Another Great ALCTS E-Forum

ALCTS had another active e-forum the other day. Again, the moderators have provided a summary of the discussions.

Summary of ALCTS E-forum: Beyond the Year of Cataloging Research, March 9-10, 2011


Ways to keep updated with cataloging research and to disseminate research results
When talking about how to keep updated with cataloging research and finding better ways to disseminate research results, many participants zealously use so called “immediate communication mechanisms,” i.e. social media tools, among which Twitter seems to be the favorite one.

There is an awareness that these social media tools are good at spreading the word about new trends and pointing to research publications including both traditionally published materials (printed or online) and those non-traditional ways of publishing activities (blog posts etc.).

There were comments on “traditional forms of literature (being) not helpful” because “they tend to be case studies looking at how things were implemented from a very general standpoint,” while “research on the web has helped along with looking at many non-traditional sources that are not library specific.” [Jennifer Eustis, 3/9] Some also pointed out that “published literature has often lagged behind thought due to the nature of publishing.”

In response to these, some participants argued about the difference between the two types of (research) activities. One type is the “need for rapid response, practical hands-on information about how to achieve something (or even *whether* it is achievable) or how to use a particular tool, etc. This kind of information is best gained online or from one of the quick feedback avenues like Twitter, blogs, discussion lists, etc.”; The other “is the more in-depth research, which is also needed and is sometimes lacking.”

Some participants indicated a “higher comfort level with the ‘traditional’ library literature” because “it is typically more well-thought out and presented … as opposed to thoughts on the fly that may come in the form of blogs, Twitter feeds, etc.” In their opinion, “the traditional literature approach helps us all to be more structured in our approach to our work, whether it deals with the specific topic in the article in question or not,” and “it’s the potential decrease in or lack of sharing of that type of information between catalogers” that should be alarming.

In response to questions about other ways to speed up the dissemination of research result, some also suggested taking advantage of online institutional repositories. An example is the Knowledge Bank at Ohio State University which supports creation, organization, storage, dissemination and preservation of the institution’s digital information assets. Before print copies can be circulated, one’s research project can be found via search engines much earlier.

Research topics needing more in-depth research
Which elements of the catalog record are truly valuable in finding and identifying bibliographic resources? How do library users really find stuff? We need more quantitative evidence relating to the importance of adding or omitting various types of information from bibliographic records.

Should we keep doing what we do in cataloging “because it’s the way it’s always been done” … and “because it is in AACR2”?


We need “more usability studies in this area.  I would love to see the MARC record (as the building blocks of our catalogs) taken apart, field by field to see what parts of the MARC record people actually use.  To what extent are users actually using our catalogs to find their resources?”


See a study by Tina Gross and Arlene Taylor relating to the importance of controlled subject vocabulary in keyword searching (
This will in turn help our cataloging policy making. Related to this, research is needed to give “reasons why the (library) system needs to have trained cataloger to add value to records in the system,” for after all, users can always just go online and find it themselves.

Some related the above question to the phenomena that library technical services are often the area being cut the most during budget cutting. [Mary Wilkerson, Julie Moore, “Doing and disseminating research” thread]

Also refer to Thomas Mann’s article “The Peloponnesian War and the Future of Reference, Cataloging, and Scholarship in Research Libraries” (June 13, 2007) (

Some participants observed a “growing gap” or a “divide” between “the haves and the have-nots in the world of cataloging.” Catalogers in some libraries are enjoying this exciting time because they can be part of some big changes and new developments such as RDA; while some libraries have their Technical Services departments completely eliminated and outsourced; and there are “one person libraries” where that one person is trying to do it all.

Three camps emerged around the question of “how we’re moving forward with library cataloging and metadata.” (1) The linked data/RDF camp; (2) the XML/metadata/digital library camp; and (3) the MARC/AACR2 cataloging camp. There’s definitely overlap, but there’s also quite a bit of “not-talking-with-each-other”. There’s a lot of talk about change in our profession, but not a lot of unified effort.

In response to this, one participant points out that this problem may “be due to how we teach library cataloging and metadata in library schools.” And “library schools need to produce cataloging students who can look at how cataloging can be approached beyond AACR2 and MARC.”
There is also a divide caused by the fact that librarians are working on different types of materials and formats. For example, “many digital collection units are not even in the same area as cataloging units are on campus.”

“The situation is possibly slightly different in the UK,” some participants mentioned, “in that there are very few posts that require a librarian to publish or carry out research.”

Other research topics of interest


The effect that ebooks and digital content will have on library cataloging and metadata. E-books delivered to library with embedded metadata. Reuse of this metadata and integration of it into our discovery tools, i.e., catalogs, could really transform cataloging.

The use of online journals is also increasing due to many libraries cutting off print materials. The contrast between print and online formats seems less and less relevant.  For example, the publishers told me when I asked back in 2009 that Cataloging & Classification Quarterly (published 8 times each year, btw) has no subscribers left in the print-only category at all.  All are either online-only or print+online.

End user tagging. “Can user tagging supplement or even replace controlled vocabulary in our catalogs? How important/useful is controlled vocabulary for users actually finding useful info?”
Related to this is controlled subject vocabulary in keyword searching.

There are also interests in the special situation of special collections