ACAT Quality of MLS education cataloging

Posting to Autocat

On 02/09/2014 19.43, Kevin M Randall wrote:

It seems like the typical route now to a professional cataloger position is to learn a lot of cataloging basics as a paraprofessional, then go to library school to get the degree to be qualified for a librarian position. (But of course, there’s the question of how many professional positions will be available…)

This is the point. One real concern of mine is that, as I mentioned earlier, library school is there to train the librarians¬†of the future. Those are the people who will be the leaders of the library field. If they lack an appreciation, an understanding, of the library’s catalog, i.e. what is–by far–the most complex tool created by the library (putting to shame all spreadsheets and library guides etc.); if they don’t understand why it is made the way it is and the reasons the people who make the catalog do the things that they do; if the decision makers do not understand, or do not appreciate it, then the future looks very difficult.

Although I have read quite often how the catalog will disappear, but as long as there is a physical collection to manage (and it looks as if physical collections will be around for quite awhile yet), I haven’t seen even any suggestions for anything to replace the library catalog. You just can’t do it with a spreadsheet! Of course, the problem with this is, as the digital materials available to the public continue to grow exponentially faster than the printed materials any library could provide, we face a worrisome trajectory.

The big question is: what will be the purpose of the catalog? Will it be a tool for “information discovery” that is, to help people discover intellectually what may be of interest to them in the collection (whatever “the collection” comes to mean). Or will “information discovery” take place using other tools (full-text, driven by algorithms on correlations based not only on texts but your “likes” your “connections” your browsing history, and what some would call “invasions of privacy”) while the catalog becomes a tool just for finding and retrieving the resources found in those other places? In other words, borrowing from Cutter’s Objectives:

1. To enable a person to find a book of which either

A. the author)
B. the title) is known
C. the subject)

2. To show what the library has

D. by a given author
E. on a given subject
F. in a given kind of literature

3. To assist in the choice of a book

G. as to its edition (bibliographically)
H. as to its character (literary or topical)

The library catalog could allow only for objectives 1. A and 1. B, while leaving the rest to other methods. I have seen early catalogs that did that (author/title with no authority control). Supplement it with basic descriptions (publication information and extent) and this would be making a run-of-the-mill inventory tool. It would be a lot simpler to make that one. (Cheaper too!) Training staff could take a week or so, much as in a stockroom.

I think that it is inevitable that the decision concerning what should be the catalog’s purpose will be made eventually. Of course, we must realize that catalogers will¬†not be the ones to make that decision–it will be made by the “movers and shakers” (library big-wigs, directors, and lots of non-librarians). It would be nice if they had some kind of understanding what the catalog is and what it does when they make those decisions, but as I have pointed out several times, it is so hard for people to use our catalogs correctly that a positive answer is far from certain.

Interesting times.