Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The 590 field

(Warning, very long post ahead. However, it might contain useful information for those of you who've wondered about the apparent gobbledygook you may have spotted in a "Local note" in our records. By the way, I thought we'd set things up so that those no longer displayed in our book records, but apparently I'm wrong. Argh. Anyway, I've thought about writing a post like this in the past, because I've had people at the library - librarians and staff, not students or faculty - ask me what "that stuff" was in our records. Writing this post feels kind of like giving away library secrets or something. I'm not sure why.)

This is the field I love to hate (as it's used at DSL, since what 590 is used for can vary from library to library), even as I am occasionally able to admit its usefulness. I hate it (dislike it?) for four main reasons:
  1. It contains item-specific information. Admittedly, I'm coming at this from the standpoint of a cataloger, but, to my mind, bibliographic records shouldn't contain this sort of information - if you want to record item-specific information, you should do so in a note in the item record. That way, if you withdraw the item, you delete the item record, and the note is gone. In a 590, the note is there forever, even if the item is long since gone, replaced by something that would now be copy 10, if copies 1 through 9 still existed. You wouldn't even necessarily see 10 590s in the record - there will probably only be one, the one created when the very first copy was cataloged.
  2. The information recorded in the 590 is not necessarily recorded in a controlled manner, even though it may appear that it is. A simple example is "Biology," which is usually recorded as "Bio" in 590s, but I have also seen it as "Biol".
  3. Certain aspects of the 590 may not always consistently mean the same thing from one 590 to the next.
  4. From a "streamlining of the cataloging workflow" perspective, it kind of gets in the way. I won't go into detail on that, because this post would probably double in length, and no one really wants to read all of that anyway.

If you haven't stumbled upon a 590 in our records yet, here's what one looks like in our OPAC (in general - 590s for gifts tend to be missing certain bits of information, 590s for memorials have additional information, and certain things in 590s for gifts and memorials are defined differently than they are for everything else):

The first part, the 8-digit number, is the item's barcode. I'll admit that this can be useful to have in the bibliographic record, because it means that anyone can quickly and easily find the record for something, even if they don't have access to WorkFlows. Unless of course the record doesn't have a 590 for that particular item (see "reason I hate 590s" #1, plus all the other reasons there might not be a 590 for each item).

The second part, in this case "BT", is the vendor. I try to enter this in a consistent way, so Baker & Taylor is always BT, Amazon is always AMZ, Blackwell's is always BBS, etc. However, I don't think I was always this consistent when I first started, and I have no idea what people before me did.

The next part is tricky. You might think that this is the code for the particular fund that paid for the item, but this isn't always the case - that's why this particular 590 is such a good example. See, when I, the Cataloger, get a book from Acquisitions, sometimes the only clue I have as to where something is intended to be shelved is what's written in the book (or on the printout slipped in the book/DVD/CD/whatever). Sometimes it's obvious where something should be shelved - picture books are easy. Sometimes it's not so obvious - books for Limited (with the added complication of "where in Limited?") can be especially hard for me to identify. Sometimes something says "CurrJuv" in the 590 because that's the fund that paid for it, but sometimes it says CurrJuv because it's supposed to be shelved in the Curriculum Collection, even though the money for the book came out of another fund. I've been trying to encourage the use of color-coded flags to indicate what a book's location is supposed to be, but it hasn't been working out very well. So, in the meantime, my main source of location information is either what's written in the book (which ends up in the 590), instinct, and telepathy. My instinct is getting slightly sharper, my telepathy not so much. By the way, this is another portion of the 590 that may not be typed consistently from one record to the next. See "reason I hate 590s" #2.

I have no idea what the next part means. Seriously, I don't. For a while there, I thought it meant "Selector", since that's what the ancient notes left behind by previous catalogers that I unearthed in my office said. I think that sometimes it does mean "Selector." In the case of my sample 590, that's probably true. In other instances... Anyway, almost all of the 590s I've entered since I've started working here say either "Tennyson" or "Pape." Maybe it means, "this is who approved the use of money for this item?" But I don't think even that's true... I should probably have yet another talk with Jodee about this bit. I've talked with her about it before, but never in much depth.

The next bit is the date we received the item. It's pretty straightforward, I think. I don't know if previous catalogers entered the date in MM/DD/YY format, but I don't - February 2, 2010 is 2/2/10 for me, not 02/02/10. If you're trying to formulate a search of the dates in our 590s, how this date has been entered makes a difference. I only know how I've been entering it.

Last is the cost of the item. Also pretty straightforward. I never use a dollar sign, and I don't think any cataloger before me has, either.

I have so far thought up one useful search involving the 590, but it has serious limitations. However, if I don't forget, I'll post it soon. I have to hunt through my email to see if I can find that one where I put together the search with Biology in mind.

And now, to bed - I must get up at 3 AM to coddle my rat. He has me wrapped around his tiny pink fingers (yes, toes, I know, but they look like tiny lady fingers), but at least he repays me with cuteness. He curled up and fell asleep in my hand today for a full hour, and it made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.


  1. I for one make a lot of use of the info in this field - for both work and personal (since I donate a lot of books to the library) reasons. If I'm not able to search by "Gift Pape" for example, I will be very mad at tax time!

  2. See, that's different, though - that's a Gift 590. Gift and Memorial 590s serve a slightly different purpose than the 590s for everything else. I wouldn't mind keeping the Gift and Memorial 590s and scrapping everything else.

  3. I agree with you Melissa the other 590s are just junk. And even if we did away with ALL the 590s we could run you a report Amanda.

    Oh and Thanks for the reminder about taxes...I forgot to include my donated books for last year!

  4. I wouldn't mind abolishing all 590s except for the ones for gift and memorial books. I'm not sure reports would cover what donors might want to know - we can run a report for all gift books and all memorial books, but we couldn't run a report for all gift books donated by, say, Pape, could we? Or is gift status and donor name info recorded somewhere else I don't know about?