Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Ours Should Be to Reason Why: Descriptive Cataloging Research in 1990

Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Ours Should Be to Reason Why: Descriptive Cataloging Research in 1990

Article excerpt

Ours Should Be to Reason Why: Descriptive Cataloging Research in 1990

Introduction

The descriptive cataloging literature of 1990 reflects the concerns of a relatively settled discipline. Descriptive cataloging is practiced on items that are produced in a limited number of forms, and no new forms have had a significant impact since computer files became a common medium. Principles that were defined a century or more ago, and which were based on even older bibliographic practice, form the basis for current descriptive cataloging rules that are continuously or regularly revised. The publication of a compilation of Anglo-American revisions in 1988 seems to have eliminated the need for (or temporarily destroyed the collective appetite for) substantial additional changes. To the extent that automation and bibliographic utilities have become commonplace, the recording of descriptive cataloging data for the great majority of publications has become routine.

These circumstances provide an ideal opportunity to reexamine the effectiveness of descriptive cataloging practice in its various parts and to expand knowledge and practice beyond the borders of the routine. The published research of 1990 reveals that admirable attention is being paid to various segments of descriptive cataloging practice and makes valuable additions to our understanding of the cataloging of less common materials such as archives and conference proceedings.

A settled discipline also can be a complacent discipline, and it is difficult to review the descriptive cataloging literature of 1990 without noting its limited focus on core issues. In a period of economic retrenchment in libraries, some library administrators are serious advocates of "cataloging simplification." The ability of descriptive catalogers to control the scope and depth of the simplication process may be limited by their inability to cite recent empirical research on the value of recording illustration statements and dimensions, employing square brackets, or recording descriptive data elements that online public catalog users never see. While we note and celebrate the achievements of the descriptive cataloging literature of 1990, we need to consider the urgency of the questions it does not address.

Theory and General Practice

The theory of descriptive cataloging was advanced in 1990 by studies of the progress of universal bibliographic control, the needs of users and the reflection of those needs in the tenets of bibliographic control, and possible new approaches to improving access to types of materials that often are described inadequately. Studies of the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, second edition, 1988 revision (AACR2R), and their use combined with new or revised cataloging manuals to yield improvements in the literature of general cataloging practice.

Universal bibliographic control is the ultimate aim of all catalogers who describe bibliographic items in a network environment. The largest network is one envisioned decades ago by international planners, in which a worldwide system makes bibliographic data on all publications issued in all countries promptly available in a standard form. Roberts describes the objectives and progress of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions' (IFLA) UBCIM (Universal Bibliographic Control and International MARC) Programme and suggests a number of areas in which further research could be performed to help the program reach its objectives. Cochrane concludes that universal bibliographic control still is far from reality, especially for developing countries and in the area of authority control. The initial cost of universal bibliographic control is enormous and is borne largely by national bibliographic agencies. The British have attempted to shift some of the burden of cataloging to publishers, and Dempsey considers the possibility that new structures and new standards may be necessary to speed cataloging and serve the needs of a broad range of users. …

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