On reading…

May 14th, 2023 | Topic: Books, Librarianship | Author: | no responses |

Recently, I came across someone that was mildly upset about others “gatekeeping” the pastime of reading. I thought this was so bizarre! Apparently, there is a community on TikTok (a platform I have personally not engaged with) called BookTok that shares the love of reading. I can obviously get behind this, but the person’s complaint was that they are shaming those who do not read as much as others (this particular person reported that, for some odd reason unbeknownst to me, anything less than 200 pages a day is something they flout). Having such a long history of being around readers, this naturally got me to thinking.

Honestly, it is my opinion that anyone can enjoy reading. I have known those who can read incredibly fast, such as my spouse who can knock out a large novel in a day, and those who take more than a month to work through a book. Both of these types of readers can equally love books, and one is in no way inferior to the other. Reading is special. It is something that is experienced by an individual in a way that no one else ever will. The speed or volume of consumption has nothing to do with it. I consider myself, a lifelong bookworm, to have a quite average reading speed. Perhaps I could read faster, but I like taking my time to immerse myself into a story. Not to say that those who read faster than myself are not doing so, just that I enjoy taking the journey at my own pace.

There is also the fact that new readers will generally start out at a slower pace and improve over time. If we have folks saying that these folks cannot truly love books since they are far below some imagined page-count quota to “be in the club,” than we risk discouraging people from stepping into a pastime that is enriching (and literally life-changing). If they pick up a novel, and find they can only get through 20-30 pages or less a day, they might be tempted to throw up their hands in frustration and think that reading just isn’t for them.

We should be doing the opposite. Reading as a hobby should not be forced on others, but it should also not be exclusionary. Even if you are just reading a few pages of a book a day, if you enjoy it then you should keep on doing what you do!

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Book Review: How to Cook Your Life

January 23rd, 2023 | Topic: Books, Philosophy, Zen | Author: | no responses |

How to Cook Your Life: From the Zen Kitchen to Enlightenment is a collection of commentaries on Dogen’s Tenzo Kyōkun by Kōshō Uchiyama Rōshi.

Book cover for How to Cook Your Life by Uchiyama Roshi. Clickable link to WorldCat catalog entry.

I have been a fan of Uchiyama Rōshi’s work ever since reading Opening the Hand of Thought. How to Cook Your Life was one of those books that sat on my shelf waiting to be read for a very long time. Once I finally picked it up, I was immediately sucked in, yet knew that it was going to be a “slow read.” By this, I am referring to those thought-provoking books that beg to be nibbled at rather than swallowed whole. Right away, I was off to grab my highlighter and pen to mark points of reference and annotate insights. This is something I was not expecting, given the focus of the material.

The Tenzo Kyōkun is a text by Dogen that I had read previously, but always struggled with. It is a short essay in which Dogen provides detailed “instructions to the cook.” It also includes accounts of him learning about the buddhadharma through encounters with two tenzos (the head chef of a zen monastery). The first encounter involves him having a conversation with an elderly tenzo monk drying mushrooms in the scorching sun. The second encounter is about when Dogen runs into a tenzo during his travels in China. This particular monk refuses his invitation to stay due to his responsibility as tenzo, laughing when Dogen questions if someone else could just do it instead and if there is something special to be gained from serving at tenzo. The monk tells Dogen “My good friend from abroad! You do not yet understand what practice is all about, no do you know the meaning of characters.” Dogen is embarrassed by this. In the end, the monk must leave, but invites Dogen to seek him out at a later time. They eventually cross paths again and Dogen learns much from him. These two accounts screamed at me that there was a lot to unpack in the rest of the Tenzo Kyōkun. On my own, I always had this feeling that there was more than what I was finding.

Granted, I have come across other dharma talks and writings that reflect upon Tenzo Kyōkun. However, there is something special here. Uchiyama Rōshi expertly unravels the Tenzo Kyōkun. His commentary is easy to read, and following the connections back to Dogen’s text is logical at every turn. Uchiyama Rōshi covers topics such as shikan-taza, religious life, the self, passion for life, goals, and more through the lens of the Tenzo Kyōkun. It is a short book, the text itself only reaching 97 pages (followed by 25 pages of notes categorized by chapter and a glossary), but as I said it deserves to be taken up in small bites to leave room for reflection. The notes are easy to reference as you pour through a chapter, and they often add significant length to the time you spend taking in the content.

