where is my easy button?

So I just found out about this new book (Teaching as Leadership, in which Teach for America releases decades of data on what makes teachers effective, and yes I’m pretty much twitching with paroxysms of squeeee about this). It doesn’t come out until February, but hey, I can wait (…impatiently), and I’m fine with putting in a request for it through the library and getting it when I get it…

….except I can’t, because the library doesn’t have it yet, so a catalog search is fruitless.

Which, I mean, I’m also sort of OK with. Except…what happens to the information that I’ve searched for this book, and not found it? Does it just fall into the void somewhere? Is it collected in some useful way and acted upon? (Help me out here, O people who have studied collection development.)

And why is there not an easy button where I can say, hey, I want this book? Seems like fruitless searches should automatically yield a “suggest this for purchase” option.

While I’m on the topic, can anyone tell me how the Amazon preorder system works? Obviously Amazon is, in some way, cataloging and allowing requests for books it does not, in point of fact, have yet, and my library is not. (Leaving aside, for the moment, that Amazon’s catalog and search makes me want to stab things. And that my husband and I had a conversation about authority control issues with a record for a book that has apparently just been received by our local library system but not yet cataloged. This, if it works as a permalink.)

20 thoughts on “where is my easy button?

  1. Amazon almost certainly gets its preorder metadata from distributors, who aggregate it from publishers, who are quite happy to share such information with the world. This is cataloguing in the most literal sense — it goes into a physical catalog of things that buyers can order for their stores. Typically a buyer pays a subscription fee or an initial order deposit ($500 or so) to a distributor, and gets a catalogue of upcoming publications available through that distributor. I expect that Amazon simply takes this catalogue, projects on some “preorder only” notation, unions it onto their database, and calls it a day. I am surprised that libraries do not do this as well, but I don’t know how library acquisitions interact with publishers/distributors (do libraries even have buyers?).

    I will confess some confusion about libraries cataloguing workflow and (lack of) use of publisher-supplied metadata. Would it feel too much like being part of an ad campaign? It seems like publishers do initial cataloguing sufficient for buyers, then later when they have published the book cataloguers redo that cataloguing up to the standard of libraries. I wonder if it is a record-scope problem, eg that publishers are cataloguing SKUs rather than volumes or holdings or whatever.


    1. Right, let me try to dredge up that conversation we had one time about acquisitions…uhhhhh…..

      OK. I recall three ways of going about acquisitions. I feel certain there was a fourth, but I don’t remember it. I am apparently not in the mood to find my notebook and see if I wrote this down ;).

      One, library staff can individually select & order each book they want. But they don’t, because this is way too time-consuming.

      Two, they can create some sort of profile with vendors, and be shipped everything that fits that profile (with some kind of option for sending things back).

      Three, they can just get everything a particular vendor sends. This is easiest on the front end but hardest on the back, because then you have an enormous Mystery Box you have to sort and catalog and so forth (I gather the Mystery Box does not come with data. Why? I dunno. I also dunno how easy it is for data to be issued in a format that all 5839022093 ILSes will import, and no it would not surprise me if they don’t reliably speak some standard, especially considering how many ancient legacy systems there are, but again, dunno).

      I have deliberately used the word “vendor” because I do not know what entity would be appropriate. I know there are cases in which you buy from publishers (e.g. Simmons gets the Mystery Box from ALA, although that is the only vendor with whom they apply that strategy, and that’s just because of the voracity of GSLIS). I know there are cases in which you deal with aggregators, but the cases I know of are for online resources (databases/serials).

      I expect the publisher metadata — yeah, might feel too ad-ish for some — but mostly is just not in MARC format and does not follow AACR2 cataloguing rules and is therefore, you know, evil. But maybe also it would be a pain in the ass to put into your database, and to alter into the format you want. Maybe it doesn’t matter too much if the format is wrong if it’s internal-only while you’re in the acquisitions phase (or maybe it does matter! can I get a “dunno”?), but even if so maybe it is too obnoxious to rewrite all the records before they go live. (Du…you get the idea.)


      1. Some vendors do supply MARC records, although they are not necessarily of great quality, and are often created directly from publisher supplied data. In addition, OCLC now has a good deal of vendor supplied records in World Cat, so there is plenty of such MARC data, although, as you say, most of it does not follow AACR2 very well.

