Re: analog vs digital collections and cataloging

Posting to RadCat

On 09/06/2013 04:18, Julie Moore wrote:

The advent of the Internet has certainly changed things in cataloging, as we now watch these tens of thousands of MARC vendor records flow in and out of our catalogs via batch loads. They say that our patrons prefer to find ALL content using keyword searching (bringing up tens of thousands of hits) on their computers (or smartphones) now. Ironically, I was among the early catalogers of websites and digital media. It was very cool and exciting … I loved cataloging that stuff in the beginning (which was not that awfully long ago, I have to remind you!)

Perhaps it was naive on my part, but back then, I never thought for one second that there would be an aggressive takeover of digital materials over non-digital materials … I thought there was a place for both … but it is happening and very quickly. With that, (and with diminishing budgets) I am also observing the trend of an equally aggressive takeover of IT staff over catalogers. I thought that there was a place for both of these realms (and peoples — with our distinct purposes and realms of expertise) in the library world. I still do believe that … just as I still believe that there are core values of librarianship.
A librarian at a conference told me (very proudly) that if it were up to him, the entire “library” would take up no more space than the desktop he was sitting at. So even if we move to completely dumping all of our physical items and become only digital libraries, will we not continue to need librarians and staff who can develop those collections to meet our institutional needs, acquire those collections and pay for them, somehow describe them and make them accessible to our patrons? I must say that I am saddened and perplexed by what is happening in our libraries. Libraries are changing … libraries have always changed. But this time, I think it’s very different. 
The tide has turned in libraries of preferring to collect digital stuff (whether it be e-journals, e-books, or streaming music/video) to what some now refer to (with great disdain, I might add) as “analog” materials … the old fashioned, fuddy-duddy, physical stuff that you can touch and feel … things like books (GASP!), journals, scores, CDs, DVDs, and the myriad of other formats that I catalog including 3D objects, pictures, games, models, and etc.
Libraries are now dumping almost all of their money into developing digital collections and their maintenance and upkeep. Staffing is all going into supporting the digital realm. The libraries without walls are happening, ironically, in our own, beautiful library buildings that are now sitting with many more empty shelves.
I recently heard about a library that had digitized all its maps, and since they were digitized, they no longer needed the physical maps … so they dumped all of the physical maps (that, of course, require map cases and space to handle them.) To me, this is just sad, almost sickening!
As I have often said, I believe that part of my job as a cataloger is to record pathways to human knowledge for generations to come. I believe that we, as librarians, are the collectors and protectors of human knowledge. I worry very much about us, as libraries, dumping all of our physical collections for the digital, as I have little confidence that those materials will still be there for generations to come.

I completely agree, and I too regret the fact that “physical materials as information resources” will slowly go away. But I think it is safe to predict that they will. Such changes of format have happened a couple of times before and the world continued: when the scroll went over to the codex and when printing arrived and–who knows? Maybe the same problems took place when clay tablets disappeared! Of course, printed materials will never stop being made entirely (just as scrolls and hand-written manuscripts, and probably even clay tablets, are still produced today), I think it is safe to assume that increasingly, people of the future will look at e.g. books much as we now look upon scrolls or manuscripts on vellum: with awe and wonder. We certainly do not look at scrolls and manuscripts as the best places to get information; they are seen as interesting and beautiful artifacts. It is important to keep in mind that earlier people looked at those scrolls and manuscripts as their primary sources of information, not as we look at them.

Those in the 2nd century looked at scrolls as “the best” place to get the information they needed, and in the 14th century, people looked at bound manuscripts as “the best”. Since the time of printing in the later 15th century, people have looked at printed materials as the “best places” for information and that is changing again. No doubt in the future it will change yet again into something we cannot imagine at this juncture. It becomes clear that “the best” in this sense means “the most advanced means you have at your disposal” since we do not now know–and can never know–what “the best place” for information actually is.

On top of these tremendous changes in formats, something that I think is/will be far more disruptive is the openness of distribution. No longer do publishers and retailers have the iron lock on what is available for public consumption and they have not liked giving up such power. Many members of the public would include librarians in that mix. With the internet and world wide web, things have opened up in some tremendous ways, with plenty of junk out there it’s true, but lots and lots of gold–if you know where it is.

I may love it and I may hate it, but the fact is that there are some fabulous things on the web–and, incredible but true–not all of it you have to pay for.

For libraries however, I think it is vital that librarians stay librarians and do not become IT technicians. There is far too much IT in librarianship today, I think. Somebody has to view things from the patron’s point of view, and that is the role of the librarian.

I think society has a tremendous need for librarianship today and librarians could become more important to society than ever before. Unfortunately, many librarians are buried in a fantastical, solipsistic world populated by the spectres of FRBR, RDA, linked data, and so on; that is: they have been ensnared in the world of IT.