From the catalogs of babes

{December 4, 2009}   3rd time’s the charm(?)

As if the other instances of fame this week weren’t enough, this blog has also apparently been citied in the recent issue of Cataloging & Classification Quarterly (Issue 8, 2009).  It’s in a new(?) column(?) called “Cataloging Blogs.” Thanks to David of Catalogablog for pointing it out to me.

It’s under the “Research and Opinion” section, as well it should be, as the tone of the piece seems quite a bit opinionated against blogs to me. I’m not sure if that’s really there or something I’m reading into it. I almost wish it was a reviewed piece instead. I confess I’m a little disappointed to see this piece given the green light for inclusion in CCQ.

Had the piece been reviewed, maybe there wouldn’t have been typos in both the title of my blog (the article calls it “From the catalog of babes” when it is in fact “From the catalogs of babes”) and the description (“An unfashionable cataloger takes on the fashion library” vs. the correct “An unfashionable cataloger takes on a fashion library”). Not to mention the repeated references to “Technocrati”–it’s Technorati, folks. Yeah, I know, these are really minor errors. But I am, after all, a cataloger–it’s my job to notice these differences. What if this were the transcription of a book title in a bibliographic record? I’d like to think someone affiliated with cataloging would have a little more attention to detail. The typo in the title bothers me more than the description, because the URL for the blog includes the “s” in “catalogs.” (Thankfully, the URL is correct in the list provided.) I’m a little surprised (and, I admit, disappointed) that these errors slipped through the publication process, of a traditionally respectable peer-reviewed journal about cataloging, no less. These omissions and misrepresentations lend an air of misinformation and prejudice to this piece that lower the journal’s claim to preeminent scholarly publication in the field.

But it’s more than just the typos that bother me. I feel like the author (who is not listed, so I can’t tell if it’s  Mary Curran or someone else)is trying to hold me up as a young person who still chooses old technology.

One of the newest cataloging blogs on the block, From the catalog [sic] of babes, started in December 2008 by a recent MLIS graduate seems to suggest that even young catalogers continue subscribing to AUTOCAT and other cataloging listservs and read them along with cataloguing blog posts.

But if the author had read back though my blog, he or she would see that I severely dislike the listerv format utilized by AUTOCAT et. al., and that I rarely actually read or contribute. Since I published that post, I’m excited to see good use of Twitter for instantaneous cataloging q & a and I think it’s only a matter of time before a major migration to better, easier, more-user-friendly technologies occurs. The author also cites an “in your face” factor as a reason people might prefer listservs over blogs, but that’s exactly one reason why I prefer blogs. He or she only seems to describe this as a negative feature, when I actually find it useful and beneficial to read articles and writings when and where I choose, rather than be forced to constantly recon with them in my inbox. Again, as I said in my post linked above, I think it comes down to each person’s personal preference, and systems should let the user choose his or her preferred method of delivery and access, a metaphor not unanalagous to libraries at large.

The author states that “AUTOCAT and the specialist cataloging listservs have become the authoritative sites to publish cataloguing news, studies, events, etc.” I’d like to emphasize the words “have become.” They didn’t start out that way, and they didn’t get to that position overnight, and neither will blogs. The author is looking at a mere two years of blogs (since 2007) which cannot hope to compare to the years AUTOCAT and other listservs have had to evolve into the authoritative resources they are today. The author also states (sans cites or statistics) that “repetition is more notable in blogs than it is with listserv cross-postings,” which is counter to my own personal observations at least–I see much more crossposting between AUTOCAT, RADCAT, and NGC4LIB than I ever do on all the cataloging blogs I read (43, btw, and that doesn’t count more general library blogs that also include cataloging topics). In fact, I’d venture to say that blogs are inclined to be less repetitive because of the very “personal rumination and occasionally ranting and whining” that the author disparages. To me, that’s what makes blogs unique and interesting, and very different from one to the next.

