Archive for the ‘Books and publishing’ Category

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.)

Making Book 3: Common Sense Personal Computing

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

1986 was a big year for me for books—three of them in all, each with a very different background.

It was also the year after I was appointed LITA Newsletter editor and, in order to provide more coverage of conference events and other divisional stuff, changed the publication from traditional ALA layout and typography to desktop publishing: Eventually tripling the page count without ever increasing the budget. In the end, I edited (and produced the pages for) the LITA Newsletter for more than half of its life as a print publication (I was editor from 1985 through 1994)—a record I would rather not own, since once LITA Newsletter went e-only it didn’t take long to disappear entirely. But that’s another story and not directly relevant.


I don’t recall the precise genesis—whether I was talking to Ed Wall at a party or one of “his people”—but I’d had an idea for an interesting little article back in late 1983 or early 1984. Those were the early days of serious personal computers: After the pure-hobby stuff but when IBM PCs were just starting to be significant.

The concept: I’d noticed, in shopping for a computer and reading early computer magazines, that there were three very different ways that personal computers were priced: “computer pricing,” hardware pricing and system pricing. The question was: “How much will that $1,200 computer really cost?”

  • Computer pricing meant a quoted figure that got you a computer and a keyboard—and not much of anything else. The classic examples were the Commodore 64 and early Apple and IBM PC prices. “You have bought an expensive paperweight; by spending more money (generally a lot more money) you can turn that paperweight into a system. Computer Pricing is like pricing an automobile without including windshield, seats, the engine, or controls.”
  • Hardware pricing meant a price that got you a computer, keyboard, monitor, disk drives, and enough I/O to attach a printer. Early examples were Compaq portables, the Mac and the Apple IIc. (The IIe originally featured computer pricing; when Apple introduced the IIc, it repriced the IIe as a complete set of hardware and substantially dropped the price.) As I noted, this was better—but was still like buying an automobile “which doesn’t have any steering wheel, gas pedal or brakes, or other controls.”
  • System pricing probably originated with Osborne—offering a system ready to do useful work as you buy it. The price would included not only a full set of hardware but also “relatively complete software”—typically word processing, spelling checker (those were separate back in 1984!), spreadsheet, database or file manager, and BASIC. All you needed was a printer, some paper and some diskettes. Morrow, Kaypro and Sanyo all used system pricing.

Anyway…I wrote the article, “Commonsense System Pricing,” which showed comparable system prices for ten different personal computers, trying to determine actual comparability. By the way: Only two of the ten systems had hard disks at all.

The article appeared in Issue 6 (actually volume 2, issue 2) (1984) of the young Library Hi Tech.

That article led to another article, “Common Sense Planning for a Computer, or, What’s it Worth to You?”—which appeared in Issue 7. (LHT was—is, I guess—a quarterly.) And another in the final 1984 issue. And four more in 1985, three in 1986, three in 1987 and three in 1988. (In 1989, I replaced the “Common Sense Personal Computing” articles with “Trailing Edge” articles, which appeared in most issues of LHT from 1989 through 1998: my vanity bookcase includes a 15″ deep collection of LHT issues. Then there’s “Trailing Edge Notes” and “Crawford’s Corner” in Library Hi Tech News, 10 times a year from 1995 through 2000…which, when I finally stopped doing it after the publication had been sold to what’s now Emerald and the prices were jacked way up, eventually led to Cites & Insights. But that’s a digression.


Ed Wall (of Pierian Press, at the time publisher of Library Hi Tech) encouraged me to build a book around the columns, with some additional pieces added and making a logical whole. I did that in the latter half of 1985. The title of Chapter 1 may have been prophetic: “Just What The World Needs, Another Book on Microcomputers: An Introduction.”

The book has 16 chapters and totals 204 8.5″ x 11″ pages. It was produced from an HP LaserJet printer—but at Pierian Press rather than by me. As recounted in the preface, the writing and submission project involved portions of the book being worked on in up to five different word processing systems: WordStar (on my Morrow MD2 with CP/M and two diskette drives), NewWord (most of the chapters, on my later Morrow MD11—with a massive 11 megabyte hard disk, still CP/M), The FinalWord (at RLG on an IBM PC/XT running PC-DOS), PC-Write (my preferred writing/editing tool for the PC/XT and, because that’s what Pierian used, WordPerfect (also on a PC/XT).

