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.