The author also assumes a “generational issue” in preferring blogs over listervs, and seems to assume that because I received my MLIS recently in 2008 that I am one of those new-fangled young librarians. But at this point, I ain’t that young anymore, in terms of generations. I’m not Generation Y. I am not a millennial. Nor am I a digital native, although I did grow up with technology moreso than many of my educational peers simply becuase my parents were both heavily interested and invested in technology and computers. But I remember learning cursive handwriting and sending letters to pen pals via “snailmail” before that term even exisited. I used typewriters and even wrote some school essays on college-rule paper with black pens. I remember a time before email and cell phones, maybe not as long as some others in the profession, but I didn’t grow up exposed to them like many current youth entering the profession. I was around when listservs were first new and the best technology around for the job. But I’m also around now, for new and improved technologies. And I’m not one of those young whippersnappers who went to grad school straight after finishing my BA. While I’m certainly not “old guard,” I spent 5 years in retail books and 4 years doing graphic design before it even occurred to me to consider libraries as a place to work, much less as a career. I’m proud to say that much of the insights I gained through both those areas of employment experience color my views on libraries, cataloging, and findability. I’m new to libraries, but not to user experiences.

I respect the author’s opinions and I certainly won’t complain about the exposure. I’m not even sure why an author so seemingly set against the value of blogs would bother to write such a piece. But regardless of the author’s motivations, I am glad to see blogs starting to be taken a little more seriously as professional resources and literature. So yeah, I’m glad for the citation, but I’m also thankful it’s only an opinion piece. Because we all know what they say about opinions…everybody has one. Sometimes I’m even known to have more than my share.

Today I received the following email from the Long Beach Public Library. It’s a “pre-overdue notice,” which is apparently supposed to remind me that my materials are due soon.


For the love of Pete, can anyone tell me when my book is due, or are you really going to make me dig out my library card and log into my online account to look up the due date myself? I can’t even think of a remotely good reason not to include the actual due date in an automated “pre-overdue notice” reminder. I don’t know whether LBPL or Innovative are the ones to blame in this case, but it’s a serious FAIL.

{April 28, 2009}   why is cataloging hard?

A week or so ago (probably longer, at this point, what with the time it takes me to get around to typing this stuff up), I was working with another library staff member, showing her some basic bib record modification. Basically one level up from general copy-cataloging, we were working on copying existing records, then modifying them to match the item in hand. As we were going through the process, I was trying to make it as easy and streamlined for her as possible, but still make it clear that cataloging rules and standards had to be followed. The further we proceeded, the further I could see her face drop as more rules were added and more things had to be considered, and more resources consulted. At one point, I realized we had no less than 8 windows open on her PC workstation: our ILS, our OPAC, ClassWeb’s LCSH, ClassWeb’s classification, OCLC Connexion, WebDewey, OCLC’s Bibliographic Formats and Standards, LOC Authorities… The tabs were so tiny that we couldn’t read them; we lost track of which window was which.

This staff member is an intelligent woman, who’s read about cataloging and been to some training. She can build a basic DDC number, and understands why standards and authorized headings are important. I figured, while it might be overwhelming at first, she shouldn’t have too much trouble catching on to some of the next steps of putting those concepts to use. But seeing her face as I showed her how she would need to look up one set of rules here, and another set of standards another place, and an authorized heading from yet another, separate resource, made me want to cry. The bass-ackwards functioning of our ILS software certainly wasn’t helping, either. I told her, ‘I know it’s hard, and I’ll try to make it as easy as possible.’  The only problem was that I wasn’t sure how.

Cataloging is complicated–I won’t argue that. There’s a finesse and background knowledge, and, yes, sometimes even a certain sort of personality needed to look at a collection of materials, look at its audience, look at the usage, and puzzle out the best way(s) to organize and offer access to that collection. It’s challenging and it’s difficult, and it takes a lot of skill and knowledge. It’s why I got a master’s degree. To figure out those puzzles, and to solve them.

