From the catalogs of babes

{April 13, 2010}   catalogers get my vote

So it’s that time of year again…time for ALA elections. I can’t say I’m overly active in most of the organizations I belong to (although the new local SLA happy hours certainly get my attention…). But I’ve always believed that voting for officers and leadership roles is not only my duty as a member, but also one of the main ways I can be represented in that organization. Even on my more cynical days, when I feel like voting is an inadequate method of representation, I still hold sway that I have no right to complain if I didn’t cast my vote at election time. So every year I dutifully cast my electronic ALA ballot.

But every year there are something like 30 openings for members-at-large (not to mention all the candidates for offices like president and treasurer and whatnot). If I was really dutiful, I would take my time and thoroughly read each and every single one of those bios and elections statements and carefully select who I felt would best represent me in the organization. But who has time for that?

So here’s my strategy: I open up each bio page and search for words like “catalog,” “cataloger” or “cataloging.” If I find one, I read over that person’s bio. With rare exception, I usually end up voting for them. While it may not be the ideal way to select my representatives, it’s a compromise that I can live with, and it makes sense to me that I myself, as a cataloger, would want to elect other people who understand (and, theoretically, advocate for) cataloging to the ALA board. Out of  about 117 candidates this year for Counciliors-at-Large, members could vote for 34. After I ran my search, I voted for 7.

7 out of 117 had some reference to cataloging in their bio or background. That’s about 6%. I wonder if that’s an accurate representation of the profession–are 6% of librarians catalogers? What about 6% of ALA members? I’d be interested to find out.

I mention this because recently I’ve had ongoing thoughts regarding catalogers and their escalation to leadership roles, if any. I have a sneaking suspicion that only a tiny fraction of library leadership comes from a cataloging background. The stereotypical ‘antisocial in-the-basement’ cataloger is not perceived as a personality type that lends itself to leadership roles. And if most catalogers enjoy their day-to-day cataloging duties, they probably aren’t interested in moving up to management. Most of the librarians I’ve talked to who have moved up to management (catalogers and others) regret that they spend more time on administrivia and less time “in the trenches” doing the direct work that drew them to librarianship in the first place.

So I’ve been wondering: how many catalogers actually move up to management or administration? I’m not talking here about heads of metadata or technical services. I’m talking about roles that oversee larger and more diverse library functions, beyond just cataloging-related tasks. How many library directors have a  background in cataloging? If we wonder why cataloging and its related services are often overlooked and/or undervalued, I wonder if this plays a large role in why? If management and administration aren’t familiar with cataloging (I’m talking about more than just one crash course in library school 20 years ago), how can they see the value in it? And if they can’t see the value in it, how can cataloging gain the support it needs to serve and improve the library?

{January 15, 2009}   more about OCLC and nipples

I’ve been meaning to rant about the proposed new OCLC policy for Use and Transfer for WorldCat(R) Recordsfor a while. In fact, it’s actually one of the (many) motivating factors for starting this blog in the first place, since people kept telling me the best action I could take against the policy was to blog about it.

It took me a long time, and I won’t lie–it’s mainly because I’ve been pretty pessimistic and hopeless about the whole situation. I didn’t see much chance for impacting or changing the policy or its implementation at all, and I didn’t know what could be done to change that. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but adding one more tiny little random blog voice didn’t seem like it would do much good.

But then I saw OCLC’s announcement Tuesday of a Review Board of Shared Data Creation and Stewardship, seemingly on the heels of Tim Spalding’s nipples (coincidence? I think not). And I’ve been listening to the discussion on last night’s episode of Uncontrolled Vocabulary (#67)and having a small bit of hope. All those little random blog posts did make a difference, to a certain extent.

It’s still very small, though, and I’ll tell you why. I have two main reasons why I think, at this point, OCLC’s attempt at implementing this policy will remain unchecked.

1. Catalogers are not managers.

No offense.  We’re the people who are passionate about data management, not people management. As much as we all decry the stereotype of the antisocial cataloger in the back corner of the basement surrounded by dusty books and covered with ink smudges, never interacting with the public, stereotypes do have distant origins in truth. Catalogers, despite whether it’s true on any individual level, are perceived as distant, secret, loners, with their alien MARC tags and their uncanny ability to recite obscure rules. Like I said, no offense–heck, I’m a cataloger, too. But how many catalogers are managers? How many are in charge of a branch, or a library system, or administer at the level of management it would take to make a substantive decision about implementing or rejecting the OCLC policy?

Of course there are some out there (and I would love to meet them and talk to them about their paths and philosophies!), and some catalogers, if not managers themselves, have enough clout that they can advocate for what’s best for their libraries in terms of cataloging and policies. But I think there’s a major issue when library management has little to no cataloging background or practice. My boss, the head librarian, had not even heard of the new OCLC policy when I first brought it up to her, much less our library director, who I’m not even sure knows what cataloging is. Until upper management and administration understand the impact of such policy implementations, there will be no support for change.

2. There are no other choices.

OCLC is a monopoly. Okay, not “techncially,” but they are the only organization providing the type of service they do, especially since they assumed RLG. Where else can libraries go? OCLC has no competition, and in a market where we vote with our dollars, where is our dark horse third-party candidate to patronize? I of course support Open Library, but because OCLC intends its policy to be retroactive and Open Library has records contributed from OCLC member libraries, who knows what will happen? My understanding is the same for Z39.50, if those records originated with or passed through OCLC. But no one can move away from OCLC until there’s a legitimate, comparable option to move to.

So it would seem hopeless. So what do we do?

We get catalogers into management positions and we create a new union database for bibliographic records.

Hey, I didn’t say it was going to be easy. If I thought nipples would solve the problem, believe me, mine would be out there. In fashion, that sort of thing works. But in this case, that’s not going to be enough. So we’d better get to work.

et cetera