It wasn’t a bad book. It was very much of its time. It’s now a quaint historical piece.

Crawford, Walt. Common Sense Personal Computing: A Handbook for Professionals. Ann Arbor, MI: Pierian Press, 1986. ISBN 0-87650-218-4 (pbk.)

Making Book 1: MARC for Library Use

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

This is the first in a (possible) series of memoirish notes on how my books came to be.


MARC for Library Use was not the first book length manuscript I wrote.

That would have been the study of newspaper coverage of the Free Speech Movement, which I wrote (I think) two or three years after FSM itself—thus, in the mid-1960s. On an electric typewriter. Doing nearly all of my research from roll microfilm of daily newspapers. Which, as other oldsters might imagine, left me ever-so-fond of microfilmed newspapers and those lovely manual readers.

What happened to that manuscript? I have no idea. There were two copies—an original and a carbon copy. (Where, exactly, would a penurious student go to get a 400-page manuscript copied in, say, 1966? And how would he afford it?) I submitted the manuscript to the University of California Press. Which rejected it. I would have submitted it elsewhere, I think, but in the meantime loaned it to a “friend” to read. Who disappeared…with the manuscript in his possession. The carbon copy somehow wandered as well.

I think it was a pretty good project. I may be fooling myself. Anyway…


I started developing MARC-based software in 1972, the year I moved from UC Berkeley Doe Library’s circulation department to the Library Systems Office. (USMARC goes back even farther: MARC II originated in 1968.)

When I moved to the Research Libraries Group (RLG) in 1979, I continued to work with MARC—unsurprisingly—and in 1980 became Product Batch Group manager, in charge of the behind-the-scenes work that produced all products from RLG member and user cataloging (except for catalog cards—my group made sure that the intermediate steps worked, but the phenomenally complex and flexible card production software was in another group). Most Product Batch work was in pure MARC—directory, leader and all. I retained one key piece of code from Berkeley: A very compact PL/I subroutine to extract desired fields or subfields from a MARC record with minimal overhead. (Back then, programmers spent a lot of time working on efficiency!) I would note that UC’s statewide library systems group, UCDLA, also borrowed that routine.

I was aware that library vendors, especially smaller-system vendors, had a tendency to call systems “MARC Compatible” that could not, in fact, import and export MARC records on a generalized basis, and that there was a need for better understanding of MARC itself. At one point, my group hired a library school graduate who’d taken a course on MARC and who had his syllabus from the course (since there were no textbooks). I read the syllabus and was horrified: Much of it was wrong or oversimplified (e.g., assuming a certain limitation was part of the format because one interactive system had that limitation).

The field needed a proper book on USMARC. I started talking up the idea with people at the Library of Congress, the people who were the actual experts. (I started serving as a liaison from RLG to the USMARC advisory group in early 1981 into 1987, the last two years as a MARBI committee member from LITA. I became acquainted with Henriette Avram in that role.)

I got nowhere with the effort. And finally said, “I’ll do it myself.” With considerable trepidation.

My vague recollections involve about 12-18 months of research and writing (fortunately, I had my first personal computer by then: A Morrow MD2 with no hard drive but two diskette drives, one for the OS and software, one for data: it had a honking big 128K of RAM and was, I believe, a Z80 CPU). I remember quite a few trips back to Berkeley to work with material in the Library School Library (since shut down, along with the library school). Eventually, I had a manuscript—and got reviews at various stages from several people at RLG, colleagues at OCLC and WLN and Penn State, and some of the actual experts at LC, including Henriette Avram. (Ms. Avram also provided a foreword.)

I submitted the manuscript to the foremost library publisher. They didn’t know what to do with it. They suggested rewriting it as a cataloging manual. They dithered. Eventually, I told them I was offering it elsewhere. Which I did—to Knowledge Industry Publications, Inc. (KIPI). The acquisitions editor there also wasn’t quite sure what to make of it—but thought the topic might be important and took a chance.


In 1984, it appeared—a 222-page 8.5×11″ hardbound and paperback (back then, some library publishers did both versions).

