Thursday, August 2, 2012

[RANT] : on cataloguers and IT people : [was] : RDA questions from librarians at small libraries

Posting to Autocat

On 31/07/2012 20:28, Marc Truitt wrote:
Admittedly, I suppose you might say that I "went over to the Dark Side" when I took on a series of IT/systems-focused library jobs.  In all the years I did so, though, it was with the deep conviction that the way to better catalogues *and* better systems in libraries was *not* for greater *separation* between their creators, but rather, for more *integration*.  The only way both our metadata and our systems improve is through the cooperative efforts -- the insinuation, if you will -- of those who create cataloguing and those who create systems that use that cataloguing to enable discovery, presentation, and access.

While in some neighborhoods "good fences make good neighbors", the opposite is true when considering the relations between cataloguers and systems folk in libraries.  We only serve our patrons, our libraries, and ourselves well when we respect and practice the art of working together.  My sense is that the great majority of us long ago learned the value of such integration and collaboration with public services staff.  Why should things be any different where cataloguers and IT/systems staff are concerned?

I guess your experience is quite different from mine. While cooperation is of course the best path forward, I have found it very rarely. In some organizations, you couldn't even get the catalogers and the IT people in the same room together! (I am not kidding) The problem is: the IT people are the builders and they have the ultimate power to make the new tool. Of course, they can listen or not listen to the actual users of the system that they are building, or to be more specific, they can choose precisely which users they want to listen to. IT staff are only human, and therefore often have great pride in their creations. That's understandable. It would be strange if it were not that way.

It is also understandable that they often do not take very well to criticism of their creations, especially when those criticisms are put to them in a nasty way. IT staff are also not some gigantic monolith and often you will find some who really and truly want to build what you want, but they cannot because the IT people have to answer to their own supervisors who have all kinds of motivations. I have seen this happen much more than once, and not only in libraries. David Bade's article discussed it in other venues and it should not come as a shock to discover that it happens in the library field as well.

So, while in theory, everyone working together and cooperating is absolutely great, it often doesn't work out that way. That is why they have these entire project management methods as I mentioned before, to ensure that the voice of the users (Senior User) are definitely heard and cannot be ignored by the builders. On the other hand, if everyone cooperated in friendly ways, we wouldn't need these methods, nor would we need a lot of other systems: bureaucracies, the governments, the UN, the courts and armies, but the fact is people very often do not cooperate, for whatever reasons they may have.

I want to be clear that I am not placing the blame on IT. The catalogers have been very seriously at fault as well, since they often do not want to see new perspectives. Very often, they do not understand the powers of the new systems since that is not their specialty. They often do not or cannot see how their own records can be used in brand new ways. They often forget the the IT people are users too and their ideas must be taken into account as seriously as any others. Catalogers do not like it when someone points out that their catalogs have been broken for a long time and new methods *must* be implemented, otherwise they will go the path of the trilobyte.

Golly! That sounds like RDA and FRBR!

Still, when you get IT and cataloging to truly work together, with respect on both sides, it can be a joy and enlightening for everyone involved. When that happens though, everyone should realize that it is a fortuitous event.

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