Magazine article American Libraries

Cataloging Is a Prime Number; Have We Lost Our Standards in Our Rush to Share Records?

Magazine article American Libraries

Cataloging Is a Prime Number; Have We Lost Our Standards in Our Rush to Share Records?

Article excerpt

In embarking on any organized course of study, students must be able to trust that their mentors will set them on a beneficial course. As a society, for instance, we would surely be abdicating our responsibility to the next generation if we gave schoolchildren a choice of math, or geography, or English grammar. There's a point beyond which the number of basics can't be cut.

In library education, as in the practice of librarianship, cataloging is a prime number. Yet, the most pressing issue facing cataloging today is not MARC format integration, nor electronic Dewey, but the professional perception that cataloging has become an optional skill for librarians.

I'd like to offer a caveat: Don't make conclusions about whether cataloging still needs to be a core competency for librarianship based on a particular library's decision under particular circumstances as to whether it needs on-site catalogers.

Why? Those who have not spent time applying and creating subject and name headings, authority records, descriptive cataloging and classification codes, and indexing norms don't have in-depth perspective on the structure of information. They rely more on keyword searching and known reference sources than on an internalized, theoretical base they can call upon in any situation.

Without a cataloging repertoire, we run the risk of approaching subject questions as naively as the clients we are trying to serve.

MARCed for obsolescence

Several factors are converging to erode cataloging as a core competency:

* Few would disagree that shared cataloging whether through online networks, tape-load, or CD-ROM products, has revolutionized the way we get usable, standardized records into public catalogs. Copy cataloging accounts in some libraries for almost all the cataloging output. An increasing number of libraries--even public ones--are recognized for the reliability of their bibliographic and authority records. The Library of Congress is no longer the only cataloging source code to trust.

* In addition to sharing completed MARC records, the Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication (CIP) program has grown from supplying 6,500 records for forthcoming books in 1972 to supplying 50,961 records for books and computer file records in FY 1994 (John Celli, Cataloging in Publication Division Annual Report: Fiscal Year 1994, Appendix B. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress CIP Division, 1994).

* The Cooperative Cataloging Council's Program for Cooperative Cataloging is facilitating international adherence to the MARC core-record concept and promises to make shared bibliographic and authority records truly ubiquitous.

* Vendors have demonstrated that they can supply or overlay accurate MARC records and custom-fit our catalogs with authority control and syndetic apparatus.

* With shared cataloging--first in the form of card sets, and more recently with online systems integrating ordering, cataloging, public display, and circulation functions--has come a shift in responsibilities between librarians and technicians. Often knowledge-of the online system is better developed among the technicians than among the professionals. When librarians lack understanding not only of the idiosyncracies of local circulation modules, but even of the cataloging component, paraprofessionals perhaps have good reason to harbor doubts about the abilities of the professionals with whom they work.

Eating our spinach

So, as library budgets shrink, administrators are targeting cataloging positions as the most logical for deletion or transfer, relying on the fact that acceptable cataloging is available from external sources.

In the process of reinventing themselves, changing their names, and broadening their scope, library schools, too, are eroding cataloging as a core competency. In experimenting with how to attract and prepare a new generation of librarians, educators may be placing at risk our power to carve out the niches that differentiate us from other professions that are likewise embracing the opportunities of the Information Age. …

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