Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

What Is a Professional Cataloger? Perception Differences between Professionals and Paraprofessionals

Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

What Is a Professional Cataloger? Perception Differences between Professionals and Paraprofessionals

Article excerpt

This paper examines the roles of professional and paraprofessional catalogers as they are perceived within the cataloging community. A survey was sent to all catalogers in member libraries of the Association of Research Libraries. In presenting these results, the authors consider whether a difference still exists between professional and paraprofessional catalogers beyond the master of library and information science degree and, if so, the nature of any such difference. In the process, the authors also examine issues such as whether catalogers feel that their work is valued and how cataloging work is evaluated.


The roles of professionals and paraprofessionals within libraries have been in flux for more than a decade. Advances in technology have streamlined workflows, allowing staff at all levels to engage in higher-level work. Reduced budgets and the reduced staff levels that go along with them have required reshuffling of job duties and shifts in department priorities. Some of these changes have blurred the lines between professional and paraprofessional staff. Despite these shifts, the library profession still defines employees and the work they do in terms of professional librarians, requiring a master of library and information science (MLIS), and paraprofessional staff, who typically hold at least a bachelor's degree. (1)

Perhaps nowhere in the library has the effect of technology on library staff been more pronounced than in technical services. As clerical tasks have increasingly been taken over by automated systems or student workers, paraprofessional staff have been assigned higher-level functions, freeing professional librarians to focus on the big picture of the cataloging department, the library, and the profession. However, these shifts have not occurred uniformly across the profession, leading to disparities in how paraprofessionals' higher-level work is regarded and whether they are compensated adequately for their new roles.

This paper will examine how professional and paraprofessional catalogers view their work, drawing on findings from a survey sent to cataloging department staff in Association of Research Libraries (ARL) member libraries. By looking at performance expectations for these two groups, how their work is evaluated and their productivity measured, and their perceptions of the value assigned to their work, this study provides a snapshot of cataloging and catalogers at this point in time.

Literature Review

Although many articles and books touch on this topic, little has been written focusing solely on the role of professionals and paraprofessionals in the cataloging department. ODLIS: Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science defines a cataloger (meaning a professional librarian) as "a librarian primarily responsible for preparing bibliographic records to represent the items acquired by a library, including bibliographic description, subject analysis, and classification. Also refers to the librarian responsible for supervising a cataloging department."' (2) ODLIS does not define a paraprofessional cataloger, but the general definition for paraprofessional includes a reference to cataloging: "Library paraprofessionals are usually assigned high-level technical support duties, for example, in copy cataloging and serials control." (3)

These high-level technical support duties are due, in part, to technical advances in computing and automation that became widespread in the 1990s. The changing role of paraprofessionals was the primary topic at the January 1996 meeting of the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS) Role of the Professional in Academic Research Technical Services Departments Discussion Group. (4) Discussions noted that paraprofessionals were performing such tasks as material selection, cataloging (both original and complex copy), and day-to-day supervision, which used to be solely professional duties. …

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