Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

An Essay on Cataloging

Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

An Essay on Cataloging

Article excerpt

Introduction

The imminent arrival of Resource Description and Access (RDA), the proposed successor to Anglo-American Cataloging Rules (AACR), makes now an opportune time to clarify a profound misunderstanding regarding the objective of cataloging. The objective has been widely misunderstood to be about the production of bibliographic records, or about the production of bibliographic records and their supporting authority records, or about the production of perfect bibliographic and authority records. But it's not. Viewing the creation of bibliographic and authority records as the objective is an error and has led to mistaken actions. (Note: for the remainder of this essay I will refer to bibliographic records, or just records, intending that to include supporting authority records, etc.) My hope in this essay is to offer a more accurate picture of the objective of cataloging, working from Cutter's early statement, which I will use as a reference point in reconsidering some misperceptions and actions being taken in the profession of cataloging and librarianship at large.

It is incorrect to view cataloging's objective as the production of bibliographic records. Doing so has led to mistaken perceptions and actions; most importantly the perception that cataloging is costly and that action must be taken to reduce costs, most significantly by eliminating some of the content required for standard bibliographic records. Cataloging's objective is to provide a service to our patrons. While this has been noted (Boissannas, 2001, CannCasciato, 2003), it must be clarified and the cost of misperception understood. The catalog is a surrogate service, or an indirect service in the sense that the service is delivered to the patron by the catalog system and not by a person (generally). David Bade might refer to it as an indirect communication between the cataloger and the patron (Bade, 2008, p. 129). The fact that cataloging's objective is a service is made evident in the terms Cutter (1904) used to describe the "objects" of the catalog: "... To enable a person to find ... To show what the library has ... To assist in the choice ... " Conceptually, then, Cutter's objects can be combined and considered as constituting a single objective, which is not mere bibliographic record creation, but that of enabling, showing, and assisting a patron to locate materials. When we study transaction logs (Graham, 2004; Moulaison, 2008), we are studying elements of surrogate reference interviews that have taken place between our patrons and the catalog. Cataloging's objective is to provide a surrogate for the reference interview.

Stemming from the misperception of cataloging is the error that the cost of cataloging is too high to support. A number of studies have focused on improving the efficiency of record creation and other production issues in cataloging: Workflows have been examined and streamlined; new technologies and cooperative efforts adapted to and incorporated into different practices; and training methods have been studied and changed (Mandel and Herschman. 1983; Wade and Williamson, 1998; CannCasciato, 1993; DeZelar-Tiedman, Genereux, and Hearn, 2006; Wiggins, 2007; Copeland and Freeborn, 2010). Yet cataloging is considered too costly, still.

Cost studies of cataloging are generally based on the single transaction model and the transaction being measured is that of record creation or cost per title (Kochen and Segur, 1970; Kent, 1979; Leung, 1987; Mandel, 1988; Harris, 1989; Deriez and Giappiconi, 1994; Schafer, 2009). Cost is based in various ways on a combination of the personnel costs and the support costs that are required to create a bibliographic record to represent one title in the catalog. The ALCTS guide to cost analysis mentions many sensible ways to estimate per record creation costs, but not service costs (ALCTS Technical Services Costs Committee, 1991). To accept the perception of per record cost means that the record is seen as the objective of cataloging, so its cost of production is seen as the cost of cataloging. …

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