        As for the selection process, many public library, and some academic libraries, still rely on individual selection of books for collection development, although this is almost always supplemented with some kind of profile. You have to be very careful with such profiles however. It is in the vendor’s interest to send you the most expensive selection of items which fits you’re profile, and, depending upon the language of the agreement, returning unwanted items may be difficult.


  2. Many libraries will add bibliographic level records to their catalogs upon deciding to purchase an item, though they will not add a item level record until they acquire the item. Other libraries will add both a bibliographic level and an item level record, but will give the item level record an “on order” or similar status. Most libraries wait until an item arrives to add any records. And, finally, some libraries seem to do a confusing mix of the above, in no consistent way that I can determine.

    As someone who works with interlibrary loans everyday, I can say with some confidence that many patrons do not understand the concept of a bibliographic record and assume that if they find something in the search it is available. This is true of Amazon prerelease records as well, and we have received request for items which have not yet been released with photocopies of the Amazon record attached. These are, I suspect, interface issues, not conceptual issues, however. If we made the difference clear I think many more people would understand.


    1. Thanks for the comment! I’d been wondering if it had something to do with item vs holding stuff. Although it is still kind of baffling — the record is lacking a lot of stuff that I would think would be available, and it’s using a non-authorized form of the author’s name (which was the difficulty Grant was encountering). So I am wondering what exactly their acquisitions and/or cataloguing workflow looks like that they have this bad, but publicly visible, metadata. (I expect it’ll change within a few months — the two actual holdings in the system are in an incomplete state, on order and out for processing iirc — let’s see if I remember to check in a few months to see if it has…) Sounds like workflows vary enough that it’s hard to infer, though.

      I wonder to what extent the behaviors you’re seeing reflect a lack of understanding of how the system works, and to what extent it reflects a conceptual model of how it *should* work that differs from how it *does*? I mean…had I been able to communicate a request for that book in some manner…would it have been perceived as “this patron does not understand that the book is not yet available” or as “this patron would like for this book to become available, which is information we should consider”? I suspect this is mostly an interface issue…but might be a conceptual one (on the part of staff) as well…

      Mostly I just don’t want that information to go into the void. Or, to generalize — I don’t like it when transactions fail. I don’t think I ever want an ILS transaction to fail. That doesn’t mean I always expect the book I want to be available, but that does mean I want the system to be able to give me some positive action I can take (“did you mean…?” in case the transaction failed due to regrettable spelling, “suggest a purchase” if there’s really nothing there, “ask a librarian”…let me do something, so I don’t just experience a library transaction as fail).


      1. I try to pay attention to holds our patrons place on items which are not yet available and I relay this information to those who do collection development if I think the title would make sense in our collection, but this is not automated. It is something I have to notice as I run reports to diagnose unfilled holds.

        The biggest problem we have with holds placed on these early, low quality records (which are often filled with vendor supplied data, or may be created by hand by acquisition staff) is that they are often not merged with the proper MARC record when the item arrives, i.e. the item is cataloged and given a proper MARC record when it is added to the collection, but the old holds on the low-quality record are not moved and so are never filled.

        As for what happens when a search fails, I think the information is logged, but I never see it, and I don’t know who does. What a patron sees (some of the time) is a link the equivalent search in our consortium union catalog. If the search fails there they get a link to the Massachusetts Virtual Catalog. This is less than ideal, but it may be the best we can do with our current infrastructure. If we were using something like WorldCat Local, which obviously has the infrastructure to search and display results from a massive union catalog, then things could be much better.

        And yes, there should be an easy way to submit a purchase request from the catalog. I suppose there might be some technical reason why we can’t do this at my library, but I don’t know enough about III to be sure.


  3. Now that chrome finally supports extensions I’m going to write a little script that populates my library’s “Suggest An Item” page with info scraped from Amazon (or Indigo, the big chain bookstore in Canada). But I am a little horrified that I have to do this myself.


  4. Benjamin, thanks for all your input! Seems like I can’t nest replies any deeper so I’ll reply down here…

    It makes me sad that the software you are working with does not support collection development in the way I would like. (I’ve definitely seen library pages which at least have a “suggest a purchase” link, but I’m not sure if that’s integrated with the ILS, what ILS they use, etc.)

