RE: On imagination, catalogers, perspectives, negative stereotypes -NGC4LIB

Posting to Autocat

Concerning my original posting, I made a comment to MJ Suhonos on NGC4LIB which I did not post here. I have placed it on my blog at: (this is why I made the blog. I found I was getting too confused!)

I am not stating that catalogers are not imaginative (how is that for a double negative?); catalogers can be very imaginative. I am trying to say that through the nature of their jobs, catalogers are trained not to be so, as Suzanne Stauffer mentioned in her post.

A solution to the problem must involve the entire library plus partners outside. If catalogers continue to focus their efforts primarily on printed materials, or even when things change over to primarily digital, only on those materials that our individual library has paid for, we lose out on some of the most exciting cooperative developments out there, by this I am talking about all different sorts of open-access materials and projects which include texts, videos, audio, maps, wikis, weird things and so on and on. People want and need these materials and we should not tell them just to use Google or Yahoo or other non-library tool and thereby force them to ignore the tools we make, but we should help our users find materials of interest no matter where they happen to be. Of course, when everybody is looking at precisely the same web site, it makes no sense to catalog the same thing 10,000 times, or even to have 10,000 copy-cataloged records each of which will have to be updated. Solutions must be found.

A few days at a reference desk will make clear that people want help with selection probably more than anything else; people also need help finding this information in the first place because it’s not easy, even though research has shown that the public think they are expert searchers. But a few minutes helping people using tools such as Google and Yahoo, and almost any database out there, will make a librarian long for the controls we can get through cataloging. You want to search for a name, so that you can find writings of a “John White” and not get “John Jones” from the White House staff, or “John Smith” selling paint.

Yet, how do we get people to want our help in the first place?

These are huge problems, but librarians who see the needs can begin to imagine a system or group of systems that will solve these problems. It doesn’t mean that they can build it on their own, but that is another issue entirely. It is only the very first step. If you don’t see the needs, or if you see issues only in terms of what you happen to know at the moment or “how to most efficiently transfer what has been done in the past into the new environment,” (which is the way I see FRBR and RDA) it’s practically impossible to imagine solutions.

It should be obvious that this is an entirely different task from creating high-quality catalog records that conform to a standard. Both are absolutely necessary and I do not want to slight cataloging, but I am pointing out that each demands a completely different mind-set.



One Comment

  1. carolslib said:

    Jim – I too blogged about this and I don't think there is less imagination but rather more. Librarians are being creative. They are trying to fill the needs they see in the best possible way using the only tools they have.

    April 21, 2010

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