013

From book lists and flyers to newsletters, signs, and annual reports, librarians produce a variety of written materials. Until recently, the primary options were the office typewriter and the commercial typesetter—one offering the advantages of economy and control, the other a polished, attractive product. Now, using the tools and techniques of desktop publishing, librarians can have the best of both worlds. They can gain control over the design and typesetting process, save time in the editing and revision cycle, and even save money.

That’s the first paragraph on the inside front leaf of the jacket for this book (another one with a book jacket for the hardcover—I haven’t had many of those!). It’s a fair capsule version of why I wrote this book and G.K. Hall published it: There was an opportunity to improve librarians’ capabilities, and I thought I could help.

Desktop publishing first really made the scene in 1985, but at the time it required not only a Mac but also an expensive LaserWriter. I worked out something more cost-effective (and not requiring a Mac) and naively called it “desktop typesetting”—it’s what I used for the LITA Newsletter early on. I even prepared a booklength manuscript on desktop typesetting. Quoting from the preface:

The manuscript was rejected. What I had overlooked (or chosen to ignore) was that the methodology required for desktop typesetting was too cumbersome for most users and, more importantly, that desktop publishing would almost certainly migrate from the Macintosh to other platforms and come down in price.

Thanks to a small software company called Ventura and a surprisingly good marketing decision by Xerox, the migration to the PC happened—in a way that has brought the virtues of a competitive marketplace to the desktop-publishing field. Prices for desktop-publishing systems have come down; the capabilities of medium-priced systems have improved considerably; several digital type foundries offer hundreds of typefaces at varying degrees of cost, ease of use, and typographic precision and results.

In 1988, I converted the LITA Newsletter from desktop typesetting (and, frankly, I no longer remember what that cumbersome process involved—the manuscript has long since disappeared) and started the new, desktop-published, Information Standards Quarterly for NISO. I also used desktop publishing techniques to produce MARC for Library Use, second edition (see previous post).

I also began to see more ways libraries could use these techniques as my wife became library director at a small college library, and became convinced both that desktop publishing could serve all but the smallest libraries—and that librarians could benefit from a book on the subject written from a library perspective. So I wrote it. Naturally, I also produced the camera-ready copy, again using Ventura Publisher and Zapf Calligraphic.

The book consists of three parts with 14 chapters (plus fairly extensive back matter):

  • Uses for desktop publishing
  • Document design and production
  • Tools for desktop publishing

The book appeared in 1990. I believe it was timely. It did fairly well. I trust it was useful for libraries and librarians.

There’s an appendix on production methods which I find particularly interesting as it speaks to the time. I wrote and produced the book on a 12Mhz. 80286-based “AT clone” with 640K of RAM, a 40 megabyte (38ms. access) Seagate hard disk, an 11″ Samsung amber monochrome monitor, a Logitech P7 mouse, a Logitech ScanMan handheld scanner and an HP LaserJet Series II laser printer with a megabyte of added RAM to hold more typefaces. Note that this was still an MS-DOS system; Ventura Publisher ran under the GEM bit-mapped display interface and cheaper software came with its own display software.

Rather than an annotated bibliography, I had a bibliographic essay discussing books and magazines on desktop publishing, including hints for selecting from among the many books then being published on the topics and reviews of a dozen or so books and four magazines.

I suspect that some of the material on document planning and design is still useful. Otherwise, this is very much a book of its time—before Windows became usable, before bitmapped graphics became universal, before truly powerful computers were really cheap and truly powerful printers were even cheaper. I mean, think about the system I used—which I believe cost several times as much as the five-year-old notebook I’m writing this post on. The cheap old computer I’m using now has roughly six thousand times as much RAM, runs at about 166 times the raw speed (but the Core 2 Duo is a multiprocess and far more efficient for each cycle than the 286), has just over 6,000 times as much disk space and drives a dual-display system with no added hardware or software.

To say nothing of typeface quality, availability and flexibility…

And, to be sure, I “stepped back” from separate desktop publishing software to MSWord—both because the Corel versions of Ventura Publisher that ran on Windows became more and more unstable and because MS Word has become more and more capable for publications. It was all I needed for The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing, and a whole lot easier to use.

