Re: How much do catalogers know, and how many of them know it? (Was: [ACAT] Priorities)

Posting to Autocat

On 09/07/2012 18:49, Frank Newton wrote:

This thread has been partly addressing RDA, but I won’t be tackling that part of it this time around. I’m concerned about the other part of the discussion, which the way I see it, concerns how much we should disparage and discount catalogers’ knowledge and experience.

I do not intend to disparage and discount cataloger’s knowledge and experience. If people have gotten that impression, I want to emphasize that I want to say something different. What I am trying to say is that catalogers should not disparage and discount the knowledge and experience of public services. After all, they are the ones who hear the complaints, deal with the questions, teach the information literacy classes and hear what those people have to say and so on. Catalogers have their own area of responsibility and expertise, but reference does too. Some catalogers get to work with reference and others do not. But what I am trying to point out is that when working *as a cataloger*, a librarian has relatively little interaction with the public–because that librarian is busy interacting with the materials themselves.

And while I agree that catalogers are patrons, they are very special patrons and the current catalog would serve almost all of their needs now because they are the ones who are experts and best know how it works, what it can and what it cannot do. Yet, that also shows why catalogers should not be the ones to determine how untrained persons approach the catalog. I am reminded how once, some time ago, I was at an ALA convention and went to hear the web master of a major ALA website, who was explaining the site. Someone asked, “Can people find things on your site?” and I will never forget the web master’s reply: “Well, I don’t have any trouble finding anything.”

I kept quiet, but I thought: Well, I hope that you of all people don’t have trouble! What if the web master had said, “You know, I can never find ANYTHING in there! It’s complete chaos!” After all, this person had created it from scratch, but nobody else had that intimate knowledge. Just because this person could find information was irrelevant.

I think catalogers are very similar when dealing with their catalogs. They just know too much to be able to imagine someone who knows absolutely zero, and knows only Google-type technologies. This is a basic assumption of what is called “Information Architecture”. If you are building a site for the general public, you must assume that nobody knows anything. This is completely different from the library/library catalog/information literacy system. It is something that I believe must be discarded in the new environment.