Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Re: the platonic ideal of a radical cataloging course

Posting to RadCat

On 16/04/2012 23:37, KR Roberto wrote:
As some of you already know, I teach an intro to cataloging course for MLS students. It can be tricky, especially with RDA implementation lurking in the shadows; I'm sure instructors were having the same experiences 30+ years ago during the gap time between AACR2's publication and implementation, though, which is some consolation.

Here's a question for all of you who've taken such a course: what topics do you wish had been covered, but weren't? What skills do you wish you'd had as a new cataloger--or, conversely, what skills do you wish new catalogers had? I struggle with finding ways to introduce my students to all of the skills they'll need to be good catalogers--or to be good colleagues to catalogers--while simultaneously stirring them to think about these ideas in a progressive library context.

I'd like to hear any thoughts you all have on the topic.

Since I went to library school quite some time back, I don't really know what is taught there now. This is the way I look at it:

There is going to be a major change in the mental picture of cataloging--it has yet to occur within the regular cataloging community, and possibly the library schools will have to supply the foundations for this change. Library cataloging has always been in essence: I have this item, I have to describe it according to these very precise rules, then I have to provide these very precise "access points" created according to other very precise rules, then encode it in this specific format according to these other very precise rules; finally, I print it out on a card to fit it into my card catalog, or today, put this "virtual card" into my virtual catalog. This is the way it has worked since the earliest recorded catalogs, and is still being followed today.

This will no longer be sufficient in the future. Library catalogs will not remain separate little islands and whether we like it or not, our catalogs, along with their individual catalog records, will become part of the incomparably larger world of metadata. The information in this larger world of metadata is made according to almost countless types of rules by different kinds of people; in fact it is very possible that these metadata records are not made according to any rules at all and made by people with absolutely no training or even by machines. Look at the so-called "rules" for Dublin Core where anything goes. The larger metadata world is so enormously huge that it completely overwhelms the paltry few million records that library catalogers make.

And yet, library catalogs must go into this larger world because that's where libraries are going, and libraries are going there because that is where the public is going. Since that is where the public is going, if libraries and their catalogs do not go into this larger metadata world, they will be ignored and forgotten by the public. So, there is no choice. We must go there.

Therefore, in this new view of the cataloging world, the question is: how do libraries and their cataloging records fit in, and fit in in a way that is as coherent and useful as possible? This is some of what I meant in a paper I recently gave in Oslo, http://blog.jweinheimer.net/2012/02/revolution-in-our-minds-seeing-world.html where I paraphrased a Russian avant-garde photographer,  ”Thousands of years of cataloging practices have conditioned us to see according to informational structures that are totally and literally outdated. A revolution must be performed on the librarians to teach them to see things from every angle and in any kind of circumstance.”

I believe that precise rules and standards will still be very important, but not as ends in themselves. These rules must be reconceived in the new metadata world. How will this work out in practice? I don't know, but it will have to go beyond only cataloging and involve the entire library somehow. It seems to me that it makes less and less sense to keep, e.g. cataloging and "public services" separate. The one absolutely must inform the other. And it seems that "public services" and "selection" must go together as well.

Again, how will this work out in practice? Nobody knows, but fundamental changes will have to occur and are occurring now.

I don't know if this helps you or not. I think it's going to be a wild time.

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