ACAT Quality of MLS education cataloging

Posting to Autocat

On 31/08/2014 23.42, Gene Fieg wrote:

I recently went to the website of California state school that teaches  library science and for which I taught courses in 1990s. The core  courses are all about “information” and information access, etc. Cataloging is not a core course as it was in the 90s not to mention reference librarianship. Cataloging at this school is an elective now. And the program is ALA approved, the same organization that pushed RDA. And now the principles behind RDA or any other cataloging code and the teaching them is secondary in their view. Have they forgotten their own history? Dewey ring a bell? Cutter ring a bell? I guess not. Just make librarians “information science” specialists (whatever that might mean) and category that Michael Gorman correctly denoted as bogus. Bogus. Bogus!

If I am not mistaken, “cataloging” has not been core for some time now. In defense of library schools, the purpose was not to produce “catalogers” and the actual training of a cataloger was done by the libraries themselves. I took every course in cataloging that I could in my MLIS degree, but I was shocked when I discovered that I had learned more after 1/2 day of copy cataloging than I had in all the time in library school! This is no criticism of my library school, just a statement of the realities of professional training.

I have gotten the sense that libraries don’t want to do the hands-on training any longer and expect people to show up already trained. That has never been the purpose of professional graduate schools: attorneys are supposed to get on-the-job training, business graduates; doctors have a very, very long term of apprenticeship known as “residency”.

Matters appear to be different today, at least when it comes to librarianship. Professional schools were always supposed to prepare you for the future you will meet, not so much to churn out fully-trained, accomplished professionals ready for full-production from day 1. In that sense, library schools are training the “librarians of the future” and therefore, I see the fact that cataloging is not core more as a statement of what they believe the future will be.

I think we can all assume that digital materials will continue to grow at almost exponential rates and if libraries want to remain relevant to society, we must figure that into our future forecasts. We aren’t in it alone, and there are other agencies such as Google, Yahoo, Wolfram Alpha, along with massive advances in search performed by incredible algorithms, that work tirelessly 24 hours a day to find out more and more about us and try to discern what we want, most often without our knowledge. That may be a wonderful idea or a nightmarish vision but no matter our opinion, it is the “intelligent agent” that Tim Berners Lee has been aiming at. (See where he is quoted from his “Weaving the web”) We have learned that these “intelligent agents” are not necessarily so benevolent and while they can work in our interests, they can also work for all types of people and organizations for all kinds of purposes.

Instead of just walking into this scenario, I think lots of people would like to see some kind of alternatives. Libraries, in my opinion, would be the perfect community to offer alternatives that may be more palatable to large portions of the public who, more often than not, find it difficult even to imagine any alternatives. Libraries, and catalogers, know that there can be alternatives, but much work would remain to be done to refashion these alternatives into something useful for people in the 21st century.

Will it happen? I don’t know, but I have no doubt that it could.