ACAT RDA Training for Reference Services?

On 16/11/2014 22.25, Callie Blackmer wrote:

This is an assignment for my Cataloging and Classification course so any thoughts would be greatly appreciated:

What is your understanding of the RDA cataloging standards? I came across an article by Teressa M. Keenan (permalink below) in which she discusses how references services in the library are affected by the shift to RDA standards and why it is important for reference librarians to understand how RDA works so that they are better equipped to direct patrons through the catalog. Do you agree with Keenen, is it important to reference services for non-cataloger librarian to learn cataloging standards?

My own thoughts on this are first: of course, professionals in any field need to learn their tools and to keep current with changes. If you are a dentist, a doctor, a lawyer, a faculty member, a mechanic, a butcher, or in almost any field, all of them are changing and each professional must keep up with those changes, whether you agree with them or not. Librarians–be they in cataloging or in reference–are no different. They must all stay current on what is going on in their field.

Nevertheless, I would say that cataloging has gotten such a bad rap, especially in the last few decades, that it is very difficult for lots of non-catalogers to see the importance of any changes. There has always been a divide between reference and cataloging, but from my experience it has gotten more serious. I have heard several reference librarians say that the problem *is* the catalog, and when you add people in systems departments, there are even more challenges. Lots of people know about stories such as “Thinking the unthinkable: a library without a catalogue: Reconsidering the future of discovery tools for Utrecht University library” ( and “Giving up on discovery” ( For all different kinds of reasons, I think that it will be difficult to convince many non-catalogers that the changes in cataloging rules are going to have any major impact on the day-to-day activities of users.

Let’s take a very normal example that happens quite literally every day: someone wants an article that they have found cited somewhere. How do you find it? The traditional method says: when you find the citation, note down the name of the journal. (If you don’t have the name of the journal, it is practically impossible to find it) Then you go to the catalog, look for the name of the journal to see if the library has it. If it does, then look at the holdings to see if the library has the exact issue you want. If you can’t find it or you have problems, ask a reference librarian. There were always problems with that: complicated records (maybe you are looking at an earlier or later name of the title; maybe a wrong form of title was cited; key titles always confused people), there are terribly complicated holdings statements and so on and on.

What is the best way of doing it today? It is completely different, and you don’t even have to use the catalog. To take an example from the article above, “Giving up on discovery”, the first comment is by Peter Murray and he says “I also recommend looking back at David W. Lewis’ A Strategy for Academic Libraries in the First Quarter of the 21st Century”. While he gives the citation and a link here lots of others do not.

Now however, all you have to do is highlight the name and title “David W. Lewis A Strategy for Academic Libraries in the First Quarter of the 21st Century” (you don’t need the journal title) then right click and search Google automatically, and you get some great results. (At least I do) The very first is the actual article, and the second is something perhaps even more important: it is David W. Lewis’ Google Scholar page, where you can see more of his writings, plus (very important!) I learn that this article was cited 101 times and I click on those articles right now! The later articles may be even more important to me than this original one.

What does the searcher need to know? Mechanical skills: select text and right click. I can’t imagine anything much easier and there is no comparison with the older methods. It’s also nice if the users know that it is possible to add different search engines and how to do it. Of course, this method doesn’t work all the time, but it works a lot of the time and will work more and more often as more materials come online. I think it should be one of the first methods tried. If it fails, OK: try something else.

Compare this to users searching the library catalog for the individual article. Either they won’t find it (because journal articles are not in there) or there is the “single search box” syndrome, which mashes everything together and has its own problems. (I have discussed this at length in an earlier post

What I am trying to say from all of this is that while it is very important for reference librarians to keep up with changes in cataloging so they can use it in their practice, the opposite is just as true: catalogers should be learning and adapting to changes among the users, and this is best done through communication with the reference librarians. The world of research is changing in fundamental ways, as is the overwhelming importance of the catalog. The catalog is still immensely important, but it too must adapt to the new realities.

I am sure we are only at the very beginnings of the changes in catalogs–and not all of them will necessarily be for the better.