I did not get a masters degree to learn to put a period at the end of the 245c or which order to put LCSH free-floating subdivisions. Just like some librarians say “I didn’t get a master’s degree to shelve books, or babysit children.” These are tasks that come with the territory, but they are not our job. They are not the core focus, and they are not why we are librarians. Yes, we have to do these things, just as in all things in life, we must take the good with the bad. But it’s about time we spent more time focusing on what we’re really here to do.

I’m not here to properly punctuate records. We have the technology to automate that, but many still have not taken advantage, and I still see regular questions on Autocat about ISBD punctuation, or subject headings (I know I’ve mentioned a few of my own questions in earlier posts). There’s a lot of detail to keep track of in cataloging, and I think that’s often why it’s perceived as so complicated and hard.  But really, it doesn’t take any special skills but training. I’m probably setting myself up for a lynch mob here, but here goes: anyone can catalog. It may take a lot of time and training, but really, there’s a prescribed set of rules to follow (despite their complexity). Rules are nothing more than “if A, then B,” or, in our cases, “if A is less than B, then C, but if A is greater than or equal to B, then D,” but they’re still rules that anyone can be trained to follow. Given enough motivation, I think a trained monkey could write bib records. (Some of you are probably ready with the tar and feathers at this point. I don’t care.)

I don’t mean to belittle the work of past catalogers. A lot has been done for our field, and we wouldn’t be where we are today, bad or good, without that history of work. MARC was revolutionary for its time, and not only turned library science on its head, but many other computer science areas as well. But that was 50 years ago, and while all those other sciences took that knowledge and ran ahead with it, we clung to it, the same ways we cling to the listserv, even though it no longer suits our needs.

Cataloging is hard becuase we’ve made it hard. We continue to use outdated rules and technologies that are difficult to learn. I have long wondered–if we can tell a database to display “245a” as “title” in our patron interfaces, why can and should we not do the same in the back-end staff interfaces? There is no need any longer for anyone to know what 245a is. In the days of catalog cards, the title was not repeatable–there simply wasn’t room. The same for authors, which was the origins of the “rule of three.” Our technologies are no longer bound to those restrictions, yet we still follow those rules…why? If a book has parallel titles, which would be easier: some convoluted rules about which order to put them in and which punctuation to use to separate them, or to simply enter each one? Which is easier: some bizarre rule of authorship where the cataloger must determine which of the many contributors is the most responsible for the work, or simply being able to add each author? In fact, with current indexing technology, I don’t even think the author’s names need be entered in the traditional “Last, First,” format–and I can only speak for my library, but I know our patrons do not know they need to structure names in the format when searching. And why should they? If they have to be taught an unfamiliar– and to them unnatural–search structure, aren’t we making it more difficult for them, not less? To me, that seems counterproductive to everything we believe in and everything we work towards.

So what do we do?

We need to make a concerted effort to make cataloging easier. We need to do away with needless complexity. Making cataloging easier, both in rules and in process, gets us away from grunt work and frees us up to spend our time on innovation and improvements. This is already happening anyway, what with library paraprofessionals taking on more and more of the cataloging work. I hear all sorts of wailing about how professional librarians should be doing that cataloging work, so that it’s done “correctly.” I’ve known just as many qualified, well-educated and trained paraprofessionals as I have known professional librarians incapable of cataloging a John Grisham novel. It’s not the degree that makes you a good cataloger, it’s the training and the experience. Let’s train our techs correctly so that they do a quality job, and let’s make it easier for them to do a good job by streamlining and simplifying the process. And when the job is easier, it gets completed more quickly, meaning putting materials in patrons’  hands faster.

