s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: December 2007

Saturday, December 29, 2007

An open letter to Danny Boyle

I had a chance to watch Millions again this Christmas with my family. It's beautiful, inspirational, and almost perfectly PG, if also a little trippy. (But hey, what did I expect from the director of Trainspotting?) My one bone to pick with you is your portrayal of the Mormon missionaries.

For starters, I'm not even sure if they're supposed to be missionaries. If they are, why are there three of them? There are, I grant you, times when an odd number of total elders means that some missionaries have to be in groups of three instead of regular companionships, but it's a pretty rare occurrence, and not one I'd expect the average person on the street to be aware of. (And if you're trying to invoke a stereotypical image of Mormon missionaries, then you've got to have just two, no question.) Also, why are they not wearing name tags? Or doing any actual missionary work, ever? And living in a huge townhouse (albeit without a dishwasher or "cash on the premises"). Plus, their accents are all wrong. Way too midwestern. (I'm not saying that there are no missionaries from the Midwest, just that the likelihood of having an entire missionary ménage à trois from Minnesota is small.)

The other possibility is that they're just Mormon civillians (so to speak). That explains the lack of nametags and the threesome, but we don't live in "communes," we are allowed dishwashers, and we don't generally go around creepily quoting scripture at neightborhood meetings. Also, we're not all 6 foot blue-eyed, blonde Aryan nation poster children. (I guess my brother might fit that description, but he's currently got dreads, so that probably takes away from the overall effect.)

I take no issue with the portrayal of the missionaries (?) as corruptible. After all, the whole point of the movie is that it's a miracle if money doesn't corrupt you, and I'm fine with potrayals of religious people as recognizably human. However, if you've got enough basic facts wrong that even, genuine, born and bred Utah Mormons can't figure out what you're getting at, you've got problems.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Cat. & Reference: Serials vs. Monographs

The serial / monograph distinction is one of the fundamental dichotomies in the cataloging world. Serials are items that are published in an unending series, such as magazines and newspapers. "Periodicals" would be a pretty good synonym, although the term "periodical" implies that the item is published at regular intervals, which actually doesn't have to be the case with all serials. Monographs are items like books, which stand alone and aren't published serially. (The word "monograph" can also refer to a specific type of scholarly treatise, but librarians use it in a much more general sense.)

In some ways, serial cataloging is easier than monographic cataloging. In some ways, it's harder. Item per item, it's easier. This is because you only have to have one record for an entire serial, not one record for every volume or issue of a serial. So, when we get a new issue of The New Yorker in every week, we don't have to create an entirely new record, we just have to update the holdings area to include the latest issue. In contrast, every time we get a new book / monograph, we have to create or copy a completely new record, unless the book happens to be a second copy of a book we already have or a missing volume from a multivolume set. Really, serials cataloging should be the easiest thing out there, except for a troubling property of serials: They're ALIVE!

I don't quite mean this in the B horror movie sense (although there are some disturbing parallels). Part of the definition of a serial is that they're not ever supposed to end. This, of course, isn't at all reflected in reality, where most serial publications meet quiet deaths due to lack of funds or interest. However, if one originally intended to publish new volumes or issues for as long as possible, then it counts as a serial. (Incidentally, the span of publication dates may be a good indicator for determining if something is a serial or a monographic set, but it's not fool proof. I've cataloged multivolume sets which had publication dates spanning over 100 years, and serials which consisted of only one issue.)

If I'm cataloging the second edition of a book, and the title's changed since the first edition, it's not a big deal. I'll probably, as a matter of courtesy, include an original version note that indicates what the former title was. In rare circumstances, I might create a uniform title for the earlier edition. What I won't do is go back and change anything about the record for the earlier edition; it was meant to describe the book at the time it was published, and it still does.

However, serial records are meant to describe all issues of a particular serial, which is both a blessing and a curse. The curse comes in to play when anything about the serial changes, such as the title, editor, issuing body, frequency of publication, etc. Whenever this happens, you have to go back to the old record, update the information, and put the old information in a note. Like I said, serials are "alive," which means that you're not just recording information about the publication at one moment in time, but all the changes that have been made over the course of the publication. Because of this, serials records tend to be a bit sparse — they don't typically include information about pagination and illustrations, for example — but some information is still required, and if that information changes, it needs to be updated.

Even worse is when two serials merge or one serial splits. In that case, you do have to make new records for the new serials, and then you have to add explanatory links from the old records to the new records, and vice versa. (And then sometimes serials split, only to merge again under a different name.) The ALA used to nominate an annual Worst Serial Title Change Award; when you figure that every single library that subscribed to these journals had to go back and change their records for even a minor title change, it's easy to see why librarians get frustrated when publishers pointlessly tweak serial titles.

Monday, December 03, 2007


In the past few weeks, I’ve started reading through old articles from the Profiles section of The New Yorker. I like learning more about the rich, famous, or otherwise notable, and I can read the articles online through my university’s e-journal database. (Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the cartoons in The New Yorker.)

Because of my recent reading, I have come to the conclusion that I am nothing like Karl Lagerfeld. I know, I know, it’s not like I’m frequently mistaken for the 70-something German designer for Chanel and Fendi (although haven’t we all been, once or twice?) but it was particularly this paragraph in John Colapinto’s article which made me realize how different we are:

Lagerfeld's determination to stay current requires ruthlessness and a lack of sentimentality. He periodically rids himself of art, objects, and places that, previously, had been sources of inspiration and pleasure. People are not exempt. “He kind of passes on, because he doesn't like the past,” one of the people who travels in Lagerfeld's circle says. “So then he decides you're the past and then he just puts you in the trash.” … According to his publishing partner, Gerhard Steidl, when Lagerfeld reads a thick paperback, he tears out the pages as he finishes them.
Aside from the fact that I don’t generally mutilate books – even paperbacks – Lagerfeld’s obsession with the now and the new is almost diametrically opposed to my personal philosophy.

I don’t care about the new and the popular. I rarely see movies in the theatres, read books that are on current bestseller lists, or listen to music that’s currently getting significant radio airtime. This doesn’t mean that I don’t get around to consuming a lot of this media, eventually, but I’m more than happy to let the hype surrounding something die down before I decide if it’s worth my while. (I figure if it’s genuinely worth my while, it’ll still be around in a few years.)

I think this is also what drives me nuts about fashion – not just the impermanence of it, but the amount of time and money wasted on something so transitory. And that is how you can tell me and Karl Lagerfeld apart.