Re: The Process of Cataloging in the Future

Posting to RadCat

On 20/05/2013 23:39, Frances, Melodie wrote:

BUT, you are assuming that most catalogers are spending their time copy cataloging. Personally, I probably only spend at most a few hours a month doing that.

It seems to me that professional catalogers should be spending their time on unique items that for whatever reason are NOT on the web (since that makes them non-unique practically speaking), and doing things with catalogs as a whole to make them work better [something that would be much easier to do if we were getting quality copy these days, which we aren’t].
As for local catalogs being absolute, you are assuming a generic user – public library user? Children’s library user? Or like where I work, graduate theologian library user? All of these users have VERY different needs. Here at our library we catalogers function as mediators between (for example) LCHS’s not so theologically friendly headings for things like the Bible, etc.

Of course, the first thing a cataloger must do is to determine if there is already a record in the catalog for the item being cataloged. If it has already been cataloged, you determine how much (if any) the record must be adjusted for your own item. That is, unless you are dealing only with manuscripts held locally, which–by definition–there is only a single copy, then there is no need for cooperative cataloging. Naturally, that also means the item you are cataloging will remain of marginal importance for society, since–as long ago as the introduction of the printing press–people began to understand that if you want a resource to be used by society, that resource must be copied because very few people will have either the willingness or the means to go physically to a library to handle a single, unique manuscript. (The old “If the mountain will not come to Mohammad, then Mohammad must go to the mountain”) That means that the more copies that exist in more places, the more people will use them. Most authors like that idea.

The early authors and printers understood this perfectly. If libraries today want more people to use their unique materials, they should scan them and put them on the web where people will be able to use them. If catalogers concentrate on physical manuscripts, they will be concentrating their efforts on the least-used parts of their collections, especially in this networked world. As only a single example, here is the wonderful Aberdeen Bestiary which has been scanned, transcribed, translated, etc. This is certainly not the same as looking at the original, but otherwise there is no way I would actually go there to view it, and here is the information, with some indication of its beauty, all for free.

What is so strange today is that with items on the web, there is the apparently contradictory situation that there is simultaneously a single file on a web server (like a manuscript), but at the same time innumerable copies. Yet, that is how the web operates.

So, as I see it, the old saying of Mohammad (above) will become more and more true. People will be less and less willing to go to a library to get information–since information will be easier and easier to get through the internet, although they may continue to go to libraries for more social purposes, which is what seems to be happening in public libraries, where they go for training, lectures, coffee, and so on. The closer the relationship of a library catalog with the physical collection, the less will be its relevance for the information purposes of the public.

And as for something like OCLC having a universal catalog there are so many problems with that – first, they have SO many duplicate records now that making an exact match to a specific library (unless your library has been attaching your holdings to every duplicate record) haphazard at best. Secondly, OCLC also assumes a generic user thereby not serving anyone well. Thirdly, OCLC does not have a history of every library’s holdings or local call numbers, or locations etc. so again, matching is challenging. Worst of all, the quality just isn’t there anymore. I suspect, because, they decided they didn’t need to assign any professional catalogers to the process … who knows.

I’ve always been mystified that do many people see the internet as a chance to get rid of catalogers rather than a chance to free catalogers up to do more …

I agree with all of this. I always had problems with OCLC’s master record and preferred RLIN’s clustering but that is gone. I am afraid that with the implementation of RDA, the problem of duplicates will only get worse.

Personally, I do not see things such as the “Structured Data Markup Helper” as all that bad. This kind of tool could free up catalogers to do things that would be more appreciated by the public, such as to give decent subject/topical access to materials. That is, if the subject headings worked coherently!