 Yes, there are parts of cataloging that will always be more art than science and need human evauation and judgement. Otherwise, cataloging would be entirely automated by now.  Someone, some human somewhere, needs to decide what a book is about and how patrons can best access it. A computer can come close on the former some times, but not the latter. It still takes judgement, so let’s free up time for that judgement by making the rules and stanards more efficient and easier. Donald Norman (The Design of Everday Things) thinks ease encourages adoption and use. Clay Shirky (in Here Comes Everybody) says, “When an activity becomes more expensive, either in direct costs or increased hassle, people do less of it.” As cataloging continues to be perceived as difficult, organizations focus on it less and devote less time, staff, and budget to it. As buried as we are in our current models, carried along by inertia, many people fear any sort of change. But what if the alternative was easier (and free)? I think we’d see a mass-migration. 

We need to stop focusing professional cataloging education on the nitty gritty details and teach overall concepts of cataloging. The two classes I had in graduate school were called “cataloging” but were actually nothing more than “exercises in creating AACR2r bib records in MARC.” A few alternatives (Dublin Core, VRA, etc.) were mentioned in passing, but never taught, and really, it’s not the hands-on skills that need to be taught in a graduate program, but how to understand those standards and make them work. Save the MARC indicators for the hands-on training (which every cataloging professional ought to have), and let’s focus on a graduate-level understanding of why we organize and how to offer access, through various means and methods, and how to determine what might be best in different situations.

This would also help eliminate the “fear” of cataloging, both in education and the professional workplace. The current perception of cataloging as difficult is a turn-off to many library science students. I didn’t avoid reference classes because they were hard, I just didn’t take them because they didn’t fit my educational path. When students are being steered by difficulty rather than interest, investment, or purpose, it does us all a disservice. As more students avoid the “difficult” cataloging classes,  less students will end up well-trained in cataloging, or even trained at all. With such a decline in cataloging interest and study, who will be the next generation of catalogers? And after that, as the numbers studying cataloging dwindle, who will teach future generations?

We need to give up clinging to cataloging as a difficult skill in order to justify our degrees and ourselves as librarians. All librarians are notoriously undervalued, and sometimes it seems catalogers even more so.  No one understands what exactly it is we do all day, and measuring and demonstrating results can be very intangible. Sometimes the only thing that keeps us from being downsized, adjusted, or eliminated is that we do something “difficult” that no one else in the library can do. Because if it’s not hard–if anyone can do it–why would someone need a graduate degree to be a librarian? But I don’t think that’s what we should be relying on to keep us around. Clinging to this complexity for complexity’s sake, this braggadocio of obscure skills is a poor way of justifying one’s education or status as a professional.  There are plenty of other complex and difficult tasks to deal with as a professional librarian, like management and ethics. Let’s figure out and emphasize the professional duties we perform beyond creating records and submitting names to NACO. What kinds of things are you doing in your library to enhance your patrons’ experience, to make it easier for them to find materials, to help them discover information? To me, that’s what makes a professional, and that’s why I went to library school.

There needs to be change. Many people won’t like it, but some sort of change is going to happen eventually, is happening even now. What we need to do is make sure the changes make things easier, instead of more complex, and that the changes allow us to reevaluate our focus and what exactly it is we do. There’s going to be change. Let’s make sure it works.

{April 21, 2009}   easy to be hard

Lately there’s been a resurgence on RADCAT, the “radical catalogers” mailing list. It’s good, as that list is generally pretty quiet, and the encouragement of introductions and discussions has stimulated conversation and participation. It’s bad, though, too, as that list is generally pretty quiet, and the encouragement of introductions and discussions has stimulated conversation and participation.

What I meant to say by that: I subscribe to a number of library listservs and mailing lists, as well as blogs, message boards, project wikis, etc. My inbox, my Google Reader, my bookmarks, my LiveJournal friends page, are all full of stuff I want to not only read but comment on and participate in every single day. There’s a wealth of good information, help, and support there, but sometimes I honestly fear opening my inbox after being sick for a day or two. The amount of information overload (a recurring theme in today’s world) makes me wonder which is worse–spending hours and hours sifting through it all, or just simply hitting the delete key and chance missing out on something important?

