Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Assessing the Cost and Value of Bibliographic Control

Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Assessing the Cost and Value of Bibliographic Control

Article excerpt

In June 2009, the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services Heads of Technical Services in Large Research Libraries Interest Group established the Task Force on Cost/Value Assessment of Bibliographic Control to address recommendation 5.1.1.1 of On the Record: Report of the Library of Congress Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control, which focused on developing measures for costs, benefits, and value of bibliographic control. This paper outlines results of that task force's efforts to develop and articulate metrics for evaluating the cost and value of cataloging activities specifically, and offers some next steps that the community could take to further the profession's collective understanding of the costs and values associated with bibliographic control.

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The technical services community has long struggled with making sound, evidence-based decisions about bibliographic control. This has been demonstrated recently by controversy over the 2006 Library of Congress (LC) decision to change its practices for series authority control, concern over the impending implementation of Resource Description and Access (RDA), the increasing need to better integrate library bibliographic data with nonlibrary web data, and requests from library administrators to document the value of investment in cataloging operations. The ability to make evidence-based decisions has been hindered by a lack of both operational definitions of value and methods for assessing cost and value within larger institutional constructs. To date, libraries have not developed robust cost/benefit metrics, and those for bibliographic control are even further lacking. The development of cost/benefit analyses for libraries may be difficult, but faced with limited resources and an array of directions in which to move forward, libraries find that articulating the varied cost/value propositions in measured and concrete ways is increasingly necessary.

In June 2009, the Heads of Technical Services in Large Research Libraries Interest Group of the Association of Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS) sponsored the Task Force on Cost/Value Assessment of Bibliographic Control (hereafter referred to "the Task Force") to begin to identify measures of cost, benefit, and value of bibliographic control. This paper offers a literature review, outlines the work of that Task Force, explores operational definitions of value associated with bibliographic control, suggests research areas that will further the profession's understanding of the value of cataloging activities, discusses possible cost measures, and considers interdependencies between creators and consumers of bibliographic data.

Literature Review

The literature gives evidence of a lengthy dialogue about the cost and value of cataloging, often tied to a discussion about the impact of advancing technology. Of interest is how similar that dialogue has been over time. In an address to the New York State Library School in 1915 titled Cataloging as an Asset, Bishop asked his audience "of what value is a knowledge of cataloging?" (1) Only fifteen years after the LC had begun distributing cards, Bishop--who at the time was the superintendent of the LC's reading room of the Library of Congress--remarked,

   Seventy-five per cent of the cards needed in the
   various libraries of the country are being supplied
   by the Library of Congress. It is not unnatural, in
   fact it is almost inevitable, that there should have
   come a lessening of interest in cataloging work,
   and even a dearth of catalogers.... The successful
   adaptation of a manufactured product is seldom
   as interesting as the making itself.... Catalogs
   and catalogers are not in the forefront of library
   thought. In fact a certain impatience with them
   and their wares is to be detected in many quarters.
   Shallow folk are inclined to belittle the whole cataloging
   business. … 
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