Sunday, July 27, 2008

What is a Codex Monkey?

Any joke you have to explain is not a very good joke. Now, in a desperate attempt to be cute and clever I named this blog and my "handle" on it as Codex Monkey. All well and fine, until a librarian who found out about it said the other day "I don't get the name".

Easy. First, it's a spin off of the phrase "Code Monkey". Take a gander over at the entry in the jargon file:

A self-deprecating way of denying responsibility for a management decision, or of complaining about having to live with such decisions. As in “Don't ask me why we need to write a compiler in COBOL, I'm just a code monkey.”

There's even a show called Code Monkey which stunning animation brings back memories of playing far too many video games in the 80's.

I'm abusing the word codex a little here. It tends to be used mostly for manuscripts and frequently religious ones as well. However, as a word it has the handy property of dealing with books and being very close to code. But truth be told this blog title would be more suited to a programmer who worked in a rare book and manuscript library. If someone fits the bill and complains, I'll let them have it if they can think of a better name for me ;).

I've also seem to recall having seen codex be used in the sense corpus is used in analysing text and writing. Of course, this could just be my faulty memory. I thought about using corpus monkey, but that's a little too close to corpse monkey, don't you think?

Monday, May 05, 2008

Cataloging with blinders on.

There's a topic that's been sitting on my mind for a long time now and it probably deserves a bit more than a single blog post. I'll take a stab at addressing the overall issue though. A common saying in cataloging is that you catalog only the item at hand. That is, you're not expected to go running off to various sources or do in-depth research on each item. There's usually many reasons given for this but one of the main reasons boils down to one of practicality. Most libraries received too much material to give each item this treatment.

However, I believe this rule is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Searching and research is becoming dramatically cheaper in terms of manhours with each passing year. Given certain seed information for newer publication such as isbn, author and title it should be relatively easy to have automated searching done of the publisher onix servers, webpages related to it, Wikipedia entries, LibraryThing, Shelfari, and more. This searching can be performed and gather information for the cataloger to use to enhance the record. At the very least our systems should be smart enough to be attempting to guess appropriate authority records and offering analysis of similar records and suggest subject headings.

A good example of potential actually exits right now with the wealth of organized information for one particular medium, cds. Cds themselves can have their track information as cd-text. Barring that, there's many ways that the songs or cd can be used to pull up information from a wealth of online resources such as freedb, musicbrainz, discogs. This really deserves a post all of it's own, which I may get to one of these days.

For example involving printed books not long ago someone asked on how to create a record for two books (The Talisman and Black House) that came in the set. She claimed as far as she knew that they were unrelated. Turns out that they shared the same central character (Jack Sawyer), had re-occurring characters, and were written by the same two authors. Had she checked LibraryThing she would have found the books classed by readers as a series. Wikipedia even notes how the second book tied into Stephen King's Dark Tower series. There was no reason to even have her go to the browser, the act of putting in the isbns should have pulled up some of this information.

So lets abandon item in hand. It no longer takes a walk across several floors and possibly hours of effort to find useful information on several books. It could be as easy as doing what we're already doing, with a little smarter software and a little bit more flexibility in our cataloging procedures.