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We need the cataloging we have been getting from LC, however. For new electronic stuff and other media there may be other sources of data. But for books, the libraries need to cooperate and continue to provide library catalog records for these materials.
Printed monographs are not an obsolete media and if LC stops providing copy for a lot of these materials, all the other libraries won’t have descriptions of these materials.
Introduction As a LIS educator and researcher, I have pushed for a change in the perception of library cataloging and of catalogers both to ensure the careers of those who currently work as catalogers and those of my beloved students who plan to work as catalogers in the future. From a logical perspective, the idea of a person specifically trained to maintain the quality of the information within the system so that users of the system are happy returning customers should be employed in a library. However, based on research I have conducted over the past few years I am certain that we are unwittingly sabotaging the quality of library catalogs by undermining the value of catalogers and the work they can do. I use the term “sabotage” for lack of a better term and perhaps it is too harsh, but if it serves to make administrators aware of the situation then I am confident in using it. In this vein, one of the more important question becomes “How can we effectively demonstrate the value of library cataloging to library administrators?” The most common response to this idea of “sabotage” is the lack of funding for libraries, especially public and school libraries. In a recent article, Salamon (2005) remarked that “American public libraries are supported by a Byzantine system of federal money, grants, local fundraisers, private donations and state and local tax revenue” and that even with the 1969 Library Systems Act the amount of funding here in Texas is 8% below the national average. (p.3)
the time, effort, and funding needed to enable catalogers to do a good job of it. (Miksa, 2006) Could we make an argument that it is a lack of understanding about the long-term value of cataloging that often puts it at the end of line when it comes to funding? Is it viewed as nonessential when it comes to monetary issues and good access to information?
Setting the Context In 2005, I conducted a survey of the rural, suburban, and urban public libraries within the Northeast Texas Library Service (NETLS) and the North Texas Regional Library System (NTRLS) order to measure the extent and utilization of cataloging tools and resources by owned and used. Each respondent (n=105) was asked to give the number of full-time equivalents (FTEs) dedicated to cataloging, with one FTE being equivalent to 40 hours a week. The table below shows both the average and range of FTEs from the 94 libraries who responded to the question, cross-referenced with the type of library. (Miksa, 2005) Table 1: Number of FTE (40 hours) per week devoted to cataloging
Rural libraries accounted for half of the libraries surveyed and most of the librarians working within them described their current position as director. In a quick follow-up email to the majority of these it was ascertained that they also functioned as the cataloger. This is on par with the multiple roles that most rural librarians are required to take.
the skills and service that catalogers can normally provide. At conferences, I’ve had librarians slip me their business cards and ask me for advice on how to convince a director to keep positions for professional, and not paraprofessional, catalogers. I’ve had students describe how they are forced to catalog incorrectly by their employers. A woman in tears asked me for advice on how she might save her cataloging job from a supervisor who believed catalogers were no longer needed in a library because they received records from a vendor. Just as disconcerting is to hear of the shuffling around of a entire cataloging unit in a major academic library here in North Texas due to the erroneous belief that outsourcing and copy cataloging alone, and the lower costs associated with that practice, will give quality library service to students and faculty.
Example: Lack of Authority Control The cost of employing a cataloger and effectively using cataloging software modules are high, there is no denying this fact. This high cost naturally affects related decisions such as whether or not to include other facets of the system. For example, an often neglected facet is an authority database. It is especially perplexing to see the lack of attention to authority control in public and school libraries. Any bibliographic database worth using must have a corresponding authority database to ensure successful searching by subject or name headings. Yet, I very often talk with librarians who do not even understand the function of an authority file, much less know the overall process of authority control. A librarian who does not understand this can not explain the necessity of it to their library director or corresponding administrator.
This is a particularly disturbing trend that I have observed and have somewhat measured in the study of North Texas libraries. In the survey, roughly half of the 105 responding libraries performed authority control on name and subject headings, with 81% of the half outsourcing
amount of time spent actually maintaining the authority database the responses were low. Table 2 gives the breakdown of time spent.
Table 2: Time spent on authority database maintenance (N=105; response n=74)
This illustrates the other side of this trend—the employment of an authority database but very little actual authority control. Even without factoring in the 31 libraries that did not respond to this question there is still a significant percentage who are not investing quality time on this important part of bibliographic control. The survey did not ask for reasons behind time spent, but we can interpret the results in several ways, starting with the fact that many librarians just don’t seem to understand authority control on the whole. Alternatively, they may understand its importance but have an implicit belief that outsourced records are good enough and need no maintenance. Or, it may simply be rooted in the more realistic lack of funding.
