From the catalogs of babes

{December 30, 2008}   Apropos of Autocat

Apropos of my recent post regarding user-driven classification systems, I returned to work after the holidays to find numerous back digests of Autocat, a catalogers’ listserv, in my inbox discussing the very same subject.

I have been an Autocat subscriber since I began cataloging full-time, about 2 years ago. I subscribe to the digest edition as the traffic, though not overwhelming, is fairly high.  I confess that I find much of the mailing list overly argumentative and argumentative. Probably it’s a product of the medium, rather than the message, but I have always felt too intimidated by this tone to join in. From speaking to others, I know I’m not the only person with this impression. I have in fact been called out for not participating when my support of a particular issue might have made a difference.

Finally this time, the topic was too timely and too close to my heart to pass by. What is there to be afraid of? I have plenty of experience in online arguing and sticking my large feet in my mouth. Heck, I’ve decided to do it here, with this blog–to throw my ideas up against the world’s spaghetti pot wall and see what, if anything, sticks. So I figure, if I’m going to say whatever it is I think, then I should say it. I can’t just say it here, into this void of a blog that no one (yet) reads. This “safe zone” is appealing, to be able to post my thoughts openly yet not worry that, since there are no readers, no one will argue or disagree. But it will only get me–and in turn, the people and profession I am interested in helping and improving–so far.

One of my cataloging teachers used to say, “cataloging is not done in a void. ” And so neither can discussion about cataloging. After returning to the overflowing inbox of Autocat messages discussing the feasibility of bookstore and other alternative classification systems for libraries, I felt compelled to contribute. I confess I’m scared as shit. I hate online arguments and I hate confrontation. How are people going to respond? Will they agree? Will they understand? Will they jump down my throat? I don’t know. And because I subscribe to the digest, I won’t even see their responses right away. It seems crazy to think that a simple thing like a mailing list might keep me up all night in anxious worry, but I suppose it’s only human nature to fret about how others see and respond to us. It’s certainly true with regards to fashion.

The one thing I am looking forward to is the possibility of connection. As scary as the thought is, it’s time for my one-way mirror method of lurking to end, and I’m looking forward to establishing connections with new and interesting people. Especially with ALA Midwinter coming up. Even if the number is small, I hope to meet a few people with similar ideas and objectives. I know they are out there; I’ve already met some. I know there have to be other people out there who are interested in exploring new ways to improve library user experiences through cataloging.

et cetera