In an attempt to be more organized and efficient, I choose to subscribe to listservs such as RADCAT, AUTOCAT, etc., in digest form. I’ve had some suggestions on how to read the list on the web, which does seem to satisfy some users, but I personally don’t care for it.  So I get all the day’s messages delivered in one (supposedly) convenient email.  However, it’s not so much that I find it convenient, but rather it’s the least inconvenientof the current options available to me.  It’s long; and repetitive where people don’t delete the entirely of the messages to which they are replying; discussions aren’t threaded; and formatting from all sorts of email clients literally makes reading the emails difficult, as many of them come across garbled with code. There is a vast chasm between “convenient” and “least inconvenient,” between “easy” and “less hard.” I really wish I had a better way of filtering and organizing this information. As part of the recent RADCAT discussion, I mused that I would probably participate more if my participation interface was more user-friendly, even going so far as to say “let me know when I can subscribe to the list in Google Reader.”

Which made me think: why isn’tit? Is there any reason, besides continuity’s sake, that these groups have not moved on to harness a more current–and, in my opinion, a potentially more flexible and powerful–technology?

 For instance, AUTOCAT is peppered with posts containing cataloging questions: questions about using AACR2r, LCSH, MARC, etc. A couple of my previous posts about LCSH subdivisions would not be out of place on AUTOCAT. So why didn’t I post them there? Because to get an answer, I would have had to wade through unorganized and unstructured replies–some to me, some to the list itself, some replies to responses on the list itself…it’s just physically hard for me to read and follow. All I wanted was a quick answer to a quick question–‘can I subdivide “Trade shows” by industry?’ A simple “yes” or “no” was all I wanted. It struck me that a brief, direct question requiring a short, immediate answer, might be better served by a technology that was designed for short bursts of immediate communication. Now, I confess, I haven’t been much of a Twitter fan since it’s inception, but that’s because I never saw much practical use for it. Now I think I might. How great would it be to Tweet “anyone know the 040 for Italian?” and receive a real-time reply, without having to log in to email and scroll through numerous messages to find the answer. I know when I am sitting there with the book in my hand, in the middle of cataloging, I don’t want to put it aside and wait to finish when I might get an answer the next day (if I get one at all). How much more efficient might our cataloging be if we could receive quicker responses like this? Of course, Twitter doesn’t supply the ability for longer, more complex conversations, which are inherently necessary when talking about cataloging, but there are other technologies for that.

Like the recent flurry of activity on RADCAT: all these introductions are nice, but after a week or so, they’ve been archived in the depth of the list with no easy, instant way to refer back to them. What happens when I’m reading a message several months from now and want to revisit the author’s introduction to learn more about where they’re coming from? Gee, wouldn’t it be great if there was some technology out there where a person could have a page about him- or herself, and I could easily click on that person’s name and be taken to a profile, a page that told more about them, their introduction and background, what kinds of libraries they worked in, what other interests they might have? And Facebook has the capability for group pages and discussions, potentially allow people who wanted to participate in a 9/11 conspiracy debate to do so while others could talk about authority control on Ravelry.

The key word here is “easy.” The listservs, in my opinion, are not easy. I almost hate to say it, but Facebook and Twitter are. (Even my 70+ year-old aunt is on Facebook, and she is far from what I would call tech-savvy.) They are designed to be easy to use, because that gets them more users, and therefore more eyes viewing ads, and therefore more $$.  And it works–Facebook has 200 million active users. It’s not that this technology is “new” or “shiny” or “buzzworthy” or “cool.”  It’s that it’s easy to use for what people want to use it for, so they use it. It’s using the right tool for the right job. Technology too succumbs to the survival of the fittest. People will use what they find easy and pass on what they don’t: is anyone out there still running DOS? No, because something better, more powerful, and more user-friendly came along.

Now, everyone’s idea of easy will differ. Some people are not only content with listservs but prefer them. And that’s fine. What’s not fine is the inability for users to choose through which interface they prefer to interact. Wasn’t that part of the whole glory of Web 2.0? That we could make content independent of formatting, so that the user could view it in whatever format they preferred?

