MJ Suhonos wrote:
From my limited experience, I vehemently disagree that cataloguers lack imagination; they are generally among the most intelligent and creative people in the organization. Rather, I think what cataloguers tend to lack is bravado, audacity, and daring. I won’t speculate on why this is any more than to simply say that the reasons are manifold, and outside the scope of this email.
I want to emphasize that I am not at all saying that catalogers are not intelligent; quite the contrary. Some of the most difficult intellectual tasks I have ever undertaken were when I was cataloging. And NACO/SACO revision at a major research library puts scholarly peer review to shame. It can be very tough.
That said, the act of cataloging is basically to fit things into an existing structure. This can be done routinely, mindlessly, cleverly or brilliantly. I have seen it all. There can be brilliant thinking and solutions inside the box but these are times that demand thinking outside that box. Catalogers are not trained or encouraged to do that. A cataloger does not think immediately that “there is a database on the web over here that we may be able to work with.” In particular here is Google Books with millions of scanned books. People want them. We must work with that and not ignore it. How do we deal with something like Google Books efficiently, with a bit of elegance and still maintain some level of standards?
Catalogers think in terms of AACR2 (or AACR1, or ALA or Dewey School, or whatever rules they happen to be following at the moment), MARC (or catalog cards) and in highly specific, picky bits of information. This is highly important and I don’t want to devalue that, but things are changing today, matters are getting serious and we need some real innovations.
I certainly think catalogers can think outside of the box, but it is not something they normally do. I worry that if we don’t find the innovations among ourselves, they will be imposed upon us.