Wednesday, October 10, 2007

SMALL PRESS MEETS THE LIBRARY: some of the questions

How can small press authors or publishers move beyond relentless, hit-and-run self-promo and instead situate their records in contextualizing databases? How might particular small press items be discovered by particular libraries which may or may not already collect similar materials or overlapping subjects? How can catalogers better describe micro press items, or where can they find online help cataloging or indexing zines? Which details about their books and items do small press publishers/distributors need to provide to a librarian browsing a catalog? How can the small press better be discovered and bought by libraries? How can acquisitions librarians use the web to better find small press books they are looking for?

These are some of the questions I am interested in exploring.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Small Press (in) Databases: Towards a Metadata Analysis

Using Kim Addonizio’s fabulous book of poetry, “Tell Me,” as an example, I looked at a number of small press databases--or databases in which I might find small press books or poetry books--to see what kind of information was given in each site, and what different features each site offered the user. This project is a step towards the aim of helping readers, book buyers, and especially librarians better find small press titles and their bibliographic information, and towards the ultimate end of getting more small press titles into library collections.
One of the best things about Library Thing is the tags. Users can create a catalog of their own books, and can add as many “tags” as they want to each book to describe them in their own terminology, a word or a phrase. Users can view the tags that *everyone* gave to the book, and each tag has a live link to let the user see what other books were given the same tag. LT uses different font sizes to give a visual (called a "tag cloud") of which tags are the most popular for each book.

This is a social site, and each book entry can be clicked on to retrieve its "social information," like how many people are posting a conversation about this book, or who else has this book in their LT catalog. Other [potential] descriptors for each book in LT include: cover image, Library of Congress number, MARC records, link to author page, starred ratings, reviews, recommendations and suggestions, recommendations, commercial and library links to buy or borrow the book.

[Note that some of these options are only visible when one is logged into one’s LT account. For others, see links to the left side (such as “details”).]

World Cat (Beta):
This is the user-interface for the OCLC, an American cataloging database that draws from numerous libraries worldwide who join OCLC and share their cataloging info. This database will let you see how many of the member libraries own the book you are looking for, and gives you links to those library online catalogs. You can also get instant citation formats, click on a link to view the author’s additional book or article listings, and add reviews or notes to the record (i.e. some parts of the record are "open-source", while other parts are not).

Small Press Distribution
SPD offers a healthy paragraph-sized description of each book, as supplied by the publisher and often quoting eloquent and noted authors. Information offered per book is very basic and standard; for findability, the site offers category links as well as updated links for New Fiction, JUST IN!, bestsellers, staff picks, SPD recommends, and their seasonal catalogs, free by mail to those who request them.
SPD—Librarians’ Resources:
Open Stacks, a quarterly newsletter aimed at librarians, contains synopses of new books along with lists of libraries that have already purchased them. Other library-targeted services include lists of new titles of multicultural interest, and biweekly fax or email recommendations.

St Mark’s Bookshop—Online store
This bookstore record features some basic bibliographic info, item availability, series title, as well as links to a general classification in which to browse—Fiction and Lit>>Poetry>>Single Author, or one step further from Single Author>>American. There’s an author link to tell the user what other titles by Addonizio are available, and clicking on a link beneath the cover image provides a larger image.

But like SPD, the site offers some great ways to stay current with new titles. Although the store carries much more than just small press, they’ve had a formidable small press selection since they opened in New York’s East Village in 1977, and are well-known especially for their finely-curated poetry, film studies, design, contemporary philosophy, and left-wing political offerings; some collections development librarians like to browse there in person. Barring that, the online browser has the chance to click links to: Store Bestsellers, This Week’s Arrivals, New & Recommended, and currently-stocked Autographed copies. Another great feature is the Custom Catalogs by Email, allowing the user/customer to sign up for email updates on the store's latest titles in the customer's chosen sections or genres.

The St. Mark’s online bookstore is also an example of one run by Book Sense, a consortium of independent bookstores. Book Sense offers member stores a maintained website at a reasonable price, and each store has the chance to custom-design certain elements of their site. The books found in this database reflect not only the store’s actual holdings but books which the store can obtain through certain distributors. Some noteworthy Book Sense features on the site include links to Book Sense Picks and Book Sense Bestsellers, reflecting nationwide tastes according to indie bookstores.