Whatever it is, we need to stop locking our content away in these outdated technology platforms. As technology evolves, we need to evolve as well. These listservs are a great concrete example. But I think they’re also a great analogy for libraries in general, and especially for cataloging. Whay are we still using the same difficult tools, rules, workflows, and softwares? Continuity can only carry us so far. Why are we fighting against technology and evolution, instead of using it to improve not only our jobs but our patrons’ experiences? And why do we continue to insist on making cataloging hard?

{March 31, 2009}   out of touch

I apologize for being so out of touch lately. I’d like to blame it on the chaos of finals (breaking up a fight between two students over an electrical outlet in which to plug their laptops being the new high point of “Did I get a master’s degree for this?” moments), but really, I’m just a cyclical, sporadic blogger. That’s always been my style and despite effort to the contrary, I just can’t force myself to write when uninspired.

So after finals comes the much-beloved Quarter Break, the two to three weeks between quarters. Most other schools might reduce their library hours, or schedule limited reference service, but not us. We’re closed. You heard me right. We close the entire library for 2-3 weeks four times a year. Maybe it’s not the best thing we can do for our patrons, and I do sometimes question that. but let me tell you, when it’s 10p.m. on that last day of finals after all the chaos and there are two students left in the library doing nothing but checking their Facebook accounts, closing the library is such a huge pot of gold at the end of your rainbow. And as much as we joke about break, we actually use the time we are closed to get a lot of work done, especially projects that would be nearly impossible to complete when there are patrons present, like moving furniture or shifting collections.

We also do things like conduct staff meetings and attend trainings. Yesterday was my first time attending the annual school-wide curriculum review. I’d heard a little bit about it from staff members who attended the previous year, and I knew it was a full day of touring the school, stopping for 10-15 minute reviews and updates at stations for each of the school’s 14 majors. I was immediately impressed with the creativity and interactivity of my first scheduled station, for Textile Science, where we made heat-press transfers, identified t-shirts from different manufacturers, mixed dyes in an attempt to match swatches, and tye-dyed fabric, all in an effort to show us exactly what types of work and projects were expected of the students in that major. My very first impression, after trying in vain to identify shirts from Old Navy, Victoria’s Secret and Urban Outfitters, was not only how challenging the assignments actually were for students, but how much better I was already understanding what they were expected to do, and I thought, shouldn’t all the library reference staff be here? This would be such a beneficial thing for anyone working our reference desk to be aware of. I suppose the idea is that the curriculum review attendees take their experiences back to their departments and share them, but that line of communication seems to break down somewhere, and anyway, being there and trying the projects hands-on was really a big part of illustrating the point.

My next station was also interactive, but using technology rather than hands-on projects, and many other stations throughout the day also incorporated technology into their sessions, because technology is increasingly becoming more entrenched in the curriculum. And don’t get me wrong–I’m very glad to see our school finally attempting to connect more to our digital student demographic as well as supporting the advancing technologies actually used in the industries for which we educate and train. But I have to confess at bit of skeptical cynicism when listing to a bunch of bordering-on-elderly baby boomers try to talk intelligently about Web 2.0.  In fact, looking around the room at lunchtime, of the 100 or so people in the room, I only saw three other people besides myself and my co-workers that looked to be of this digital generation. One of our lunchtime speakers (herself a baby boomer) went on and on about hiring and jobs for the new digital generation, imparting to us the “new trend” of employers Googling prospective employees and emailing resumes. At one of the stations, we sat in front of computers and were urged to experiment with Wordle, which overwhelmingly awed my Boomer groupmates, whereas  I got somewhat chastised by the presenter for not being as enthusiastic about trying the site–but, as I tried to tell her, I’d already tried it plenty before on my own, when I first heard about it a year ago. I really do sometimes worry about what will happen to our school without better generation overlap and planning, especially with the forward natures of the industries we serve.