Another interesting possibility is a struggle I have often heard about or witnessed between library departments about who is in charge of the database. For example, I was recently contacted by a public service librarian at a state university who was in the midst of an argument with the head of technical services about the maintenance of subject headings in the catalog
outsourced records came with very precise headings and that the cost of updating the authority database more regularly was prohibitive.
To the credit of the service librarian, it is an accepted practice for libraries to tailor subject headings and their corresponding authority records for local practice and local users. The argument about prohibitive costs is understandable, but it is disheartening none the less. Records outsourced from respected major vendors do not necessarily ensure accuracy of subject headings, especially when we factor in the needs of users of a particular library collection. Every collection is different, starting with the users, and to make the assumption that headings used for one library will always work for all others is a sign of a potentially debilitating compliancy.
Stated another way, it breeds complacency with mediocre bibliographic control.
To clarify, the fact that outsourcing and copy-cataloging are the predominant source for bibliographic records is not at issue. What is at issue is the misperception that these processes alone suffice for quality organization, control, and access to information in our libraries. Whether catalog records are created inside the institution or without, humans still make them and so the records are prone to error. (This is not to say that computer-generated records would be absolutely perfect.) As such, there is a constant need to ensure the quality of records with a firm process of quality control in place. This requires the complete bibliographic control, or cataloging, enterprise—the cycle of organizing, controlling, and providing access to information resources, regardless of format, that begins with acquisition of the resources and revolves around the governing of the access points to ensure retrieval. I use the term “cycle” because there is no final stage; the enterprise is in continuous motion. It is an enterprise that, within our current
as subject analysis, subject cataloging, and classification.
Assessing and Demonstrating the Value The scenarios discussed above have long provided me a sturdy soapbox from which to rant, rave, or otherwise heap loads of criticisms on those who would not see what seems so obvious to me. The only problem was that those I had hoped to “convert” were never in the audience. Even the few administrators I have managed to interest in my arguments always counter with “it costs money” or with the all-purpose answer “We have better technology and the Internet.” Even those knowledgeable about the cataloging process do not factor in the entire cataloging enterprise. At the American Society for Information Science and Technology 2005 annual conference Michael Leach, the then-incoming ASIST president, remarked that the cataloging process needs to be streamlined in order to catalog more in less time by focusing on the key access and identification points for a given format (personal conversation, 2005). I agree that dismissing unneeded steps from the cataloging process is beneficial, but we need to be very careful on what processes are streamlined or cut altogether because of the potential detrimental effect it can have on users’ access to information resources. Removing or downsizing processes, such as authority control, is a bit like trying to run a car with a fuel tank and an engine but no fuel line in between.
My suspicion is that the whole argument concerning the value of cataloging and library catalogers comes down to a disagreement about the definition of a professional cataloger. At the American Library Association Annual Conference in July 2004 the word on the “floor” was that catalogers had better start calling themselves anything other than a “cataloger.” But, this message conflicted with another interesting tidbit—that even though the job title may be off
metadata. We can change our job titles, but being forced to do so points to the larger misconception that a cataloger and a “metadata specialist” are two completely different professions.
In a Technicalities article, Bohannan (1998) lauded the skills that are at the heart of what catalogers do—they analyze, classify, do systems design and analysis, and they observe and monitor (p.8). At the same time she admonished catalogers for not “being good at verbalizing the adaptations and transferability of these skills.” (p.8) She also pointed out that what should really be sold to administrators is that “catalogers know how to put the ‘value’ in value-added services” (p.7). Working as a cataloger means to work beyond the application and manipulation of metadata. It is to enumerate the list of items in the collection; to bestow description beyond that of what an information object or resource may be and make the connections between resources for the user and in many cases based on the feedback from the user. I often tell students in my cataloging class that cataloging is out-guessing the user; always anticipating their needs by enriching the catalog records with access points that may be used (i.e., a possibility of use, but not an assurance.) This anticipation of use takes skill and if it is not recognized as value-added then we risk the chance of libraries losing value and standing with the people and institutions we serve. All current talk amongst ourselves suggests we are already traveling down that path. This loss of interest by the people, from housewives to national Senators, ultimately results in a loss of funding.
OCLC recently published a study on the perceptions of libraries by information consumers in which they found that 84% of the respondents use search engines to begin an information search and only 1% actually being a search on a library website. (OCLC, 2005).
satisfactory information search” and that “search engines were rated higher than librarians.” (OCLC, 2005). On the other hand, they found that a majority of the respondents were aware of the “many library community services and of the role the library plays in the larger community.
Most respondents agree the library is a place to learn.” (OCLC, 2005) We have to factor in the real issue that a list of hits on Google is enough to those using libraries that do not serve more scholarly or in-depth researchers.