Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Future of Cataloging?

That Thomas Mann, he's indefatigable. First, Buddenbrooks. Then Library Research Models. And now “On the Record” but Off the Track: A Review of the Report of The Library of Congress Working Group on The Future of Bibliographic Control, With a Further Examination of Library of Congress Cataloging Tendencies. It's always interesting to follow the path of an author's thought. A reader sent this in wondering what the AL thinks about the future of cataloging. The AL loves the future of cataloging as long as someone else does it. She thought that someone else was the Library of Congress, but according to Mann, their new working group has decided to scrap cataloging and LCSH so they can digitize the diaries of Frank Wigglesworth Clarke, or something like that.

There's some other stuff in there that'll probably rub the twopointopians and the gamey librarians the wrong way. You know how they're always prattling on against the "culture of perfect," or at least you would know if you subjected yourself to their blogs. (Fortunately, you don't have to because I make that sacrifice for you.) According to Mann, "The real enemy of “the good” is not the perfect, but rather the slipshod, the partial, the unsystematic, the haphazard, the superficial, and the shoddy. No one maintains the “straw man” position that “the perfect” is attainable to begin with. Is it not desirable, however, to have professionals striving to do their best rather than striving to achieve mediocrity?" The obvious twopointopian response to this is, "Whatever, Mann."

He quotes some blogger who "chuckles" whenever anyone talks about controlling information. Then, "What is present in this remark is a superficial, shot-from-the hip, emotional expression of personal distaste; what is conspicuously lacking is any argumentation, evidence, examples, or concrete experience to back it up. "Preaching to the choir" may be a common practice in blogland; but such intellectual vacuity is no substitute for an actual understanding of what LCSH and LCC accomplish that tags, folksonomies, and relevance-ranking do not. (Indeed, it is likely that the present review itself will be vacuously dismissed as a “rant,” an “amusing” paper, or a mere call to “maintain the status quo,” by those in LibraryLand who are incapable of writing a substantive response to it." Dude, lighten up. Why not look at some pictures of library signage on Flikr or play some Dance Dance Revolution. That would relax you.

So there's all this stuff about how LCSH benefit everyone while digitizing the diaries of Frank Wigglesworth Clarke probably wouldn't benefit anyone, so the Library of Congress should keep up their good cataloging work. To be honest, I can't say I read the whole thing, because anything to do with cataloging is inherently boring as I'm sure we'll all agree (more on that point below), so let's skip to the end where we find a call for ALA action (!):

"The need for the American Library Association to act

I would add, finally, one additional point; and obviously I am speaking here only as an individual citizen and librarian: the American Library Association and its Washington Office need seriously to mount a lobbying effort targeted specifically on:

a) insisting, contrary to the Working Group’s recommendation, that maintenance of LC’s cataloging operations must be regarded as a much higher priority for all of the nation’s libraries than is the digitization of LC’s special collections, and

b) reversing LC’s proposed plan to re-write the Position Descriptions of its professional catalogers, and to reorganize their entire department, in such a way as to minimize (or even eliminate) their need for subject expertise, as well as to burden them with acquisition responsibilities that properly belong to other professionals. More, rather than less, subject (and language) expertise is required across the board at the Library of Congress. The drain of professionalism from the Cataloging department, caused by increasing retirements that management does not see fit to remedy through more hiring, has already become very serious."

I think we can all agree that the proper response is, Get with the times, Mann! This is going nowhere, and let me explain why.

First, the ALA doesn't act. Often it doesn't even react. It just sort of sits there making gurgling noises and raking in member dues.

Second, cataloging is booorring, as I noted above. Digitization is seeexxy, unless you're actually doing some. From what I've seen of the inside operations, digitization looks pretty boring as well, but the end results are flashy and that's what counts. So, given these priorities, boring versus sexy, which should we choose? Imagine you're choosing a date for the weekend. You could go out with boring old Cataloging or sexy young Digitization. This obsession about cataloging seems to be related to subject headings. Who cares about subject headings anymore? As we all know, libraries are designed to appeal to children these days, and children don't like subject headings and all that old boring stuff. And in case you haven't forgotten, Mister Mann, the children are our future! Subject headings are boring and they take too long to understand. Twopointopians and gamey librarians don't like subject headings, either! You don't need subject headings to search Google or write a blog or play Guitar Hero or sit in a pod listening to music, now do you? No, you don't. Let's get with the program.

