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Iranian serial Megillah is shown open between two issues with the front cover on the left printed in Farsi and the back cover on the right with text in English.
This serial from the AMED Persian collection has the variable information in English on the back cover and in Farsi on the front, a language and serial that are read right to left. Photo credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2023.

Perfecting the Final Product, Part 1: Learning Language Traits Including Computer Programming

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Iranian serial Megillah is shown open between two issues with the front cover on the left printed in Farsi and the back cover on the right with text in English.
This serial from the AMED Persian collection has the variable information in English on the back cover and in Farsi on the front, a language and serial that are read right to left. Photo credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2023.

Mistakes happen. Words are misspelled, languages are mistranslated, software and hardware malfunction. This is a fact of life, and part of what can make life interesting. Imagine how boring life would be if no one ever said, “Oops?”

There are numerous examples over the years of book printing errors. The first printing of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain was riddles with mistakes, including eight in the text, and several pages bound out of order. () Looking at the binding itself, there are errors that can occur innocently. The Gutenberg Bible we have here at the Library was bound in three volumes instead of the usual two, and bound using pigskin, showing that the binder was not familiar with the Book of Leviticus (11:7).

At the Library of Congress, the Binding Office has been operational since 1900 and in that time, it has sought a final product as free of error as possible. For the binding staff, now called the Processing and Preparation Section (PPS), it is expected to maintain a 1% error rate or less on the items we prepare for binding. While most errors occur on the text block, our area of focus is the spine itself, and occasionally the cover of the bound items.

Each item, as prepared, has at minimum a call number and barcode. These features, the call number imprinted in the buckram and the barcode reproduced as a label on the back, help with identification, tracking, and proper storage of the item. For books thicker than ¼ inch we also include title and, usually author. These should be simple to transcribe but not when you’re dealing with different languages, and occasional differences in spelling. As noted in a recent post by our Junior Fellow, Kathleen Senn, the Library’s collection bridges hundreds of languages.

Four Asian language books lay open showing Japanese, Korean, Indonesian, and Illoko.
Items returned from the bindery in four different Asian languages, all processed by the PPS staff without error. Photo credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2023.

We rely greatly on our catalogers and language experts throughout the Library to enter the information into our Integrated Library System (ILS) in English. Even then, we pick up things from time to time on often seen languages. Just as there are song lyrics you can recite when the tune starts up, most of our staff can recognize certain languages and their numbering systems. We may not be able to write them on our own, but they are in our memory. Sometimes that becomes useful when the cataloger failed to identify the collection. PPS staff are known to even use outside translation apps to double check the language. When processing serials from certain foreign languages, the months or seasons on the spine are abbreviated in those languages, requiring knowledge of, or quick access to, an abbreviation chart.

: Five bound serial items shown from the spine with months listed in English, Czech, and Slovak.
European serials returned from the bindery showing the months listed in the language of the original item. Photo credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2023.

On a call number, the most common errors we have made, and found, deal with the identifying details. It is amazing how many times you can accidentally write “Cpoy” and not notice it. The same is true for the collections, where you can easily slip and write “Asain” instead of Asian, or “AMED Herb” instead of AMED Hebr. Even the simplest thing, for the Law Library each call number has LL at the top, but there can easily be a failure in capitalization that will make it look like capital I’s instead.

To help with repetitive nature of our work, as staffers regularly process 20 plus items per hour, I learned a different type of language: basic computer programming using Macro Express. The Library already had hundreds of macros, or short quick keys, programmed to facilitate work in the ILS. We regularly used one of those quick keys to change the status of items from At Bindery to In Process while doing our quality review. Using that macro as a guide, I learned to write macros of my own, and have since written over 300 distinct short keys, many of which our staff use every day. Those macros have also been shared with staff and contractors elsewhere in the Library so the universal standard is enforced.

A computer dialog box from the software Macro Express Pro showing the script line Text Type (Simulated Keys) /Set 1
A Macro Express Pro script box showing the single line script for Set 1, my first macro. Photo credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2023.

The first macro was a basic text command. Press Ctrl-S, which would save a document in most programs, would load /Set 1 on the call number line in our binding software. Two key presses instead of six, not much but it was a start. From there I learned to do more complex text strings, “Asian/Japan<END>/Copy 1,” for the call number of a Japanese monograph. Since there are dozens of languages within the Asian Division, I setup a dialog box where you could choose the appropriate language. In time, I learned that I could use the Clipboard to copy the language from the ILS and then choose the appropriate language macro. Once these macros were created, tested, and implemented, the binding staff saw a 20% decrease in errors.

Two dialog boxes, one showing data as loaded with no author, title with extra characters and call number without collection information, second showing formatted title and call number.
Before and After macros. These two screenshots show the quick editing and reformatting done in seconds by PPS staff for this item to be bound correctly. Photo credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2023.

Mistakes still happen, and software changes have necessitated frequent updates. The macros I have created also facilitate our quality review and occasional cataloging work. Personally, I have ones that I use just for the regular operation of my system to speed my work along, such as startup macro that opens all the applications I plan on using that day while my computer boots up.

A computer dialog window shows a series of commands to access the ILS software, copy relevant data, compare it to certain inputs, and activate a subsequent language macro.
The complicated macro script where the system compares information from the Integrated Library System to identify the proper language to format the Call number. Photo credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2023.

We learn on the job, and with time, we create a better product for the Library, and for our researchers. Stopping errors from occurring allows these books to get to the shelves faster and make them easier to find once they are there. This is the first of a multi-part series on how the Processing and Preparation Staff work toward perfecting the final product. In subsequent entries, I’ll describe our quality review process for when items return from the bindery, and the software we use and how it helps the commercial bindery in their work.


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