Brooklyn Public Library
This record is typically library-simple: call number, branch locations, title, author, height, page numbers. But check out the “More Information” button off to the right:
Brooklyn Public: “More Information”
Still new for online library catalogs is the idea of offering descriptors that more closely resemble Amazon and other sites people actually use online. Here you get three published reviews, a table of contents, an enlarged cover image, and a brief synopsis of the book.

Poets House Directory of American Poetry Books
This is a database of 20,000+ poetry books that publishers and poets have donated to Poets House’s archives; Poets House has an annual spring Showcase of poetry titles that have come out in the previous calendar year, and older books can be donated for the Directory-only. Each record contains general bibliographic information, cover image, brief prose description, and a link to buy the book from your choice of a short list of booksellers—Amazon, Powell’s, ABE Books, and some foreign sites, among others. Notably, however, there are no distributors connected to this feature.

The "quick search" in this database offers a Google screen, but the "advanced search" lets the user browse by year, title, author, type of book (such as "chapbook"), keyword found in the description, publisher, or editor.
And of course, Amazon. This one is a particularly good page, with ten customer reviews, and the Look Inside feature: The user can see, either by clicking links or using the “page-turning” feature, a reader-friendly image of the colophon page, the full table of contents, two poems, and the front and back covers.

As usual, Amazon has a whole (long) page of what we call “metadata”—supporting-info about the book in question. There are tags, a visual (starred, priced, and linked) list of "What other customers bought after buying this item", two published reviews, starred ratings, percentage point statistics, the usual bibliographic info, and of course links to booksellers with this book. Additionally, there are links provided to the paperback edition, to all other editions available, and to the reviewers’ Amazon profiles--not to mention a link to add the title to your wedding registry.

New York Public Library—Research
Just the basics: Author, title, publisher, place of publication, year of publication, edition, page numbers, height, call number, physical location in the stacks.

BOA Editions Ltd. [the publisher of “Tell Me”]
Title page:
The publisher gives us the cover image, a generous prose description of the book/author, and two praise blurbs by other poets. This page includes one short poem from the book. In addition to basic info like price and ISBN, the page has a link to a page offering the relevant information needed to buy the book through the publisher: online, by mail, or by phone.

The title page also lets you click over to the:
Author page:
This page has an author photo, a paragraph about the author’s works, education, awards, and city of habitation. There’s a [dead] link to the author’s website, and links to the two titles of hers that BOA published.

And of course you can learn much more about the publisher itself by looking around this site.

Columbia University—Full View,1&SEQ=20071008164505&Search%5FArg=tell%20me%3A%20poems&SL=None&Search%5FCode=TALL&CNT=50&PID=6Djw7gUlk3QgbOv0WhQ_8fTGlEtMOsI&SID=1
Click on FULL VIEW in the middle if this doesn’t already come up. This is a library record that has cataloged almost everything conceivable from the available book information. In addition to the basics, the Full View includes a listing of every poem from the table of contents and the descriptive blurb from the book jacket. The author’s official “authority control” name appears at the top of this record, with a live link to lead the user to her catalog record and thus, her other titles. And the MARC record view is another click away from the Full View record, for librarians who can best use that info.

Wikipedia—List of Small Presses
“List of Small Presses” contains a fine, alphabetized, if incredibly abridged list of small press publishers, both past and present. The alphabet up at the top is helpful, and the Web 2.0 aspect is a promising one, allowing users to add entries for their own small press or for small presses they know of. There is almost no bibliographic information offered via this database, but there are links on each press' page to their publisher websites.
Wikipedia--Small Press
The entry for “Small Press” is alright, fleshed out in prose describing what small presses are and are not, what a micro-press is, a very abridged history, and some random external links. Again, this has some promising potential, as anyone can add more history, prose, or external links to it

Wikipedia, of course, has a search engine one could use to look for poets, authors, or publishers, but the vast majority of Wikipedia has nothing to do with small press. In other words, it is not a good environment to BROWSE in for small press information.