What about proposition B: "More, rather than less, subject (and language) expertise is required across the board at the Library of Congress." Oh, come on, are we really supposed to believe this? More language expertise? This is America, after all. Nobody knows any languages other than English and maybe Spanish. Even Asian immigrants step off the plane knowing Spanish from what I hear. And as the Library of Congress folks occasionally say to us out in the hinterlands, this is the Library of Congress, not a national library. Do we think anyone in Congress speaks anything but English or Spanish? I bet they don't care about subject headings either, unless the subject is "Public Opinion Polls."

Cataloging, subject headings, subject expertise--Boring. Digital stuff--Sexy. Do all the good, careful, thoughtful work you like down in your little cataloging lairs. Unless it shows up on the Web in flashy images, that work isn't important. Nobody wants the boring stuff, right? In addition to cutting back on the cataloging and getting rid of their boring excess of subject and language expertise, perhaps the Library of Congress could also put on some gaming nights and things like that to get the younger Congresspersons interested in coming to the library again. If that happened, maybe they'd find enough support to justify the boring expenditure on things that are relevant only for research, which nobody really does anyway.

45 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why do we have to worry about cataloging? You can find everything via Google and everybody is meta tagging any thing of importance.

Why do we want to digitize collections? It is a bunch of old stuff that is forgotten for good reason -- it was dreck to begin with. If you really want to go read all those old journals, head out to the archives or library.

Face it, in this day and age, we only want what is the latest and greatest and don't want to be slowed down by a bunch of archaic cataloging or some digital images of old crap.

If it isn't a video set to rocking music with the bit of text we need in flashing neon colors and flying by, we really don't want it or need it.

If this is the best the LOC can come up with, it is time to farm out the book part to Amazon and shut down the rest and pass the savings on to the taxpayers.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I LIKE cataloging. I find it a nice change from answering "Where's the Bathroom" or "Can you take the block off computer number 6"?

Anonymous said...

Too bad Google ignores all of the metadata embedded into the digital files. Oh, and if a digital collection is housed in a database forget the likelihood that you'll find that letter from Mrs. White to Mr. Brown that someone's scanned for you to create virtual access - search engines usually don't find that information either.
Is all of this scanning for naught? Perhaps not, especially if there's a librarian to tell you to go and do a subject search for Patterns (Design elements) using the NYPL Digital Collection to find that brocade pattern you've had your heart set on. And perhaps it's just easier to do an image search via Yahoo or Google in the comfort of your own home.
As far as digitizing vs cataloging goes, I do both. I catalog what I digitize and both are so tedious at times it makes me want to open a vein.

Anonymous said...

If Google can't find it, it must not be that important.

At least that is what most "searchers" say when they go on the Internets.

Lola said...

the dissemination of scholarly and accurate information is no longer of importance to Congress

why am I not surprised

Anonymous said...

Do you mean:

$a Clarke, Frank Wigglesworth, $d 1847-1931

Now HE could wiggle his way through a DDR party! There's a great picture of him and his circle [look at it and you'll see what I mean] of friends on Wikipedia.

Dance, Frank, dance! Wiggle for all you're worth. (but pray that your diary left out all the good bits, cause once it's out on the Internet, you'll never be able to sit through a job interview with a straight face again.)

On a more somber note, though, if the LCNAF is going to go the way of the LCSH and the LCC, then maybe this isn't the Frank 9etc.,etc.) you're writing about.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't Frank Wigglesworth the Australian who came up with the musical concept of . . .

oh nevermind.

Anonymous said...

I like cataloging as a form of describing and representing materials for access. But LCSH are useless as points of access to any collection. I don't think cataloging should go away, but it definitely needs to change.

Anonymous said...

When I read this article I thought of you AL. A different perspective than the relaxin blog, but one that may work if you can stomach vodka and tomato ketchup.

http://www.bookforum.com/inprint/014_05/2055

Anonymous said...

If the Library of Congress stopped calling them subject headings and started calling them tags then they'd be sexy again, at least for another year.

Kevin Musgrove said...

I'm endlessly bemused by most librarians' studied distain for cataloguing (although "intellectual vacuity" would go a long way to explaining it, a supportive evidence base being the way they manage their services).