With How to Cook Your Life, you get a small 122 page book that you will want to spend double or triple the amount of time reading as you might first expect — note my emphasis on the word “want.” It never felt like a chore, and that is one of the things that makes me such a fan of Uchiyama Rōshi’s work. In fact, I look forward to when the time is right for me to pick this little gem up again. I cannot recommend this book enough for anyone interested in zen buddhism.

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Update on new book

November 19th, 2022 | Topic: Librarianship | Author: | no responses |

My colleague Katy Mathuews and I got a book contract with Libraries Unlimited last August. This all started after we had the honor of co-chairing a strategic planning effort for the Ohio University Libraries. The experience was intriguing, rewarding, and at times revealed some heavy gaps in the literature that was available to us — which is ultimately what inspired this work.

The book has been officially copy edited and is slated for release in March of 2023. You can learn more about the book here: https://www.abc-clio.com/products/a6458p/

We also hope to make our way to some conferences in 2023 so that we can continue continue the conversation and learn more from others in the library world. More updates to come!

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Mission MLIS Complete

August 28th, 2022 | Topic: Uncategorized | Author: | no responses |

Graduation Photo - Kent State University, August 20, 2022
Graduation Photo – Kent State University, August 20, 2022

It was an intense couple of years, but I made it. Before applying for my MLIS, I spent time investigating impressions about similar programs from various colleagues, acquaintances, blogs… even Reddit on occasion. My determination was that I should jump in and do this now, rather than regret it later in life. I look back, and can say without a doubt that it was the right decision.

Library and Information Science, I would quickly learn, encompasses so much more than I ever dreamed. It is a massive discipline, moving from its common association with Libraries, Archives, and Museums (LAMs) to more uncommon fields such as corporate information management, government archives, hospitals, instruction, and zoos. The expansiveness of the information landscape means there is a large mass of broad reaching theory to pour over. It was a lot to take in, but it was an important foundation and definitely changed my way of thinking.

As I progressed through the core course of the MLIS program at Kent State University, I had to make some decisions about what direction I was going to take my studies. I happened across a course, which I briefly blogged about, that piqued my interest in information organization, metadata, and linked data. I was unsure that it could be a professional direction for me, but I find I deeply enjoy the field.

I decided that even if it wasn’t something I would do professionally, metadata could still be something I worked with on the side. With that mindset, I went ahead and took more metadata and linked data classes, a decision I do not regret one bit.

I began a project in my Linked Data course (see zenlibrary.org/visualization) that I am going to continue working on. It was ambitious but met the assignment requirements by way of its design. I pushed it as far as I could, but it contains loads of bumps that need smoothed out. I would also like to expand upon it by adding a user interface to modify and filter the RDF data, perhaps even run live SPARQL queries constructed by web form POST input. I will continue to blog about this as I have significant updates.

I am glad to have completed my MLIS. The main impression I can share is that you get out what you put in. Stretch the papers, go outside the recommended readings, and find ways that the assignments fit into real world applications you are interested in. Once I was doing this, I saw the true value in the program.

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MLIS: Entering my final semester

June 9th, 2022 | Topic: Librarianship, MLIS | Author: | no responses |

Today is the official start to my final semester in the MLIS program at Kent State University. It has been a challenging balancing act alongside my day job, side jobs, and general life stuff, but a great experience all the same.

The one thing I will say about this particular program — you 100% get out of it what you put into it. I learned so much! Fell in love with metadata, got to see the real value of linked data, and learned very quickly just how challenging cataloging really can be.

I am taking three classes as I button up my degree: Copyright, Information Policy, and a course framed to help develop portfolios and prepare students for entering the LAM field as a professional.

Part of my portfolio course will involve creating an online portal of sorts for it. I will be using my personal domain name that I have squatted on for many years: ryanspellman.com Once it is up and ready I will be sure to post about it here and get them both linked together.

Here we go! In less than three months this journey will commence… and who knows what will come next?

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Katagiri’s ‘Each Moment is the Universe’

December 27th, 2021 | Topic: Zen | Author: | no responses |

Book cover image of Each Moment is the Universe by Katagiri.