Crawford, Walt. Desktop Publishing for Librarians. Professional Librarian Series. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1990. ISBN 0-8161-1929-5. ISBN 0-8161-1930-9 (pbk.)

Making Book 6: Current Technologies in the Library

Monday, November 11th, 2013

One interesting aspect of writing most anything is dissonance between what you set out to write—and what a reader thought you should be writing.

In one way, that happened with MARC for Library Use, but at the editorial level: One publisher’s acquisitions editor thought I should be writing about how to catalog with MARC tags. I don’t remember running into that level of dissonance with reviewers, though.

This book—full title Current Technologies in the Library: An Informal Overview—was where I ran into full-scale dissonance. As I remember, at least one reviewer (and maybe more) was really unhappy with the book because they thought it would be about leading-edge or cutting-edge or future technologies. They were particularly unhappy that the first chapter was “The Printed Page.”

But this book wasn’t futurism; it wasn’t cutting-edge; it was designed to help people think about and understand the technologies that their libraries currently used and some of the history behind some of them.

To quote from the introduction:

This book provides some background for many areas of current technology. It won’t make you an expert in any area, but will introduce you to some of the terminology, some of the basic concepts, and some specific ways in which the technology may affect libraries now or in the near future. It will also offer suggestions for further reading, should you wish to delve more deeply into a particular field.

The book was about tools, techniques and media, rather than systems, solutions and messages. I suggested four categories, of which the book covered portions of the second and third:

  1. Invisible and underlying technology—e.g., the electrical transmission system, heating and cooling, etc.
  2. Media and carriers—methods of storing and transmitting information.
  3. Tools and techniques (but only a few of those)
  4. Systems, e.g. library automation systems.

I tried to cover technologies that were still reasonably current in 1988—”either emerging with the likelihood of success, active or mature.”

Part 1 is Publishing Media—beginning with The Printed Page and running through Software for Lending, with a final chapter on Preservation.

Part 2 is Computers and Communications, with chapters on computers, input and display, printers, etc.

I included thumbnail histories and tables in some chapters, doing enough research to be reasonably sure of what I was saying—and I admit that I come back to the book at times to use these resources. I discussed interesting historical aspects of specific media and technologies, some of the advantages and problems, and in some cases specific library applications. (E.g., in the microform chapter—which begins “Microform is the Rodney Dangerfield of information media: it doesn’t get any respect”—I included “Closed Systems,” which most younger librarians may never have seen. Best examples: Newspaper Index and Magazine Index in ye olden days, big boxes with screens and locked-in computer-output microfilm (COM).)

Each chapter ended with a brief bibliography—items for further reading. The book included a fairly extensive glossary.

I should note that my wife specifically encouraged this project—and, unusually, went through the manuscript making lots of suggestions to improve the text. I believe it’s one of the best written books I’ve ever done, thanks in part to her critical eye.

The 324-page 6″ x 9″ book was published by G.K. Hall in paperback and hardcover (with a paper sleeve, the first of my hardcover books to use a sleeve rather than casewrap) in 1988. I believe it was useful; it sold reasonably well, although it didn’t set the world on fire. I cannot imagine doing a newer version of it!

Crawford, Walt. Current Technologies in the Library: An Informal Overview. Professional Librarian Series. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1988. ISBN 0-8161-1886-8. ISBN 0-8161-1888-4 (pbk.)

Making Book 5: Patron Access: Issues for Online Catalogs

Friday, November 8th, 2013

In 1987, I went back to a book a year—for that year and through 1992 (although there was a second “book” in 1992, I’m not sure it counts).

To my mind, this book is the second one that changed the library field significantly (MARC for Library Use was the first): I believe online catalog patron interfaces in the late 1980s and beyond were significantly influenced by this publication, including the huge growth in gutter-aligned labeled displays.

How widespread are gutter-aligned labeled bibliographic displays? Take a look at your library’s online catalog, the detailed or full display for a single item. There’s a very good chance that it has a column of labels—and that those labels are right-aligned. (I know that’s true for my public library, and I believe that library uses one of the most widely-used ILSes.)