The library catalogue is the service's bill of fare: if you can't be arsed to make sure your potential customers can find what you've got in stock and can see that it's just what they were looking for, why should they be arsed to use your service?

No wonder they go to Amazon and Google. (sigh)

soren faust said...
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Brent said...

The future of cataloging I predict is still boring.

Anonymous said...

On the web, everybody thinks they're a satirist.

Only decent point made was about the worthlessness of ALA.

Anonymous said...

Cataloging is dead.

The only thing deader than cataloging is the librarian profession itself.

Sell the books on e-bay, lease the building space to social workers who can play video games with the kids and teach illegals how to diaper a baby.

As for university libraries, close them down and put in basketball courts.

If it ain't on the web, it is not worth my time to look for or read.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:53,

I disagree. I think “On the Record” but Off the Track" is one of the finest works of satire to hit the WEB since Al Gore initiated it.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:22,

I agree. In fact, I think the world is dead and cataloging was the death knell. I think drug use is the only pure thing left and that cataloging should be abandoned, pronto.

Anonymous said...

Boring doesn't equal unimportant. Something may seem boring to do (homework, for instance) but the end result is something extremely useful and important.

lola said...

cataloging is the only thing that differentiates librarians from other professions, others wise they'd be clerical assistants, social workers, teachers, or researchers, which is what most librarians seem to want to be, so down with cataloging! don't let information organization get in the way of your true calling as a public restroom attendant.

Brent said...

Oh I agree, it is important. And some days, I wish I did catalog.

Ed Crank -- Librarian said...

. . . to get the younger Congresspersons interested in coming to the library again. . . .

Reminds me of a cartoon I saw once (in the New Yorker?)where the librarians were shocked and awed at the sight of a Representative (or Senator) in the Library of Congress and remarked,

"Look, an actual Congressman."

Jim said...

Yeah, we had that reaction whenever a football player would come into the Florida State University Library:

"Wow! They DO know how to read!"

But that was a rare view.

At a public Library at which I worked, we knew it was election time because the camera crews would set up OUTSIDE the library and film the city commissioner or potential city commissioner walking down the steps of the library. However, we never saw ONE of them EVER come into the Library, either before the election or after. That was as close as they got.

Kevin Musgrove said...

When we tried to close an extremely underperforming library (a busy Saturday was twelve items issued) all these politicians we'd never seen before started turning up to say how important they thought the library was to the community.

The effect was spoiled rather by their having to ring our chief for directions to the place.

Anonymous said...

I think drug use is the only pure thing left and that cataloging should be abandoned, pronto<<

Just as reality is for people who can't face up to drugs, so is cataloging for people who can't face up to DDR (with apologies to Tom Waits, who also had AL totally pegged when he said that he'd rather have, "a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy").

soren faust said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I would be interested in some catalogers’ take on the downfall of cataloging and its effect on librarianship as a whole. In my experience as a Librarian I see the same attitude on the part of Librarians towards cataloging as non Librarians have towards Librarians. “Cataloging is tedious, cataloging is not very glamorous, let some else do it.” Many of the people who frequent this blog fault the hip librarians, the twopointopians, gamers, etc. for this same attitude. They want only what is fun, and leave the hard stuff for someone else. Perhaps cataloging was the test case by which the whole of Librarianship stands or falls.
As I see it, cataloging began the downhill slide when many libraries decided to outsource it. Cataloging was one of the first, if not the first, victims of applying the business model to librarianship. The rationale was that it was too time consuming, too expensive. It was not valued by the customer. (Did they ask the customers, or just make an assertion?) “We will bear lower standards.” Now that it seems proven that libraries can get by with substandard, inexpensive cataloging, why not substandard, inexpensive reference work? Or management? Or library boards? The result has been, among other things, the creation of more and more library jobs that suck. We agreed to let this happen to cataloging (catalogers and some far-sighted people excepted), and now the time has come for other aspects of librarianship to endure the same. How long until there is nothing left?
Is the above accurate?

ex-lib said...

I'm grinning like a Cheshire Cat in a rainstorm. When LOC screws up they can sometimes do it big. I recall when they first put their computerized catalog up. It had so many bugs in the software nobody could use it and the embarrassed reference folks had to send the patrons back to use the old card catalog in the back room.They never bothered to test the software for bugs, offline, in advance. Nobody could find anything. The genius that came up with this deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom[like the fellow who headed the CIA got]. My only question is who will end up falling on their sword when all is said and done.