Each Moment is the Universe is by far among my top-ten favorite zen books. It is a collection of teachings that are shaped by Dogen’s concept of uji (u-ji), which is typically translated as being-time. This is more of a recommendation rather than a discussion of the book’s subject matter — if interested, there is an excellent introduction to being-time from Lion’s Roar available here: Notes on Dogen’s Being-Time by Shoshu Roberts.

One of the things I deeply appreciate about this book is how digestible it is. A chapter can be finished in one sitting and still leave the reader time for reflection. Katagiri manages to use Dogen’s concept of being-time in ways that gave me much to think about concerning both zazen and everyday life.

As digestible as it is, it is also a book that warrants rereading. I look forward to pouring over this text again. If you have an interest in zen literature or the practice of zazen meditation, I highly recommend checking this one out.

You can find a good synopsis from the publisher at this page.

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Fight the system!(?): Inclusivity, discoverability, and straying from authorities in the library catalog

December 16th, 2021 | Topic: Librarianship, Metadata | Author: | no responses |

Libraries are more complex than many realize. This is why discussions about inclusivity, discoverability, and critical librarianship are so important for the realm of the library catalog. Rather than build upon the backbone of antiquated systems already in place, we need to move toward a more agile system. Our resource description methodologies and tools must be able to respond more efficiently with social change that they are in the current state of things.

User experience

Let’s focus on a library catalog’s user experience impact in two primary areas: discoverability and inclusivity (both of which overlap in many ways).

Whether from aging authority files, the accumulation of poor and/or inconsistent key terms, or incomplete records, the negative impact on discoverability rises as metadata quality declines. Ross mentions that a list of 180 “outdated and offensive” terms has been compiled through the African American Subject Funnel Project in an effort to improve inclusivity in the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) (American Libraries, 2021). That is a long list that would not only improve inclusivity, but also impact discoverability. Inclusive language ensures the catalog accurately and fairly represents the diversity of a library’s user base without “othering” them in ways that would exclude or discourage them from library services. Additionally, proper term use is crucial for discoverability, and changes to make language more inclusive will modernize vocabulary in ways that will improve discoverability.  

Description of resources

Hobart shares how Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings lacks terms that would make it discoverable via a library catalog when searching for race or racism; the topic has to be inferred from the description, which such a catalog search cannot generally do (American Libraries, 2021). The description of resources does more than just explain what the information object is once discovered — it ensures that it can be found based on need.

Authority control & access points

So why not just fix it and be done with it? Well, with this talk of updating catalogs, it is important to recognize that authority files can tie the cataloger’s hands in ways that stunt both discoverability and inclusivity. Yet, authority files are very important for access points. The general effectiveness of a catalog’s search capabilities depends on them. 

A classic example of the importance of authority control is how a user can search for either George Sand or the author’s real name of Amandine Aurore Lucie Dupin and still find works by the author — which is possible in catalogs that follow authority files, such as the Library of Congress Name Authority File (Library of Congress, 2005). Granted, names are quite straightforward when it comes to access points. The trouble creeps in when we start looking at authority control that requires interpretation, such as subject headings. 

Deviation from authority control can have a big impact, especially when catalogs are using authority control that has been in use since the 19th century such as LCSH, which is interconnected in ways that make changes quite laborious (American Libraries, 2021). 

One commonly cited issue and ‘resolution’ is the change of LCSH Illegal Aliens to Noncitizens / Undocumented Immigration. This change to the authority file took over two years, after being first denied, and LC still did not accept the proposal of Undocumented Immigrants that ALA’s governing body was urging for (Freedman, 2016). It is still a good change, but makes LCSH feel sluggish and inflexible. 


My question then becomes: Should catalogers continue to strictly adhere to LCSH even though change has been very slow to take root? 

Granted, this is not an all or nothing question. Consider high-level contributors to WorldCat such as Jenna Freedman who has over 4,000 zine entries that might be copy cataloged by others (2016, Freedman). Her approach is to use MARC 653 fields to incorporate custom, uncontrolled index terms. Otherwise, LCSH will not cover the topic of her zines well enough. The negative to this? As she points out, if LCSH is updated it will be updated on her zines by others through typical workflows. Her 653 entries will be there forever unless manually discovered and fixed. It is likely that such considerations are why authorities such as OCLC instruct catalogers to prefer the use of subject headings from established subject schemes (OCLC, 2020).  

