Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Analog People for Digital Dreams: Staffing and Educational Considerations for Cataloging and Metadata Professionals

Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Analog People for Digital Dreams: Staffing and Educational Considerations for Cataloging and Metadata Professionals

Article excerpt

As libraries attempt to incorporate increasing amounts of electronic resources into their catalogs, utilizing a growing variety of metadata standards, library and information science programs are grappling with how to educate catalogers to meet these challenges. In this paper, an employer considers the characteristics and skills that catalogers will need and how they might acquire them.


Eighteen years ago, I delivered a paper at an American Library Association (ALA) conference decrying the shortage of catalogers. (1) Shortly afterward, an ALA Cataloging and Classification Section task force that was formed in response to the paper found that the collective library and information science (LIS) curriculum was giving cataloging short shrift. (2) Soon the shortage of catalogers became widely recognized as a problem, and catalogers joined children's librarians on the profession's endangered species list. (3) Why this should have come as news is something to ponder, since as early as 1929, Spaulding, reporting in his pamphlet, Two Days at A.L.A. Headquarters, noted that "The greatest number of calls [for librarians] last year were for catalogers, that being the field in which there seems to be a shortage of people." (4) To say that the cataloging curriculum has not been much enriched since 1986 is to be exceedingly gentle, and libraries are having as much trouble recruiting catalogers, and even more trouble recruiting cataloging managers, than ever before. (5)

This paper seeks to provide a practitioner's perspective on staffing and to outline what catalogers need to have in the way of education and skills to function in a world in which the organization of information includes not just the creation of the same kind of cataloging data we have been supplying for decades, but now also includes the creation, application, integration, and harvesting of various kinds of metadata. This is an intriguing task, in part because the scope and mechanisms of providing bibliographic access are changing so rapidly that they practically vibrate. It is a piquant task, because although the specific context in which practitioners have been trying to influence cataloging education has changed, the message itself remains virtually the same at its core. It is a sobering task, since nearly two decades worth of agitation concerning cataloging education have failed to work miracles. (6) Thus, no matter how much any cataloger or cataloging manager may welcome discussion of cataloging education for the new century, and no matter what the impetus of this discussion, previous experience has led to a realization that we cannot have what we want--so we need to think instead about what might be possible.

Some Realities Facing Those in the Field

Some of the realities that face catalogers and employers of catalogers today include the following:

* Hiring catalogers is extremely difficult. Even though the past few decades have seen a reduction in the absolute number of professional cataloger positions that exist in United States libraries, library schools are still not graduating enough people who want to catalog to fill existing positions, and the wave of expected retirements from the profession has barely begun. (7)

* The kind and amount of education that catalogers receive in LIS programs is usually not sufficient for them to enter a library that has a complex cataloging operation and hit the ground running. In addition to needing local training in library-specific routines, new cataloging librarians normally also need additional education about many general cataloging issues (such as authority work, uniform titles, nonbook formats, and even classification). They also need practice--the kind of practice that will eventually enable them to deal with difficult situations, exercise judgment, prioritize, weigh the desires of one group of users against those of another, and extrapolate what they already know to help them cope with new situations. …

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