Anonymous said...

Is the above accurate? <<

No. Librarians in individual libraries catalogued because there was no other choice. Now, there are significantly better and more effective paths to information search and retrieval for most kinds of resources. There is still some merit in cataloging local collections, but cataloging no more defines librarianship and information science than blacksmiths and telegraphers define transportation.

I suppose the traditional minded of you will eventually find jobs in Greenfield Village along with the guy who makes kitchen tables using pen knives and scrapers, and the lady who dips candles from the wax of what are now killer bees.

The rest of you should seriously consider some courses in linux and XML and forget LCSH, LOC and SEARS. Or (please) step up the retirement plans. Librarianship is doomed if the dinosaurs keep hanging on waxing, as they do, about cataloging and other anachronisms.

Diane said...

I've probably read the LC bib futures report as closely as anybody (my multi-page public comment is probably some proof of that) but I have to say I only got through a couple of pages of Thomas Mann's response before giving up in disgust. He was doing an awful lot of setting up spurious arguments that didn't appear in the report itself, only to mock them. Frankly, I can't be bothered reading that kind of stuff--it reeks too much of Chicken Little.

I hope those of you who thought Mann was actually responding to that report go back and read the report itself, and see if you can find some of the statements Mann asserts were made there. I certainly didn't agree with everything, either, but frankly I think the traditional view deserves a better spokesperson than Mann.

D. Hillmann (who started her library career as a damn fine cataloger thank you very much)

Anonymous said...

Why do I need a cataloger here on staff sucking up benefits and space? We could use the space to put in a new dance dance revolution room.

Why don't we need one? Cataloging is done somewhere else and we just go out and find the record and use it. If there is no record we can just sit on the book until someone else catalogs it.

Anonymous said...

"Google Doesn't Search metadata."


The more Appropriate phrase is "Google Doesn't Search metadata Today."

10 years ago Google did't exist.

Today it has a annual income that rivals that of small armies or even or even small countries.

If metadata is the way, Google will eventually use it - they will create the metadata database that covers ALL information and enforce their own metadata version on the world.

Cataloging was fun, but...it's arbitrary.

Anonymous said...

^
^
Kat!

Minks said...

Library of Congress could also put on some gaming nights and things like that to get the younger Congresspersons interested in coming to the library again. If that happened, maybe they'd find enough support to justify the boring expenditure on things that are relevant only for research, which nobody really does anyway.

lol, too funny,

Anywho,

I would rather stab my eye out with a dull rusty spoon then Catalog, but cataloging is one thing librarians do well. We can find one book amongst millions, lickity split! Try that in a book store. Not split licking, but locating books.

The libraries in which I have worked have all obtained 99% of their records from a higher authority, as it should be... Much to the dismay of rusty spoons everywhere.

Anonymous said...

"Google Doesn't Search metadata."

Google doesn't search through the meta data many digitization librarians use when creating pages with Dublin Core or EAD.

They base their ranking on keywords and popularity.

And about the cataloging argument - haven't we already been through this? Didn't they try doing away with cataloging librarians in the 80s and in the late 90s realized they were just a little screwed?

Kevin Musgrove said...

Yup. And they're doing away with them again.

Librarian-managers never learn; they just complain that the world doesn't treat them as professionals.

ex-lib said...

"Yup. And they're doing away with them again.

Librarian-managers never learn; they just complain that the world doesn't treat them as professionals."

Why, when you can hire warm bodies, part-time, at min. wage to play librarian and/or let library board members [appointed by local politicos], have ALA act like all is rosey and pass resolutions with political agenda that has nothing to do with libraries or librarians. Now when a few more library school/diploma mills close because the alums realize they've been had, and complain [why do you think almost 1/3rd of the ALA accredited programs closed in the 80's/90's ?] and ALA's membership decides to hold up renewals and some folks on East Huron end up in the lobby of the local MANPOWER, Inc., looking for work.....?? Until then it's all rock-and-roll with Dance Dance Party!

Dude said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

dude,

I, curmudgeony fellow that I am, don't think treating women as objects is a good thing, so I guess I can't go for your middle road.

