thirteen ways of looking at a catalog (in verse)

I’ve said in the past that if people are going use Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” as a literary conceit to introduce something they’ve written, it would be nice if they would at least put in a little verse. I was reminded of this today because I finally sat down and read Lorcan Dempsey’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Libraries, Discovery, and the Catalog: Scale, Workflow, Attention“, which appeared last December in Educause Review. It’s an excellent article and if you’re at all serious about libraries, library catalogs, and the directions they may go in the future, you should read it.

But I should warn you: you won’t find any “thirteen ways”-style verse there. So, because I apparently didn’t have anything better to do this evening, I came up with this*:


Among twenty open networks,
The only local thing
Was the eye of the catalog.


I was of three minds,
Like a catalog
For which there are three interfaces.


The catalog merged with the larger web.
It was a small part of the data mine.


A search and a suggestion
Are one.
A search and a suggestion and a catalog
Are one.

I do not know which to prefer,
The unity of experience
Or the diversity of resources,
The catalog interface
Or just discovery.


Metadata filled the long record
From abundant streams.
The data for the catalog
Crossed it, to and fro.
The model
Traced in the data
An interoperable dream.


O traditional library,
Why do you imagine one-stop sites?
Do you not see how the catalog
Can work through the flow
Of the people about you?


I know external sources
And local, curated collections;
But I know, too,
That the catalog is involved
In what I know.


When the catalog slipped out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many layers.


At the sight of catalogs
Aggregated in a network,
Even the champions of serendipity
Would cry out sharply.


He drove around the region
Storing books off-site.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of a printed page
For a catalog.


Network sources are growing.
The catalog must start linking.


They were sourcing all around the room
They were scaling
And they were going to scale.
The catalog sat
In the server rooms


*I tried to make the points match the verses in order, even at the cost of some prosody. (It’s not like I had some artistic vision to compromise, anyway.) If I’d done this from scratch, I’d have made different choices.

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