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Strategies If indeed we want to (or need to) compete with Internet search engines and directories, or just operate at the same level, we must increase the investment in our catalog systems and those qualified to maintain the content of the systems, as well as evaluate the contents of countless others. This long term investment will take a broader definition of funding—one that means more than just money. Skills and knowledge of professional librarians have value, but is this type of value regularly included in any standard operating budget beyond that of the level of salary paid to professionals and paraprofessionals that is based solely on the presence or absence of a graduate degree? I am aware that library budgets are complex and laden with operational and political realities, but I would hope we are not so much of a consumerism society that we no longer recognize the idea that a job worth doing is one worth doing well. If we provide a quality product then experience tells us that customers will return for more. The tricky part is that the products are no longer be limited to tangible objects (i.e., we are in the digital age). As one of many 21st century societies, we are very enamored with the non-tangible—perhaps so much so that we tip the balance and neglect the physical library for the virtual.
the Texas State Library, the consultants write that “in business terms, materials represent a public library’s major product line” and that Texas is ranked “45th among the fifty states in the average amount of money available for public library purposes during the 200 Fiscal Year.” (A Study of Public Library Development in Texas, 2003, p. 14) This strikes me as particularly perplexing considering the interaction with non-tangible resources we have in today’s information environment. Basing a budget solely on tangible objects, but then expecting the non-tangible as well, is faulty logic. This harkens back to the idea that all a librarian really does is stamp books and shush noisy patrons, instead of the more common and difficulty information “wrangling” that is now a part of her daily work reality and which makes her indispensable.
In his seminal work, The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith wrote the following about the
component parts of the price of commodity:
naturally be made for this superior hardship; and the produce of one hour’s labor in the one may frequently exchange for that of two hours labor in the other.
the esteem which men have for such talents, will naturally give a value to their produce, superior to what would be due to the time employed about it. Such talents can seldom be acquired but in consequence of long application, and the superior value of their produce may frequently be no more than a reasonable compensation for the time and labor which must be spent in acquiring them. In the advanced state of society, allowances of this kind, for superior hardship and superior skill, are commonly made in the wages of labour; and something of the same kind must probably have taken place in its earliest and rudest period. (Smith, 1961, p.48) The “species of labor” required for quality maintenance and output of an information system should be recognized and acknowledged (i.e., several workers with different skills or one
it to perform correctly will not suffice. The dexterity and ingenuity of a cataloger (or metadata specialist, if you prefer) lends to the superior value of their product—well-constructed metadata and a well-maintained information system. (To be fair, there are many “species” of librarians and each have their own type of dexterity and ingenuity.) One way to demonstrate this argument is to focus on issues of user access in information systems. All library administrators have been confronted by unhappy patrons in one way or another; problems stemming from unsatisfied access to information with the library’s collection are particularly important. For example, using the real situation previously described, let’s say a more experience library user has encountered “dead ends” when searching via subject headings at his preferred library. He points out his dissatisfaction to the Reference librarian who, wanting to verify it, does the same search and gets the same results. The patron fills out a user satisfaction card which eventually finds its way to the Director of the library. At the monthly staff meeting the Reference librarian also points out not only this particular patron’s dissatisfaction, but many others as well. The Director assesses the situation and identifies the problem as stemming from budget cuts which forced the library to switch from one outsourcing vendor to one of less reputability. The quality of records from the new vendor is low and is coupled with the fact that the library employs only one part-time paraprofessional who works with all the outsourced records. What will the Director do to improve the situation?
One strategy would be to find another vendor with a higher quality records and make another switch. Another to would be to keep the vendor but increase the level of bibliographic control within the library by employing a full-time professional cataloger. Alternatively, they could form a consortium with other libraries and share bibliographic control and catalogers, or
chance of losing patrons. There are other strategies (e.g., assessing the accessibility and ease of use of the entire catalog) but how would the director calculate the value of each?
Bell (1973) writes that “money is a rough and ready measure” but the “value of money diminishes as one’s hoard of it increases.” (p. 305) He also speaks of individual goods and social goods and we must naturally ask whose goods are these in this particular scenario? Does the patron and the library make up the individual goods? Does the patron and the library make up the social goods? Bell, citing Adam Smith, argues that social goods are not divisible, like individual goods are, and the “nature and amount of goods much be set by a single decision, applicable jointly to all persons. Social goods, therefore, are subject to communal, or political, rather than individual demand.” (p. 304-305). Using this logic, we could say each decision made by the Director may be applicable, but will necessarily disappoint any or all of those involved.
How then would the Director proceed?
In the short run, we may be able to satisfy the library patron by supplementing their search with resources and knowledge of the reference librarian (s). In the long run, we could change vendors based on research about the quality of products (i.e., records) offered, employ a full-time professional cataloger, and develop a plan for economic bibliographic control that ensures quality, usability, returning customers, and money in the coffer. On the whole it is a service issue that revolves around money and good access to information.
