Re: [ACAT] make real cataloging courses a requirement for graduation (was Adios

Posting to Autocat

A few of my own thoughts:

Although I agree that cataloging courses should be a requirement for graduation, and cataloging is still seen as one of the “core competencies” it is difficult to determine if this “competency” really is considered to be “core” or is just giving lip service to the value of cataloging, while what is actually happening is something quite different.

In my experience, there has always been a kind of wall between public services and technical services, and it is the administrators who make the final decisions. The big question that many administrators ask is: does the process of cataloging give adequate “added value”? A simple reply of yes or no is not sufficient for them, but anything must be demonstrated. I think there is general agreement that records are needed for internal inventory purposes (i.e. the business side of the library) but if this is all you need it could be achieved with pretty simple information. The vital question is: does the process of cataloging produce adequate added value for “information discovery” purposes for the library users? Twenty or thirty years ago, that question could be answered with an unthinking “yes” and it was child’s play to demonstrate it. After all, there weren’t any real choices for people!

Today however, such an answer becomes extremely difficult to demonstrate during the revolutions in our present age of the “reign of the algorithm” while more and more often people want not works, expressions, manifestations, or items, but bits and pieces that they can in turn slice and dice to create something that is more useful for their own purposes, and then perhaps share with others.

Of course, I am a complete 100% advocate of library catalogs but their utility to the public will have to be demonstrated sooner or later. I realize that catalogers are putting many of their eggs in the one “linked data” basket and they have convinced themselves that RDA/FRBR and even Bibframe are necessary for that, even though hundreds of others have achieved “linked data” without even hearing of RDA etc. Even then, the linked data initiative has yet to show its genuine utility. It may do so, but as of now, relying on “linked data” to save us remains a matter of faith.

My own opinion: it is up to the cataloging community to demonstrate how their library records produce (or could produce) radically different search results than SEO results (search engine optimization) and that the public would find the results of our tools useful. So far, it seems as if the public’s preferences are overwhelmingly for SEO, so we are facing an uphill climb. I think we can demonstrate that our results are highly useful but it will demand some new thinking and concepts, plus a lot of work. The SEO guys may not like it.

If cataloging is to be taught in library school (how well it is taught, or can be taught in just a handful of courses, is a different topic) cataloging must be seen to be useful to the public that exists today. Otherwise, it will be relegated to the “basement of library curiosities”, perhaps occupying a place next to “Library Hand”. Here is where, Melvil Dewey in the first issue of “Library Notes”, states:
“Whatever the theory, the fact remains that there is nothing that pays better for the time it costs the candidate for a position in a library, than to be able to write a satisfactory library-hand.” followed by several pages of mind-numbing details about good and bad library hand.

We can laugh about that today….