Posting to Autocat
Julie Moore asks:
My big challenge here is that I am under the gun to show, through assessment, that the work that we do in Cataloging (specifically) improves student outcome. So because we catalog, this improves student success. I am looking specifically for that link. How do I show that?
There have already been some excellent replies, but I believe an answer demands a bit of imagination–difficult with assessment, I agree, but perhaps it may stand a chance. And it is becoming increasingly important in this new environment because of all of the innovative options the public, including students, have today. Each of these new options has very powerful supporters as well.
I think people have to imagine what it would be like if there were no catalog. To imagine this, a person needs to know what a catalog is, and very few people understand. For materials strictly in print, people would have no choice except to browse the shelves more or less aimlessly, looking at the spines of the books and wondering what was inside, just as people did for hundreds of years. Eliminating cataloging (and thereby the catalog) would send people back to the times of years long past before genuine cataloging appeared. That situation was clearly insufficient to the people back in those days and the catalog appeared. Back then all of this was so self-evident that nobody needed to discuss the need for a catalog and the discussion was focused on what the catalog could practically provide: how many authors? Should it provide subjects? Classified or dictionary arrangement of subjects? How deep should subject analysis be? Earlier/later forms of names of corporate bodies? Publishers? Printers? Methods of research? Analysis of collective works? And on and on.
The basic idea was that the “better” the catalog, the better and faster a person could find the information he or she wanted. The catalog was a practical tool that people needed, not a theoretical construct. Without the catalog, a person was helpless and was entirely dependent on the memory of the librarian, who may or may not have been very approachable.
My idea of the catalog today focuses on library values: the attempt to maintain a lack of personal bias, anonymity of the searcher, expert selection, reliability of results, and so on. None of the new options today provides any of this except for professionally-made, traditional catalogs.
Proving that this leads to student success is exceedingly difficult. But proving the opposite, that is: maintaining that the catalog and these values do *not* lead to student success would be even more difficult, and in some ways almost nonsensical, to try and prove.
Not yet, but probably within the next ten or twenty years the copyright issues will be sorted out and the vast majority of materials that the vast majority of people want will be available digitally. The Google-type tools definitely are types of catalogs. They provide a type of selection and organization (by the arrangement of the records based on citation analysis and social matching), a type of description (the link to click on and the snippets), and there are all kinds of metadata operating behind the scenes. Will library values still be relevant?
So long as people understand what libraries are and what their catalogs provide, I think so.
And I can’t help myself: RDA is irrelevant to these critical problems. Unfortunately.