This short paper doesn’t give a complete strategy that demonstrates the value of library cataloging because there are other causes of bad access in library information systems that are not entirely the result of administrators’ lack of understanding of the cataloging enterprise. I previously used the example of lack of authority control in many libraries. It difficult to make
catalogers lack the necessary cataloging skills and knowledge or don’t know how to acquire them. In the survey of North Texas libraries, I listed over a hundred cataloging tools and resources and asked respondents if they used them, and if they did, how often. Table 3 below shows the results when asked about typical cataloging tools, in particular the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, 2nd edition, one of the most important tools of a cataloger.
Table 3: Rate of use of AACR2 and other tools (Miksa, 2005)
The actual list of tools and resources listed in the survey was much more extensive but the table above demonstrates what the overall survey discovered about the lack of tools or the low usage of what tools were used. When respondents were asked if they regularly subscribed or monitored developments in cataloging and classification (i.e., listservs, publications, etc.) the majority of respondents did not monitor developments or skipped those questions entirely. For example, only eight (8) respondents subscribed to relevant cataloging and technical service listservs when asked to choose from a list of thirty-seven common electronic discussion lists.
affected the availability of cataloging resources and tools 80% of the respondents (n=105) indicated budget limitations (89.3%) and staff limitations (75%) as the main factors or that they simply did not know enough about the tools and resources available (46%). Other responses included availability of training, or ability to travel to and from training sessions and investment in training part-time personnel.
The most perplexing result of my survey was the feeling by approximately half the respondents that even with these limitations it was not detrimental to their providing users with a reliable catalog system. (Miksa, 2005) How is this not detrimental? As information professionals we know that information on the Web can be incorrect, uninformative, or too deeply buried in a source to make sense of ( I do not necessarily agree with the opposite statement made in the WG’s February 25th background paper that “Relevant information buried within a text has become more easily accessible), yet users flock to it because of its speed and convenience (although they may inevitably experience finding something, discovering it is wrong, re-searching, etc.) Can we claim to be more reliable when we don’t invest in our own systems, as the data from the survey suggests? On the other hand, it may speak volumes about the confidence librarians have in providing reliable service despite the lack of money and resources.
The absence of any real discussion in any of the background papers on the education of catalogers was puzzling, but not surprising. I do not have hard data on the most current state of library cataloging education but I strongly suspect that we are seeing now in our catalogs the result of the disturbing lack of knowledge of many cataloging librarians and library administrators that resulted from relegating traditional courses to the back burner over the past
for Google or Yahoo! really originate in our feeling guilty about not providing a good enough reason to use the catalogs in the first place.) If MLS students are not pushed (whether by faculty or accreditation standards) to take the courses then we are failing our profession by not producing well-rounded graduates no matter what library position they occupy. Given the coming changes to cataloging that will ride in on the new Resource Description and Access (RDA) due to be completed in 2009, we are facing a choice to either be proactive and prepared or suffer the consequences of belated reactions.
Catalogers face a dilemma in that they often have to endure misunderstanding of their jobs from colleagues, patrons, and, most unfortunately, administrators. If the library cataloging practice is to continuing evolving then everyone involved, in particular the administrators, must be aware of the long and short term effects of investing in professional catalogers and cataloging departments. My survey of North Texas public libraries is only a small example of the problems facing many libraries as we try to hold our own with companies such as Google and, more importantly, as we address the fact that outsourcing and copy cataloging alone do not always provide the best products for use in our information systems. It takes both these practices and the skills of a cataloger to ensure those systems function to the best of their abilities.
In another lifetime, librarians were meant to be educators, to help the people in a civilized society to be learned and informed. Bade’s emphasis that “what happens in libraries is communication, not transportation” is such an important statement. In my classes, I educate students to be communicators of information, to be translators between the users, the creators,
forms of explicit or implicit structure.
We do not necessarily have to bend and give way to current information behavior phenomenon (i.e., users supplied subject tags, non-controlled vocabulary) simply because it is popular or because users expect “the Search”—characterized by Batelle (2005)—to be easy. By this I do not mean that we can’t work to make the process as efficient and effective as possible— but users should realize that in addition to the data doing its work, they must also do their’s. It would be detrimental to believe that relevant information to any query will be generated with little effort on the part of the searcher in most types of searches. The comment that “it remains to discern how bibliographic control should evolve to meet these user expectations and needs and to discover what other user needs we have not considered” is disturbing in that it implies an acquiescence to users expectations simply because they are expressed. In addition, accepting “the consumer environment” and instead of a “learning environment” undermines the strength of cataloging and classification traditions.
Batelle, J. (2005). The Search: how Google and its rivals rewrote the rules of business and transformed our culture. New York : Portfolio Bell, D. (1976). The Coming of the post-industrial society: a venture in social forecasting. New
Bohannan, A. (1998). Sell your skills, not your job. Technicalities, 18(8), pp.1, 7-9.