Before Patron Access, there were very few such displays. I didn’t come up with the idea (I saw it suggested by Joe Matthews), but I believe this book was the first to publicize it widely and show how well it worked—since it certainly didn’t sound intuitively attractive.


This is the second book to grow out of the RLG Patron Access Project, the lengthy literature survey, and the enormous outline and bibliography I assembled during that project. (The outline included more than 250 specific issues relating to patron access: it did emerge as a three-part document in late 1985 or early 1986 (as far as I know, it is not available online). My superiors at RLG were happy to allow me to use the outline to prepare a book. As usual, a number of RLG colleagues (Lennie Stovel, Glee Cady, Kathleen Bales, Sarah How) commented on various drafts, as did my editor at Knowledge Industry Publications and my wife (Linda Driver, a professional librarian).

It’s probably worth quoting two paragraphs from the Acknowledgments:

This book builds on, but does not supplant, the landmark books on online catalogs by Charles Hildreth, Joe Matthews and Emily Fayen (all cited in the Bibliograph). Although I don’t agree with everything in those sources, I would be remiss not to express my appreciation for their work.

Finally, I should acknowledge the librarians who, over the years, have shown that the most important aspect of patron access is the concerned, professional librarian. Many names at UC Berkeley, Stanford, Palo Alto City Library and Menlo Park Public Library come to mind; Virginia Pratt at UC Berkeley’s Library School library deserves special mention.

The book was not published by Knowledge Industry. G.K. Hall purchased the Professional Librarian Series from Knowledge Industry, including existing contracts; this was my first book to be published by G.K. Hall.


The preface to the book—a 259-page (plus xii pages) 6″ x 9″ hardcover and paperback—made it clear that the highlight boxes were “my own opinions and are intended to provoke thought, not to be accepted on faith.” And here are the final four paragraphs of that preface, which describe my aims fairly well:

Good patron access systems exist, and more are being developed. Online catalogs, though still in their infancy, have the potential to provide more and better access to all forms of bibliographic material, including materials never represented in card catalogs.

This book’s subtitle expresses its primary intent and focus: Issues for Online Catalogs. After some years of discussion, early research and early examples of online catalogs, the time seems right to discuss a broad spectrum of issues related to patron access. Some issues appear to be obvious and to have obvious answers. Some issues may appear extraneous to patron access. Many issues are controversial, and some may be impossible to resolve.

My intent in this work is to stimulate further thought and development, not to devise the perfect patron access system. Assertions should encourage challenges; if those challenges produce demonstrably better patron access, my goals will be achieved.

Patron access catalogs will improve. By 1991, many of the discussions in this book should appear quaint because the issues I discuss will already be resolved. That’s as it should be. I am building on the work of others, with the expectation that others will add more and better work to mine.

I believe that happened, and I believe this book played a significant role. I suspect some of the highlight boxes are still relevant. If you’ve always lived with online catalogs, you might not be aware just how primitive many patron interfaces were in 1986—if libraries had online catalogs with patron interfaces at all, that is. Remember patron access interfaces that were only to the catalog itself, without holdings or availability information? No? (When somebody talks about “online card catalogs,” it’s worth remembering that there was a time when many online catalogs didn’t provide status information—and in many cases provided less information than the card catalogs.)

The book’s organization stems from the master outline’s organization, refined over the course of a year or more. There are a dozen chapters, including “Presentation: Context in an Online Catalog,” “System Clarity,” “Feedback and Help” and “Display Issues.” (There’s also a glossary, an annotated bibliography and an index.) It appears that the longest single chapter is “The Database Engine: Computer, Files and Indexes,” but most chapters are roughly similar in length.

I am particularly proud of this book. I now own the rights to all of my books published by Knowledge Industry or G.K. Hall/Macmillan. This is the oldest one that, if I had the text in machine-readable form, I would actually be tempted to republish (quite possibly with a CC BY license) because it might still be useful for the field. (I don’t have the text in machine-readable form, and can’t see scanning the pages and cleaning up the OCR without any funding at all…but I do believe it would be a worthwhile project.)

