Tuesday, June 9, 2009

In praise of lazy catalogers (Autocat)

It is my own belief that laziness is not always a vice. It is certainly a vice when someone uses it to foist off their work on others, but it is a virtue when it spurs someone to find other, faster, easier ways of getting a job done.

In this sense, I confess that I am lazy. For example, back when the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe collapsed, the changes that took place in cataloging were truly breathtaking, from serials, to subjects, to name headings. Almost everything changed. Since I was so "lazy," I wanted to save myself the need to look everything up over and over in a multiplicity of tools (because I never trusted my memory with such complex practices), so I wrote them down in a manual, printed it out and placed it on my desk where I could share it with other catalogers in my unit. When WWW browsers appeared, I transferred this to the web because it was easier for everybody to just click into it (we were all too "lazy") instead of walking over to my desk. Even for me, I confess that it was easier to click than to physically reach my hand out to leaf through the book.

But as my manual became more complex and used by others even outside our library and our university, I discovered that it was too difficult to use online, even though it had been pretty simple to use in paper. This is when I got into "information architecture" to make it easier and simpler to find things on websites. This continued into other parts of the cataloging documentation, into help pages for users on the web and I went on from there. So, I learned how to use javascript and different programming languages, to build macros and so on, all to make my work-life easier.

Therefore, I think that this idea of "laziness," so long as it is connected with ethical considerations of keeping high standards and a certain level of personal integrity, is a spur to improvement and progress. Especially at this time, it is important that the emphasis should *not* be on working harder, but we must work much, much smarter, and I think "laziness" is one of the very important keys to finding a solution. Without it, we are stuck in the present, but through laziness, we imagine future possibilities for improvement.

Related to the issue of asking questions on AUTOCAT. While I believe that people should be able and encouraged to ask their questions on AUTOCAT, it is terribly difficult and time consuming to find an answer to a question that was asked and answered several years ago. Sometimes it just takes too long to discover the answer. While Autocat is a great place to ask
questions, it seems to me that there could be a better tool to find questions that have already been answered. I'm sure all the tools to fix this situation exist right now.

A few philosophical musings.

James Weinheimer

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