It succeeded better than KIPI had expected and probably better than I had. Of all the books I’ve written (without co-authors), I’m pretty sure it’s the best-selling…and quite possibly the most important. I know that at least one major library automation vendor purchased a copy for each of its salesfolk and told them to read it. I know that within a year or two, companies claiming MARC compatibility had MARC compatibility.

It is a book of which I am proud.

Crawford, Walt. MARC for Library Use: Understanding the USMARC Formats. Professional Librarian Series. White Plains, NY: Knowledge Industry Publications, 1984. ISBN 0-86729-120-6. ISBN 0-86720-119-2 (pbk.)

Mostly numbers: Help needed

Monday, October 14th, 2013

If you’re in a library (either public or academic) and know of, and can access, “medium-size data” that regularly comes out of your ILS or other source in some semi-tabular form (comma-separated values, spreadsheet, database, table, whatever) and that could stand some analysis but is clumsy to deal with:

I could use your help. Specifically, I’d like to see the labels and a few rows of the data from such a dataset, with notes on how often it’s generated and the typical overall size. (I’m assuming that there is no identifiable borrower information in any of this: If there is, I don’t want it.)

Please either contact me (in comments or to or send me the stuff–in some ways, comma-separated values are best, since they can’t harbor malware, they’re compact and (as far as I know) most programs can generate them. Send it as an attachment to that same email address.

If you’re one of the first three to send me something (I’ll add to this post when/if this happens), and if I’m able to use the submission to help me prepare a convincing proposal for a book (discussed below), and if the book is accepted by a real publisher…then you’d be mentioned in the acknowledgments and receive an actual physical copy of the book, autographed if you prefer. Alternatively, if this all leads to a webinar or some equivalent, you’d be mentioned in acknowledgments and I’d find some appropriate way to provide another form of thanks.

There are a lot of “Ifs” in that last paragraph, so maybe a little background will be useful.


I had an idea for a book at one point–originally The Mythical Average Public Library and later Mostly Just Numbers, which has morphed to Mostly Numbers in the meantime.

I discussed the idea in this post in May 2013, actually preceded by this post in February 2013 and this post in March 2013 and, to some extent, in this post in April 2013.

Then I started working on other projects, and the less said about the current sales of those self-published books–so far at least–the better.

Along the way, I added two more brief comments on the possible project: One on June 10, 2013 and one on June 26, 2013.

Given the rousing response and dismal results of recent self-pub efforts, I’ve pretty much concluded that self-publishing this would-be book is absurd. One difference between the library-sayings and public-library-benefits projects and this one: The first was both fun and a voyage of discovery, the second was at least a voyage of discovery. This one would be trying to help librarians using some techniques I’ve “discovered” (they were there all the time, but finding them and thinking through their implications can be tricky)–without “mansplaining” or otherwise losing the whole point.

Doing something that’s inherently interesting and finding that it’s met with a collective yawn (or, rather, a collective total absence of any interest at all) is one thing. Doing something that’s mostly fairly hard work and facing a similar “Haven’t you gone away yet, old man?” response (or, rather, non-response) is quite another.

And yet, and yet, it’s not entirely easy to just give up and move on. It doesn’t help that, in the last couple of months, I’ve “discovered” a couple of additional techniques that are very powerful and not at all obvious (at least to me)–one of which probably saved me 90% of the time required to do one complex set of analyses.


I don’t work in a library. I haven’t worked in a library for several decades, although I was working with a number of library statistical reports more recently–none of which I have access to any more. (None of which exist any more except possibly in some libraries as historical items…)

Having real example(s) of datasets that are potentially useful but a little cumbersome to analyze might help me decide whether this project is worth trying to sell to a publisher (or turning into a webinar or short course or something, in any case something with somebody else’s backing behind it, given the obvious quality of my own marketing efforts…).

I still plan to use the NCES academic library statistics and IMLS public library statistics as the basis for two chapters, to help librarians see how they can prepare their own specialized comparisons with relatively little effort. But adding to that a set of examples of how “advanced” spreadsheet techniques can make everyday (every month? every quarter? every year?) library analysis tasks easier and more productive…that might be worthwhile to more people.

To do that requires realistic examples. Thus my request.

Various somewhat obsolete versions of the potential book/webinar’s outline will be found in some of the linked posts.

If you can help and think it’s worthwhile, please do.

Lack of any response will also help me decide what to do, in its own way.