RE: how do i become a cataloger?

Message to Autocat

I think a lot of it depends on the way both you, and the institution you want to work for, look at the future of information retrieval. The handwriting is on the wall that the traditional library controls are slowly disintegrating, above all in the area of selection, where you have to buy aggregator databases with tons of materials you would otherwise never pay for, to the possible future of Google Books and the addition of millions of ebooks. Add to this the wonderful projects of open access papers, books, journals and the lot, and selection becomes far more complex than perhaps ever before.

These changes lay corresponding pressure on the local catalogs (the next link in the chain), which are supposed to exist to give access and control to the materials “selected for the collection.” Look at the outsourcing of most catalogs for the electronic journal list through resources such as Serials Solutions, along with all of those proprietary ebook databases. What will happen with Google Books? Who will use our local catalogs then? And we can’t forget that Google Books is absolutely *not* the only place, or even the best place, for electronic books. Let’s not forget those weird things that are not books or serials or scores or recordings, but are something new.

People and institutions can either ignore these changes or embrace them. I won’t discuss ignoring them, but embracing them today as a librarian means being only a part, perhaps a small part, of any solutions. This is difficult for many to accept because earlier, if the public wanted information, they had no choice but to go to a library, and once there, they had no choice but to use the bibliographical tools we created. Those days are gone.

Yet, I think that because of our unique skills and knowledge, librarians and catalogers can be an important part of any future solutions, but it is important to act sooner rather than later, because a lot of it is like trying to change the course of an oil tanker–they can’t turn on a dime and foresight is needed.

People and institutions (i.e. those people you work for) can have honest, but diametrically different opinions on these very weighty matters and it becomes very hard when people do not agree on such fundamental principles. We are in a transitional moment, and learning AACR2, MARC21 and so on may be similar to learning how to shoe a horse when automobiles first appeared. Or maybe not. Traditional cataloging skills are still needed today but who knows just 10 years from now?

I’ll append part of a private message I sent to some library school students who were asking some questions about the changes from AACR2 to RDA, the consequences, the future, and so on.

One point though: don’t underestimate the usefulness of your “inexperience.” Approaching these issues as an interested person and looking at them through fresh eyes is extremely important, especially today. Another way of considering your situation is that you are lucky that “your mind is not warped.” 🙂

But seriously, the tools we make are for people exactly like you as you are *right now* (plus a library has additional internal needs). As someone on NGC4LIB mentioned recently, “maybe catalogers are not the best ones to determine how the catalog is used.” I think, “Absolutely!” This is where outsiders are essential, especially reference librarians, but others as well, and why I say that the user tasks of “find/identify/select/obtain works/expressions/manifestations/items” can only have been figured out by a cataloger. I can’t imagine that users would *ever* come up with that. What are our users really doing? I don’t know; nobody knows right now, and research is being done.

So please: keep an open mind and question *everything* you see. And especially today, never ever accept for an answer, “That’s just the way it’s done.”



One Comment

  1. Anonymous said:

    You wrote: And especially today, never ever accept for an answer, "That's just the way it's done." I say: Here! Here! And remember that everything changes. Everything! Even cataloging conventions.

    February 24, 2010

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