In another example, the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library Statement on Cataloging acknowledges that long-standing professional biases and issues stemming from national and internationally standardized metadata exist, and that they seek suggestions and will fix problems (Schneider et al., 2020). This method of crowdsourcing fixes for inclusive language issues and other errors, while making a concerted effort internally, could be quite effective. Does deviating from LCSH cause more harm than good? 

A non-answer

In my opinion, it is time to seriously think about moving toward a new way of doing things. In one example, advances toward a new system such as BIBFRAME could remove the onerous authority file change / MARC record update that make some hesitant to update terms. BIBFRAME’s use of unique identifiers that will never change, even if the subject heading, etc. that it relates to does, can make for a nimble cataloging system (Librarianship Studies & Information Technology, 2021). Removing the MARC update cascade effect that results from authority control changes is long overdue. Not saying that this is the only thing that makes changes to authority files so sluggish, but I think it could help.

I see this as an important step for the future of libraries. Perhaps not “the answer,” but certainly a step in the right direction.


American Libraries. (2021, November 1). Decolonizing the catalog: RUSA webinar explores avenues for antiracist description. https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2021/11/01/decolonizing-the-catalog/

Freedman, J. (2016, March 27). Can I quit you, LC? Lower east side librarian. https://lowereastsidelibrarian.info/lcsh/quityou

Librarianship Studies & Information Technology. (2021, April 23). BIBFRAME (bibliographic framework). https://www.librarianshipstudies.com/2017/12/bibframe.html

Library of Congress. (2005, October 28). What is a MARC record, and why is it important? https://www.loc.gov/marc/uma/pt1-7.html#pt5

OCLC. (2020, August 29). 6xx fields. OCLC Support and Training. https://www.oclc.org/bibformats/en/6xx.html   

Schneider, N. M., Fenning Marschall, R., Sanchez-Nunez, A., & Riley, M. (2020, June 1). William Andrews Clark Memorial Library statement on cataloging. UCLA William Andrews Clark Memorial Library. https://clarklibrary.ucla.edu/research/statementoncataloging/ 

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Fact Sheet: Dublin Core Metadata Initiative

November 28th, 2021 | Topic: Librarianship, Metadata | Author: | no responses |

This is a fact sheet that explores the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (DCMI). DCMI’s work is in wide use on a global scale. It is simple to employ and easy to interpret, yet flexible and fully capable of becoming part of metadata application profiles that meet a wide range of use cases.

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Budding Metadata Interest

November 13th, 2021 | Topic: Librarianship, MLIS | Author: | no responses |

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but my first full-on metadata course has really piqued my interest. The focuse has been on developing a basic understanding of various core schemas (such as DCMI and VRA Core 4.0) and how to develop schemas and application profiles to address specific needs. It has been deeply fascinating to see how it all works behind the scenes. It is powerful, yet unseen stuff!

Part of the class has involved making “fact sheets” for various popular schemas. I plan to share those over the course of the next month or so. I am not sure that it could be a viable professional direction for me. Regardless of that, I have plans to keep learning and working with it. All sorts of interesting projects have come to mind!

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September 9th, 2021 | Topic: Zen | Author: | no responses |

In brief, Ango is a three-month period of intensified zen practice that began in Japan. It would sometimes be observed twice a year, fall to winter and spring to summer. Treeleaf annually observes a 90-day Ango from fall to winter, roughly September to December. This is my second Ango with them and I find it to be a lovely practice. In essence, everyone commits to intensifying their practice individually, and then we all support each other along the way.

Some examples might include longer daily meditation periods, donating to charity, letting go of a certain attachment, participating with sangha activities such as the annual precepts study, zazenkais, and so on.

This can be challenging for me, especially while in grad school! In fact, I had reservations at first… how am I going to fit this all in? Do I really have time for these commitments? These questions and reservations melted away as I actually began Ango this month. I find I am grateful for it once I do it. It gives me reason to pause and pull myself out of the rush I all too often get swept into. It opens doors for me to get to know the sangha better. Overall, it reminds me the importance of observing our practice that is beneficial in so many ways.

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