Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Of storms and superstorms: Yolanda and Ruby in Region 8

I wrote this in January 2014.

Right after Yolanda, when things have not yet settled down, when analysis and introspection and finger pointing were rife, one of the first things that came to me were these two books I read between May and August last year (2012). The books are called Black Swan and Antifragile. At my age, I still get impressed very easily, especially by ideas. So, in the ways that I can, I tried to follow some of these books' very reasonable, easy, and logical lessons. Diet and health and exercise, relationships and being human and humane, and of course money matters and finances since these books are basically about economics.

Black Swan, capital letters, is  about the impact of the improbable. Most of us think or believe black swans, small letters, do not exist. They are rare, but they do exist in nature. Hence, Black Swan, capital. It is about certain things we thought would not happen. Even when there are signs and warnings, we still would not think it would ever happen. The book is mostly about the economic crash of the US in 2008. When Wall Street and its banks and stock exchange went bankrupt. Before the economic disaster, there were few voices in the wild, telling of bad things to come. They remained unheeded.

In our case, Yolanda was a Black Swan, capital. We were told what is likely to happen. We cannot imagine what they were talking about. We were told to prepare. We  did prepare, but half-heartedly and haphazardly. The university was told to evacuate, but I and most people thought it was more suggestion than command, so very few went to the evacuation centers. Personally, all I did to prepare for the coming unimagined superstorm was put my books in large and clear plastic bags, the kind used by fishmongers for their products, but the plastic bags were not fastened or secured. It was more to keep the books safe from the roof leaking, not if there might be flooding. I bought ready to eat foods, prepared a standard emergency kit, and bought a 155-liter tub. I did not evacuate. I thought evacuating was an inconvenience.

The second book, a sequel is titled Antifragile. It is about what we can do to make ourselves unfragile, non-fragile, or antifragile when the improbable might happened. It is about preparing ourselves in case a Black Swan would happen. Antifragile is a made-up term since there is no proper opposite to fragile. According to the author, fragile is hurt when there is disorder. Robust is resilient in disorder. Antifragile benefits from disorder.

I realized after the storm, but I may be  wrong, that people cannot be antifragile in natural disasters. There is no way we can never be hurt in storms or earthquakes. In one way or another, we are all hurt by that Yolanda. The hurt may be great, or it may just be superficial, like what happened to me personally. I am simply inconvenienced. I was inconvenienced by the lack of electricity. I am inconvenienced by the lack of fast Internet connection. I am inconvenienced by the fact that I cannot buy the usual things I can buy in Baybay. I am inconvenienced by the fact that prices of basic commodities have gone up a little. But I can never say in all honesty that I or anyone can benefit from a disaster, or if anyone has truly benefited from the aftermath of Yolanda. Because what I understand of the book, when you are antifragile, you are never hurt in any way. In storms and superstorms, no one is antifragile. All we can hope for after is to be robust or resilient.

Friday, June 28, 2013

RDA - Resource Description and Access or Justified more than a decade later

While I was in my last semester in library school, I was hired as a student assistant by a Canadian NGO. They were here in Cebu to collaborate on water and water resources. They were supposed to hire a professional librarian, but since the job did not offer security, they did not have a taker. Plus of course, then as now there are few library science graduates to go around. So they make do with the likes of me.

One of the few things, no, the only thing the Canadian CEO expected from me was that I could give him access to all relevant water and water resources information from their collection. 

To make a long story short, I cataloged the books and monographs. And then made an index to the journals, magazines, conference proceedings, pamphlets, and other occasional papers. But I did not make it like I was taught to. I cataloged the books and provided added entries to all the authors I found. And I did the same thing with the articles. 

One of my excuses, why I made all those added author entries, was a comment of one of the Canadian water experts/engineers. He said, and I am quoting and paraphrasing it 14-15 years later, “Oh good you are cataloging our library. I expect you would encode those in the computer when you are done. I expect I would be able to find every one and every thing then.”

Now, I may not know a lot about computer databases then, I still don’t, but I know for sure, you cannot really make a computer spit out something you have not fed it in the first place. So if you did not make added entries to the three other authors, you cannot enter those authors in the database. And if you did not encode them, how will you find them.

Another reason I made all those added entries was that it was a special library. And according to my limited knowledge, surely the world of water experts is not vast. I expected everyone knows or is acquainted with everyone. They would know more or less someone has authored a book or an article. But then what if they are the fourth author and their friends wanted to check their work?

I not only made added entries to all authors after author number three, I also made as many subject headings as I thought relevant. I decided one broad subject heading would not do justice to a conference proceedings that talked in one part about potable water, in another part about industrial sewage and sewerage, in another part about household sewers, yet in another part about rivers and lakes, and yet in another part about construction standards. In short, you cannot limit to labeling a proceeding with three or four broad subjects when it clearly talked about ten different topics. 

I was worried for a very long time what the next librarian or SA would do to my work. Or what she would think of me. I did not write a Policy Statement then. I did not know about policies. Maybe I was asleep during the lectures. A part of me was embarrassed of what I did. Embarrassed in a way that they do not really know the reasons behind my actions and that they might think I did not know what I was doing. Because it would appear to anyone I did not really know what I was doing.

RDA, of course is not explicit on their ruling on providing added entries. It is still on cataloger’s discretion. But now you would no longer look like a fool and an idiot for making added entries to seven or eight other authors. Especially to subjects and topics that are or have become so specialized.