Diane Hillman,

Mann told me that his paper is a review not just of the WGFuBibCo Report itself, but of LC managerial thinking (which does entail things not explicitly in the Report).

So go back and read the paper. :)

I'm Kat! said...

Dude...


for some reason, I don't see Metadata being the end all that many web 2.0 enthusiasts think it is. For one, it requires work on the original piece. As in, real, physical, cataloging work. And that is work, I am afraid to say, that can be done by computers and robots before long.

Google's answer to the metadata phenomon will be interesting, to say the least. If they don't answer, that may be an answer enough!!!

Kat!

Kristen said...

"Why do we want to digitize collections? It is a bunch of old stuff that is forgotten for good reason -- it was dreck to begin with. If you really want to go read all those old journals, head out to the archives or library.

Face it, in this day and age, we only want what is the latest and greatest and don't want to be slowed down by a bunch of archaic cataloging or some digital images of old crap."

Only true of the younguns. (And they've always felt that way.)

Libraries can't digitize old newspapers fast enough. Patrons love that stuff. Especially all the genealogists. And sometimes it seems like they're all genealogists. They go crazy for our Ancestry database too. Grandma gets over her technophobia right quick when you show her that thing.


I don't have anything to say about the paper, despite being a cataloger. It's always in flux. I'm happy with what I do now. But learning new things doesn't suck either. Whichever.

Anonymous said...

The faster and more you digitize, the fewer "patrons" are going to actually come into your building. Eventually, the physical library will be a place for kids to go play video games and for the homeless to sleep and wash their socks.

Kristen said...

"The faster and more you digitize, the fewer "patrons" are going to actually come into your building. Eventually, the physical library will be a place for kids to go play video games and for the homeless to sleep and wash their socks."

As long as we are providing our patrons with useful resources, I couldn't care less whether they ever walk in the door. Already, we serve far more people by mail than in person. But it's not like that reduces their enthusiasm for our services (quite the opposite) or puts our funding at risk (again, the opposite). And - most importantly - it's what they need.

Does a local govt need to provide non-commercial community gathering places? Absolutely. Does it have to be the library? Not really.


I wonder whether any communities have experimented with making the children's section the whole library. Children/YA, I guess. For some branches.

I'm Kat! said...

The Library that does not digitize it's historical special collections [newspapers and such] will find those services in the communty upsurped by entreprenuers who recognize the demand and then provide that service.

Then the library will not be necessary at all. The digital files will all bear the entreprenuer's copyright, and the library will have to subscribe to the business to get access to that which they could have done themselves.

The newspaper itself may offer the database to subscribers, and then teh people don't need the library at all, now do they?

Better get it now, and be the future Source, then stumble now, and be the future intermediary!

Anonymous said...

Great blog and responses! I'm a cataloger, started when there were card catalogs everywhere, and we had to type catalog cards. I've seen more and more outsourcing and XML, EAD, Dublin Core, etc. make its mark, and rightly so. It's hard to come up with why cataloging is still important; what really bothers me though about emerging technologies is what about the human touch, human interaction, human decision making, human presence? Did not catalogers, however imperfectly, once bring those kinds of traits/interactions with information they worked with? Machines and technologies do-- sometimes with human input, sometimes not. We've all gotten a little digital-crazy and I don't think it's going to stop now. True, lots of good things happen now but have we lost actual beneficial things; I'm thinking of Sven Birkert's recent article on Kindle or some of Walter Benjamin on mass production. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

_____________________________
Great blog and responses! I'm a cataloger, started when there were card catalogs everywhere, and we had to type catalog cards. I've seen more and more outsourcing and XML, EAD, Dublin Core, etc. make its mark, and rightly so. It's hard to come up with why cataloging is still important; what really bothers me though about emerging technologies is what about the human touch, human interaction, human decision making, human presence? Did not catalogers, however imperfectly, once bring those kinds of traits/interactions with information they worked with? Machines and technologies do-- sometimes with human input, sometimes not. We've all gotten a little digital-crazy and I don't think it's going to stop now. True, lots of good things happen now but have we lost actual beneficial things; I'm thinking of Sven Birkert's recent article on Kindle or some of Walter Benjamin on mass production. Cheers!

_______________

Are you Dr. Koh at Dominican University?