Just to finish this off, here are four of the five assertions (highlight boxes) from the “Protection” section, each of which has several paragraphs of expansion. (The fifth may not be relevant any longer—it had to do with limited computer resources, very much an issue in 1987!)

A good patron access system protects the patron from the system, the patron from other patrons and agencies, and the system from the patron.

While patron access systems should show that items are charged out, and may show when they are due, no patron should be able to find out who has items charged out.

No records should link a patron to returned items, and no records should link an item to the patrons who have borrowed and returned it.

Records of commands entered at a catalog should never identify the patron who is using the system.

I believe those four (the last three are essentially expansions of the first) still describe a desirable state of affairs for every library’s online catalog—and I still believe that weakening those protections is dangerous.

Crawford, Walt. Patron Access: Issues for Online Catalogs. Professional Librarian Series. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1987. ISBN 0-8161-1850-7. ISBN 0-8161-1852-3 (pbk.)

Making Book 4. Bibliographic Displays in the Online Catalog

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

My third book for 1986 isn’t precisely mine and grew out of a two-year project at RLG, one that resulted in other later publications as well.

It was, among other things, a much earlier set of statistics for MARC field occurrence in a large set of bibliographic data than anything comparable I can think of—but that was actually a lengthy appendix.


In 1984, the J. Paul Getty Trust funded a two-year RLG project with a number of aims. One portion of the overall project was the Patron Access Project. The goal of that project was to develop a design for a workstation-based patron access system to work with an online catalog based on RLIN software. The project rested on several assumptions, among them that online catalogs (and especially patron access) were just beginning a long process of development, evaluation and improvement; that scholars and research libraries might have special needs less likely to be fully addressed by commercial catalog development; that by 1990 scholars would have access to powerful microcomputer-based workstations; that RLIN itself (while “an unusually sophisticated database engine and retrieval methodology”) was not designed for direct use by scholars or other patrons; and that RLG should focus on the access needs of scholars as part of its overall goal.

I served as investigator for Phase 1 of the project, studying—exhaustively—the literature of online catalogs and preparing an extremely detailed outline of issues for online catalogs. (Remember when we used special outline software to develop outlines—before it was plausible to just use the outline functions of Word and competitors?) In 1985, I attended a CLR conference on online catalog screen displays and “came away convinced that the library community could benefit from large-scale tests of bibliographic display systems.”

Since I was still Product Batch manager (a post I gave up at the end of the project, becoming “assistant director for Special Services”), I was aware that RLG maintained the RLIN Monthly Process File, a file in MARC format containing 700,000 to 900,000 records (anything created or updated or used for catalog cards or other products during the previous six weeks)—and that it was feasible to use that file as a testbed. (At the time, computer capacity and handling methods didn’t really allow for processing the entire RLIN database for this sort of thing.) I developed the Bibliographic Display Testbed program, making it possible to try out a proposed set of display rules and see the results—both sample screens and how often, for example, records would run over to second or third screens.

A sidebar about the times and technology. In 1985-1986, and a few years beyond that, most library computer displays, especially for online use, were character-based, showing 24 lines of 80 characters each (fixed-width characters). You typically got from one screen to the next by typing a command, certainly not by scrolling down an effectively-infinite-length virtual screen. (What would you scroll with? Those smart terminals didn’t have mice.)

So there were real reasons to be concerned with how often users would need to go past the first screen of a record display, especially given the sense that a fair number of users might not bother.

I’d worked with MARC records—and specifically RLG’s MARC records, which included a lot of archival and manuscript control records—to suspect that bibliographic data was too heterogeneous for small samples to be terribly meaningful. We ran some 100-record tests, which satisfied my conviction: They varied so much from test to test as to be nearly useless.

RLG concluded (at my suggestion) that we could provide a useful product for the wider library community by testing a range of possible display designs and publishing the results. That would require work time, more than one analyst—and a means of distributing the result. Some portion of the time of two other library systems analysts (Lennie Stovel and Kathleen Bales) was made available, and Knowledge Industry Publications, Inc. agreed to publish the results (with RLG owning the copyright and receiving what royalties might ensue, since this work was done on work time).


