I finally took the plunge and made a podcast. This is a highly preliminary experiment just to see what might happen.
Hello. My name is Jim Weinheimer and welcome to the first podcast of… well, I don’t know exactly what this is the first podcast of. I would like this to be associated with the Cooperative Cataloging Rules Initiative in some way, but I am only one of many people there. The preliminary title I would like to propose for this podcast is “Cataloging Matters”. So, for now: Welcome to this first podcast of “Cataloging Matters”, coming to you from the most beautiful, and the most romantic city, in the world: Rome, Italy.
A very small bit of information about myself: I have worked in libraries and other institutions in various capacities and am the original author of the “Slavic Cataloging Manual” now hosted at Indiana University. Lately, I initiated a project called the Cooperative Cataloging Rules Wiki.
I have been toying with the idea of making podcasts for awhile now, but I have had to deal with a few problems: first, I had to make up for a lack of technical knowledge, also, I have had to overcome a certain amount of shyness and embarrassment, but not least of all, I faced a more difficult problem: Trying to answer the questions “Who am I to do this?” “Who could possibly be interested in listening to me ramble on and on?” “There must be many people out there who could do this far better than I can.” But, I finally decided that the only way to answer any of these doubts is to simply forge ahead, try a few and proceed on from there.
For those of you who have been following some of the discussions on the main cataloging listservs such as Autocat, NGC4LIB, RDA-L and so on, you have probably seen my postings occasionally. I was writing one of these postings a few days ago concerning: FRBR and RDA, and decided that this one may be better done as a podcast. Anyway, I thought: “What the hell? Let’s give it a try.”
As an aside, I want to point out that I always say F-R-B-R and not “ferber”, because personally, I have always considered “ferber” to be a very ugly word, and while others are perfectly free to say it, I simply choose not to. Therefore, I say F-R-B-R and if the word “ferber” should slip out, realize that I have just humiliated myself terribly and I promise to do my best never to say it again.
So, with these preliminaries out of the way, here we go:
For some time, I have been trying to understand why it seems there is such an insistence on changing over to RDA even though it hasn’t yet been shown that it will result in any improvements, such as making our records easier to find, or that library cataloging will become more productive, or that other, non-library organizations will prefer to adopt it over our current rules of AACR2, or that the final product will be something that our users either want or need. In fact, switching to RDA would appear to be going in exactly the opposite directions: the additional complexity of RDA will probably make record creation slower, that is, if we intend to try and maintain standards; also, this same added complexity should logically make publishers and other organizations that create metadata even less likely to participate; and the FRBR displays, at least in my own opinion, are more likely to repel our users than attract them.
So why do it? I confess that I have found it all rather baffling, but after some reflection and a bit of searching, I found an interesting article recently from the June 2010 issue of the Harvard Business Review, which is titled “Change for Change’s Sake” by Freek Vermeulen, Phanish Puranam, and Ranjay Gulati that may help explain the situation to me, at least. You can find a link to it on the site. http://hbr.org/2010/06/change-for-changes-sake/ar/1. Although this is a for-pay article, for my purposes here, the important part is available online for free and I’ll summarize another part.
The authors begin (and I quote):
“No one disputes that firms have to make organizational changes when the business environment demands them. But the idea that a firm might want change for its own sake often provokes skepticism. Why inflict all that pain if you don’t have to?” (end of quote)
They continue: (quote)
“That is a dangerous attitude. A company periodically needs to shake itself up, regardless of the competitive landscape. Even if the external environment is not changing in ways that demand a response, the internal environment probably is. The human dynamics within an organization are constantly shifting—and require the organization to change along with them. Over time, informal networks mirror the formal structure, which is how silos develop. Restructuring gets people to start forming new networks, making the organization as a whole more creative. It also disrupts all the routines in an organization that collectively stifle innovation and adaptability. Finally, restructuring breaks up the outdated power structures that may be quietly misdirecting a company’s resource allocation.” (end of quote)
In the remainder of the article, the authors make the comparison of a corporate “change for change’s sake” with a human body that needs to get rid of cholesterol, in the sense that you may have a serious problem and not even be aware of it. They even offer something they call a “A Corporate Cholesterol Test”.
There are three basic parts to this test: 1) the quality of communication and collaboration 2) the capacity to adapt and 3) the balance of power among groups. Simply put, the authors state that if employees do not communicate with outside groups, cannot deal with change and work only with established routines, and if influential groups impede change in different ways, it may be time to shake things up.
Does this sound familiar?
I believe I have run into this attitude several times concerning cataloging, and I must say I sympathize with it. The task of cataloging is a notoriously conservative undertaking–as it must be, since almost by definition, it is fundamentally different from a normal business climate where everything is cleaned out and retooled every few years. In cataloging, there is always the danger that some thoughtless innovation could make everything that has been made earlier with such diligence and labor, completely obsolete and thereby, inaccessible and useless, perhaps forever. Yet, this attitude can be taken much too far, of course. I can understand that many could believe that “Change for Change’s Sake” is exactly what cataloging needs: some sort of jolt, a kick in the behind to force it to change in fundamental ways. Therefore, RDA could be just the tool to supply that needed slap in the face. And in any case, it is certainly better than doing nothing at all and staying in the same place we have been for the last x number of decades, or some could argue: x number of centuries.
While this makes sense in many ways, I don’t believe it is correct. I think almost everyone will agree today that both cataloging and the catalog itself need many, many changes. In my own opinion, primary efforts should be directed toward updating day-to-day work flows and processing. There is a lot of “cholesterol” in what we do that needs to be cleared out, and the work of catalogers needs to change in certain directions: toward sharing information and procedures more openly, collaborating with new groups, adapting to the obvious changes in information search and retrieval, and not least of all, dealing with the various balances of power among all of these groups. Obvious changes are needed in cataloging in all of these areas.
But change merely for the sake of change is not good enough at this point. Any changes instituted should still aim to improve the current situation in the directions discussed above. RDA, although I admit it would shake things up, would not lead to any more openness or collaborations, because of its additional complexity and of course, it is a simple fact that RDA is not an open standard.
Concerning changes in balances of power among different groups, I would prefer to remain silent, but I will simply observe that the same groups appear to be in the same places and I have seen no proposals to change any of this in any meaningful ways.
The actual implementation of RDA may perhaps lead to some form of “adaptation” on the part of individual catalogers, who would have to scramble around to master the added complexities of RDA as best they can, and learn how to use the documentation, but it does not seem to be the kind of adaptation that would lead to greater “creativity” and “innovation”. Rather, catalogers would probably see it as similar to implementing a new ILMS: that is, simply having to learn yet another new tool, which does almost exactly what the old tool did, you just learn to push different buttons and use different words.
Libraries and their catalogs, which I tend to view as inevitably linked and, like it or not, if one falls, the other goes along, need change; and this is not false, apparent change as I believe RDA offers us, but real change that leads in exciting, innovative directions. The rest of the world is doing this right now and the evidence is everywhere. We must follow or risk falling further and further behind.
Well, that is the end of this first podcast of the preliminarily-named “Cataloging Matters”. Anyone who reads my posts will probably find what I have said here very similar. Please let me know what you think, both about what I have said and about the value of more podcasts. Also, any ideas that you may want explored in any future podcasts would be highly appreciated. For example, there are several people I would like to interview, but I need to learn some more things before I can do that.
This is currently an “irregular” serialized resource in every sense of the term so I will not venture to say when the next one will be. A lot will depend on the response, if indeed, there is any.
Thank you for listening and goodbye from “Cataloging Matters” with Jim Weinheimer, coming to you from the city of Rome, the most beautiful, and the most romantic, city in the world.