    So these early, low-quality records — I presume they’re there to support acquisition and general tracking of the book before it hits the shelves? Do you know of a reason a record in that state would be visible to patrons? I guess if the book is available enough to be requested but the cataloguing is backlogged… Also, total bleah on losing data as the records are upgraded.


    1. I think the idea is that patrons should be able to request such items. Indeed, they can. The problem is that such request are rarely filled.

      I should add that the whole idea of having waiting lists is rather foreign to traditional ILL. While our local ILS supports and, indeed, encourages their use, when we request items from outside of our consortium we are generally restricted to only requesting items on the shelves.


      1. Gosh, that’s bizarre and annoying. (Of course 95% of my use of the library is placing holds requests through the OPAC…I’m totally cool with waiting until the book is in; I just want it to get to me.)


      2. While I’m at it — what *are* the restrictions on ILL, anyway? I have done very little ILL (as a patron, I mean) so I don’t have much of a sense of it. Last book I tried to ILL it wouldn’t let me have because it was too new (and I guess I get having a period when the book is exclusively accessible to patrons of its home library but it was weird to me that I wasn’t told that until after my request had sat around for a while being processed). Anyway, it made me realize how little I know about how ILL works or what principles guide it. (Really I just want the Enormous Union Catalog of the World, where I can place requests on anything, and some things just take longer to get to me. As a user I don’t really want there to be a distinction between ILL and submitting a holds request via the OPAC — I *do* want to be able to limit/default searches to my local library/consortium, but I want access to, well, everything in the world, really.)


  5. You might want to check out the ALA Interlibrary Loan Code. http://www.ala.org/Template.cfm?Section=Home&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=31579

    There are several interesting things in there, among them:
    – Section 5.2 basically means that a library can deny your request for any reason.
    – Sections 4.12 and 5.9 both assert the supplying library’s right to recall items (i.e. require that you return an item before the due date.)
    – Section 4.9 which says that the requesting library is responsible for any damage or loss to the requested item from the moment it leaves the supplying library to the moment it is returned. This means, among other things, that the requesting library may be billed for an item that never arrived.
    – Upon receiving a request a library is supposed to respond promptly—and then they are done. There is mention of waiting lists, or follow ups, or anything else. The library either sends the item or says, “Sorry, we aren’t sending it because of X”. And then they are done. (A corollary of this is that if a library wants to get an item for their patron through ILL, but it is currently checked out, it is necessary for a librarian at the requesting library to monitor the status of the item and place the request at the appropriate time. Needless to say, most librarians don’t have time for this.)


  6. You’re quite right to wonder how come no clever use is made of frustrated searches.

    In The Future, upon failing to find an item in local holdings, people would be encouraged by the library software to search WorldCat or whatever comes next, and once they find what they’re looking for, the _local library_ will store that information, including the patron’s information (if given), so that if and when a purchase decision is made, the patron will be notified, and his contribution to the decision mentioned. Interlibrary loan should also be offered, of course.

    I think far too many patrons forget that their libraries exist to serve them, and tend to treat them passively as a store of some data, which either has what they want or doesn’t, with the patrons having no say about it.

    This should change, and it is up to wise librarians who really understand what a library’s goal is (hint: it is not to protect the books from patrons) to bring about that change.


    1. Hi, and welcome!

      I in fact had heard about the book *from* that Atlantic article (and I second your recommendation of it).

      I’m somewhat familiar with TfA — not hugely, but I’m a former teacher and I follow ed reform news and so forth. And I read Relentless Pursuit, which I see your blog references (and I will totally be looking at your blog archives when I get a chance :). I take it you got a sneak preview of the book?


  7. I haven’t, but the basics of TAL are given to incoming corps members in a big fat binder once we get to Institute (our training), and are referenced again and again. Some of parts of the TAL rubric that TFA believes make good teachers seem common sense, others a little counter-intuitive (neither TFA nor TAL put much stock into the idea that increased education/certifications lead to better teaching, for example)

    I can poke around later to see if the whole rubric is online somewhere (besides the TFAnet website) and try to give it to you if you’re interested. I doubt it falls under the category of state secrets or something


    1. Personally I find that not at all counterintuitive ;), but I also didn’t go to ed school (I taught private, where perhaps half my coworkers were certified, and I didn’t know which half) and I’ve seen studies to that effect. I would love to see the rubric if it’s publicly available. Thanks!


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