This was a team effort. I wrote the programs and documentation, managed the large-scale test runs and wrote most of the text for the book. I also provided some possibilities for display design, based on the Patron Access Project study. Lennie Stovel provided much of the display design, investigating different possibilities for the top and bottom of the screen, different label alternatives and different sets of data elements. Kathleen Bales (some of you know her as Kathy) worked with Lennie to prepare the final sets of data elements and labels and to refine the designs. Both of them reviewed my program design and suggested improvements.

We were looking at several issues for online catalog design: which fields and subfields to include in each kind of display, how to arrange and group the fields, whether to use labeled or cardlike displays, what labels to use and where to put them, what techniques to use to improve legibility (remember, we’re talking about fixed-width characters with relatively low resolution), how many different display types to provide and what other information to put on the screen (and where!).

We saw five major questions: Does the display provide an appropriate amount of information? Will patrons understand the information as it is displayed? Is the display readable and attractive? Will patrons be able to find information rapidly and to find all the information needed? Will patrons be able to view the information on a single screen?

As far as we knew, almost no work had been done on the final question and not enough on the others.

We did hundreds of early test runs, mostly using a single day’s activity (19,000 to 25,000 records at the time), but several dozen using the entire six-week file. Based on those tests, we concluded that three levels of display were minimal—brief, medium and complete, each possibly either cardlike or labeled. The aim was for a brief display to leave at least seven lines for holdings information at least 90% of the timeand for a medium display to fit on one screen (with at least three lines of holdings) 90% of the time. It was clear that complete labeled displays would usually require at least two 24-line screens—but that complete cardlike displays could usually fit on one screen with minimal holdings.

We finally arrived at a common frame—the top and bottom of each screen—and a common set of data elements for medium displays. For various reasons, the dataset used for testing was reduced to a subset containing 395,000 to 405,000 records (or, for public libraries, a constant set of just under 35,000 records). We ran final tests against those records to determine percentages, and used a fixed set of eight representative records to prepare mockup displays.

The result was this 359-page 8.5″ x 11″ paperback. It includes eight chapters, most chapters combining discussions of specific display design possibilities, tables of the efficiency of those options and figures showing how the options worked out in practice. (There are a lot of figures—the book’s mostly tables and figures—with most chapters having anywhere from 46 to 99 half-page screen simulations and four or five tables each.)

Appendix A included field occurrence tables (showing for each USMARC field the occurrences per hundred records and the average field length) for all records except archival & manuscript control (a testbed of more than 628,000 records—that table is four pages long); field occurrences for 34,941 public library records; a comparison of two different 600,000-record samples (taken four months apart) for selected fields; and field occurrences for each bibliographic format (with sample sizes including 522,000 books records, 3,975 AMC records—which were and are distinctly different than most others, a mere 408 machine-readable data file records (there weren’t many of those back in the mid-1980s!), 1,000-odd maps, 11,600-odd musical scores, 50,000 serials, 4,450 sound recordings and 1,600-odd visual materials—and for each format, how the sample performed for each of 28 display possibilities. Another appendix provided a full MARC-tagged listing for each record used in most of the tests.

What was the impact of this book? I can’t say. I believe that the related Patron Access: Issues for Online Catalogs (more about that later) helped to convince designers to give “gutter-aligned” labeled displays a try—that is, displays where the label is right-aligned and the field text is left-aligned. Such displays were almost unknown before that book was published and became nearly standard (for labeled displays!) in later years: They sounded strange, but we found that they worked very well.

Are there huge differences between the field occurrence rates we found back then and those in the much larger grant-sponsored study (against a copy of most of the OCLC database) done more recently? Not really. The newer study took things down to the subfield level, but the general results were quite similar—as you’d expect. It’s not news that most bibliographic records only use a handful of fields; the question is whether the special cases that require oddball fields should be supported by the formats. I always believed they should, and continue to believe that, but—again—that’s another discussion.

Crawford, Walt, Lennie Stovel and Kathleen Bales. Bibliographic Displays in the Online Catalog. Professional Librarian Series. White Plains, NY: Knowledge Industry Publications, 1986. ISBN 0-86729-198-2 (pbk.)