Friday, August 17, 2012

Political Questions (Was: Scope and purpose of Autocat)

Posting to Autocat

On 16/08/2012 14:20, Marc Truitt wrote:
Hi all,

Several recent threads suggest a need to remind us all that -- occasional wide-ranging discussions notwithstanding -- yes, Virginia, there *is* a statement of scope for Autocat.  She and you can find it at:

I also moderated an email list for several years (SIGIA-L) for ASIS (later ASIST), and I fully realize that moderating can demand a lot of work so I appreciate the moderators' labor!

That said, I have found the members of AUTOCAT to be far more restrained and polite than on many of the other lists I have been on, while the "political" aspects are held to a very minimum. One problem is that everyone will not agree with the meaning of the word "political". If something is truly political, e.g. arguing how the election of one presidential candidate over another will be better or worse for libraries or cataloging, that seems to be truly out of scope but there are other questions that some may feel to be political, while others may not. There is the example of the (apparently anonymous) article "The Great Librarian Massacre of 2012: a cataloging librarian's view" about the possibility of mass layoffs at Harvard, and published in nothing less than the highly politicized Daily Kos. It turned out that there have not been mass layoffs but the decision came only after protests that may (or may not) have saved library jobs, including those of catalogers.

Discussing the future of the profession does not seem to me to be "political"--especially at this time of budget cuts when many librarians are faced with the decisions of what are the next drastic actions to take to keep the library open (thereby making some of the most "political" decisions possible!); therefore, a discussion of the broader issues of cataloging seems to be as much in place as what is the correct way to deal with the name of a Russian corporate body. After all, if the practicing experts in any profession cannot defend the importance of their own profession, it bodes ill for the future of those experts.

For instance, Wojciech just posted a message with the statement, "Up to now, most of the descriptions of LAC holdings were written by archivists and librarians. These descriptions, known as metadata, will be done by creators, donors and users." While I don't know if this is actually the case without looking into it further, I can state that I have heard and read many loud and vocal declarations by non-librarians and librarians as well who definitely agree that the "descriptions" should best be done by "creators, donors and users". To a non-expert, this seems fully logical ("The creator knows the most about the article he or she wrote. They are the ones who can make the best metadata. What can some dilettante cataloger know compared to them?"). To argue against such convictions is not at all easy, while deciding not to argue will mostly be taken as silent agreement. If what Wojciech forwarded is correct and if it were implemented, it would have much more serious harm to cataloging than messing up the name of that Russian corporate body.

Finally, as I would mention when I was a moderator of that list: in almost every email program, there are certain automated tasks that you can implement, and if there are messages from certain people or on certain topics that you do not like, you can set your email program to send them straight to the trash. I am sure that some have done this with my own postings already.

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