Posting to Autocat
Is there such a thing as “strict” cataloging vs. “loose” cataloging? I don’t know if I’m using the correct wording here. A librarian I know of will make no changes to the call number in a record, even though it makes much more sense to have these books in a different location. What would you call her? What would you call a cataloger who is more flexible in their cataloging?
I guess I look at this somewhat differently from the others. To me, “strict” cataloging means strict adherence to standardized rules and guidelines, while “loose” would grant much more reliance on “cataloger’s judgment”. I’ve written about cataloger’s judgment before, in short: I don’t really understand what “cataloger’s judgment” means. If one person’s judgment is just as good as another’s judgment in a given situation, there is a huge element of randomness allowed, which would mean that whenever cataloger’s judgment is allowed, the result is a “looser” form of cataloging. The proposed RDA rules appear to leave much more elbow room to cataloger’s judgment than earlier rules.
I see “strict” or “standardized” cataloging as essential in a network that wants to share records, and I think of it as similar to the world of mass production. For example, if I have a company that makes bolts and nuts, do I want to make bolts and nuts that can be used only on one make of automobile, or make bolts and nuts that can be used on 500 makes of automobile? The principle of “interchangeable parts” means that I should go for the latter, that is, if I want to make bolts and nuts that are genuinely useful to the most people, with the result that I can make more money. Additionally, if I am making a new automobile, I should probably use nuts and bolts that everybody else is using, even though I believe that a unique nut and bolt that I design may be “better”. If I opt for the unique one, then it will be a huge pain for everybody else because getting a new, unique nut and bolt will be much more difficult and they will tend not to buy my automobile.
In a similar way, the more I make records that are unique to my own collection-and therefore “better”–and I downgrade the importance of the “interchangeable parts” aspect, the less useful my record will be for others outside of my collection, and consequently, the less useful records outside my collection will be when I want to bring them in. As a result, if I have my own practices on, e.g. series tracings, if I go against the standard decision, the result will be that I will have to revise every copy record with a series statement that comes into my catalog. That results in a lot of work.
I may agree with those standardized decisions or disagree, but if I disagree, it means that I must take the responsibility to revise every record that comes into my catalog, which quite possibly will result in so much work that it will end in exhaustion and eventual capitulation, where you just give up and say that we’ll take whatever comes in. This is especially true today in times of perpetual budget crisis. (I guess it’s obvious that I come down much more on the “strict” side in the sense of adhering to shared standards)
Still, it is important to note that this scenario is changing completely in the new information environment we are entering, and we get strange aggregators such as Google Books, that mashes all kinds of different metadata records together. Take a look at a Google Books metadata record. It’s really bizarre. When people will go first to Google Books (which will happen once the settlement with the publishers is eventually approved), what will be the purpose and function of the “local catalog” in that kind of environment? I personally do not know how standardization will work in this strange, new world, but nevertheless, it remains my feeling that standardization will be as necessary as ever, if not more so.