Cooperative Cataloging of Latin-American Books: The Unfulfilled Promise
One of the most frequently discussed activities of libraries during the past thirty years has been that of cooperation in the acquisition and processing of library materials. A healthy, democratic spirit combined with the complicated structure of librarianship has resulted in a mixed bag of success and failure as librarians have attempted to work together for common goals. Interest in cooperation has been higher during periods of financial difficulties, and commitment to national programs has waned during periods of budgetary growth and stability. Less-ambitious, regional programs have generally been more successful than larger, national-level attempts. A few goals of cooperation have been reached, while others of equal value have yet to be achieved in even a limited way.
Success or failure of cooperation is dependent upon several factors. Cooperative activities in collection development have been encouraged by the fact that no library or region can collect library materials from all countries and in all subjects. The motivation for cooperation comes from researchers as well as university and library administrators whose goals include the development of comprehensive library collections readily accessible to U.S. scholars. This type of cooperation suggests that libraries across the country build basic collections in order to fulfill the curriculum needs of faculty and students while at the same time developing unique research collections based on assigned national collection responsibilities. The Farmington Plan, which divided the collecting responsibilities among large research libraries in the United States, was the most successful attempt at cooperative acquisition for as long as it lasted. Even though the program is no longer officially operational, commitments made by libraries are still being fulfilled and library materials from all over the world are being added to research collections in the United States.
Cooperation in the cataloging of library materials comes from similar goals, but with a significantly different focus. The reason for cooperative acquisition is to ensure that at least one copy of any item significant for research is found somewhere in the United States. Consequently individual libraries focus on the acquisition of books in assigned subject or country areas, and success is measured, in part, by the uniqueness of library collections. The purpose of cooperative cataloging agreements is to take advantage not of the differences but of the similarities among collections, which in turn allows individual libraries to eliminate costly duplication of cataloging. The more similarities there are between collections the better the system functions. The primary reason for belonging to a cooperative system is to decrease the duplication of original cataloging done by member libraries. Although the concept of assigning cataloging responsibilities to different libraries could be part of the reason for cooperation, this aspect is of less importance than the desire to use other members' cataloging copy.
Because the reasons for cooperation in acquisitions and cataloging are different, interinstitutional conflicts often occur between the two. Collection development departments in research libraries have increasingly become involved in building large foreign-language collections that include not only books but pamphlets and other ephemeral materials, which frequently do not have cataloging copy online. Cataloging departments, on the other hand, have tried to take advantage of the cooperative system by allowing the backlog to grow, waiting for those items to be cataloged by another institution. Some libraries have eliminated selected language-and area-catalogers, expecting the cataloging to be done by other libraries within the cooperative system. As a result, cataloging departments often set their priorities according to the directions established by the computer consortiums rather than the needs of their individual university community. …