I’m not trying here to be cynical or discriminatory or dig the generational divide even deeper. In fact, part of me is encouraged at the enthusiasm of the older generation. Another woman in my group was quite interested learning about new technologies and tools, and asked me how I found out about them, which was an interesting question that really made me think. I tried to answer her, but I think she really wanted me to cite one website she could go to for all the new cool web trends, or one link that she could follow that would give her all the answers (not unlike many of our library’s reference inquiries, I realize as I type this).  But I couldn’t exactly put my finger on where I learn about any of this stuff. I grew up with BBSes, listservs, and chatrooms. I read a lot of blogs, and I follow a lot of links. I communicate with people more online than off, so my circle of friends is by nature going to be more tech-savvy than average. And many of those friends are not just using these tech tools, but I’m proud to say they’re the ones creating them. And that’s how I hear about these sites, because they’re created by my friends, or friends-of-friends: the epitome of social networking. Whereas my conversation with this co-worker revealed that she apparently the most tech-savvy of her friends, so it’s unlikely that she will be introduced to new technologies through them. So I was kinda stumped on how to best advise her, which is something I need to address if I want to keep the gap from widening.

The other thing that struck me throughout the day was how little the curriculum review actually applied to my position. I very much understood why I was there as a librarian (see especially my comment above re: sending all reference staff); but I couldn’t figure out why I’d be there as the cataloger. I tried to glean insights about assignments and projects that might help me better organize the collection or add keywords to records or classify textbooks. And perhaps it’s just that each session was so brief, without detail, and targeted for general consumption rather than specifically tailored for a library audience. But while I got a lot out of the curriculum review about how to improve reference service and integration of our information literacy campaign with the curriculum, I can’t say I got anything at all about how to improve cataloging.

Now maybe that’s just the way it is. Not everything will always pertain to cataloging, and cataloging is not all that the library is about. But it is my job, and so I feel my first responsibility when attending this or other such events is to glean information to help me improve how patrons connect with materials in our library. But the more I thought about it on the way home, the more I wondered if I wasn’t misfocused myself. I mean, I still believe in correct cataloging and standards, and that even the simplest catalog record, if well-done, can make a difference in a someone’s life. I’m not abandoning that philosophy, but I am wondering if it should be a priority for our particular library demographic. Does it make a difference to our students if we use correct ISBD punctuation? Does the order of our LCSH strings matter if we are only using a keyword search anyway?* Why invest such meticulous time and effort in our library catalog, when patrons turn first to subscription databases and personal reference assistance instead? With lack of investment, promotion, and use of the library catalog, why do I spend 75% of my time working on it and 25% on reference, and not the other way around? I feel almost like I’m out of touch with my own job.

I know there are things I can do to change this. I could push to promote the catalog more, some of which I am already doing. But it’s hard to promote the use of a database that doesn’t give you much more than the title of the book and it’s location. Students could get more information from Amazon–heck, they can even have the book delivered to their door. Our catalog can’t do that. Our full-text magazine and newspaper databases give them the whole article. Our catalog can’t do that. Heck, some of our databases even return images. Our catalog definitely doesn’t do that. So it’s a little hard to promote something that basically doesn’t address any of the information needs our users are looking to fulfill. We can move to catalog software, and that’s in progress. And I do think the catalog will get much more use after that happens, especially with federated search capabilities. But we still have patrons of a nature that prefer personal inquires to self-directed searching, and it still won’t be able to compete with the likes of Amazon and Google. And our students still won’t care if a title is capitalized or not, or if a record says “Christian Dior” vs. “Dior, Christian.”

I’m not discouraged about catlaoging, or its standards or procedures. I am concerned about the place and the role cataloging plays in this very particular environment. I can’t help but wonder if the library as a whole would be better served by passing off the 95% of materials that can be copy-cataloged to a well-trained paraprofessional and transitioning this position into a more technological role, either with me in it, or someone else.


*Please, this is not an opening for a keyword vs. controlled vocabulary debate. It has to do with our software, our students’ familiarity with Google, and a history of incorrectly entered LCSH.

et cetera