Re: Is cataloguing a science or an art form? (Was: Cataloging Training Needed)

Posting to Autocat

On 29/04/2011 10:48, Anna Martin wrote:

I enjoyed reading Christel Klein’s comment “I think of cataloguing as both ‘craft’ and ‘art’.”
It annoys me a bit when people said that cataloguing was an art form since it is plainly a matter of following rules as closely as you can. However the more I discover about science and art, the more I wonder if there is really any difference between these two concepts. To be good at either you have to know all the “rules” and then decide when and how to apply them.
Unfortunately in my experience one comes across few cases when there is any room to be creative when cataloguing: mostly when issues arise it is due to lack of information and the cataloguer just has to find that information or follow the rules about what to do if they can’t. So if I had to choose one I would still definitely say it is a science. AACR2 is like an omniscient God that is designed to cover all eventualities and is, in my perhaps limited experience, pretty effective in doing so. I think if I had to I could catalogue a carpet or a lampshade or a box of different coloured marbles using rules straight from AACR2. It would be fun to try but sadly any artistic flare most of us cataloguers might have languishing in our souls is suppressed and we only catalogue books and a few limited pre-existing  formats such as CD’s and DVD’s and which definitely call for “science”.

It seems to me that artistry implies a certain mastery over the basics somewhere along the way. Somebody who will not learn how to play the piano but just pounds on it cannot be considered an artist. A pianist who will be considered an artist must spend long hours learning how to play, what he or she is really capable of, and not least important, they must constantly exercise their skills because they may lose them rather quickly.

Of course, just knowing the mechanics of how to play a musical instrument is not necessarily enough to be dubbed an “artist” which means something more. What is that extra? I don’t know, but being here in Rome, I can state that when I go into a church filled with all kinds of statues, the ones by Bernini just pop out at you. You can almost always find the ones by Bernini and they are easy to spot, but I don’t know why. Obviously, he had some kind of exceptional quality.

I have met many cataloger/artists. They display a freedom, a willingness to push the rules and practices but still manage to stay within them somehow. Naturally, this demands a deep understanding of, and experience with, the rules (i.e. the tools of the trade). I can also see the artistry in the records many produce, primarily through subject analysis and authority records, but certainly I have seen artistry in descriptive practice as well.

So, while I agree with you that “cataloging is plainly a matter of following the rules as closely as you can”, I think there is still some lee-way: you can follow those rules creatively, or follow them  dogmatically. I like to think I have been on the more creative side, but maybe not.