Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Criticism of Cataloging Code Reform, as Seen the Pages of Library Resources and Technical Services (1957-66)

Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Criticism of Cataloging Code Reform, as Seen the Pages of Library Resources and Technical Services (1957-66)

Article excerpt

The history of cataloging rules is often written as a story of continuous improvement toward a more rational and efficient code. Not all catalogers, however, have been in agreement that reform of the cataloging code has been improvement. The debate of the 1950s and 1960s over cataloging code reform, hosted in part by LRTS, is an example of conflicting values in the cataloging community. Seymour Lubetzky's proposal for a cataloging code based on logical principles eventually became the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, but many catalogers of the period felt that other values, such as tradition and the convenience of the user, also deserved consideration in the cataloging code.


The library historian Wiegand has said, "We are all prisoners of our own discourses," meaning that the stories we tell about ourselves influence our views of our place in culture and society. (1) For librarians in the United States, that means that they often consider their institutions "cornerstones of the communities they serve" because "free access to the books, ideas, resources, and information in America's libraries is imperative for education, employment, enjoyment, and self-government." (2)

What librarians tell themselves and each other about their professional values plays an important part in how they perceive their own history. Many librarians view the library as an institution that has been instrumental in moving society toward "modernity, progress, and science." (3) Whether the values of modernity, progress, and science are appropriate values to guide librarianship goes unquestioned by librarians, for the most part.

A similar discourse is evident in discussion of the history of Anglo-American cataloging codes. Wynar and Taylor have stated that the current cataloging code, Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, is "the result of a progression of ideas about how to approach the cataloging process in order to prepare catalogs that provide the best possible access to a library collection." (4) Chan has written that earlier codes were "pedantic, elaborate and often arbitrary." (5) These ideas were introduced in basic cataloging textbooks in 1985 and 1994, and such thinking dominates historical discussion of the efforts of the 1950s and 1960s to reform the cataloging code. Inspection of the written record of the cataloging profession, however, indicates that the view of the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules as an improvement over then-current cataloging codes was not universally shared.

The pages of LRTS abound with debate over the cataloging code, and in celebration of the fiftieth year of LRTS, this paper seeks to demonstrate how the reform of the cataloging code was accompanied by many divergent voices, whose claims may help reframe the discourse about the history of cataloging. The discussion about cataloging code reform was not only a technical debate over the merits of various methods of entry, it was also a multi-layered debate about the values that should prevail in the cataloging profession. At one level was the question of cost in time and money to revamp the existing catalogs--and in the cost to scholarship of retraining the research community in the use of the catalog. At another level was the question of whether the admittedly important value of logic should prevail completely over other values that had motivated earlier framers of cataloging codes, such as tradition and the convenience of the user. The latter term, as used in defense of retaining the former cataloging code, generally referred to the practice of entering a heading where a reasonable user was presumed to be likely to look for it--"the public's habitual way of looking at things." (6)

While librarians know today that Seymour Lubetzky's vision of a logical, principled cataloging code did indeed prevail, considerable dissent met the notion that his way was, in fact, the best way to prepare catalogs. As catalogers are today working on yet another round of cataloging code reform, a useful exercise for today's catalogers may be to review the debates of the past. …

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