The Changing Face of Cataloging: Presentations from the 2012 Annual Meeting of ALCTS/MIG

I wasn’t able to go to ALA annual this year and am just getting around to the presentations posted online on ALAconnect. At every annual, ALCTS interest group, MIG, or the Metadata Interest Group, offers a series of presentations. This year the theme was broadly the changing face of cataloging. Unfortunately, MIG’s ALAconnect page no longer has the theme listed. MIG only lists the four presentations. The general message of these presentations is all too familiar – change. Cataloging and the way catalogers do business is changing. Get ready for change. Change is now the new norm. These example phrases are but a few of what I’m sure everyone has heard before in one incarnation or another. Though the refrain familiar, these presentations overall provide a good opportunity to think about cataloging and metadata.

  • “Thinking outside the box: redefining roles for catalogers in an academic library”, Anna Craft, David Gwynn: I always find it refreshing to hear about colleagues who work in similar conditions. I remember hearing just about a year ago about the 18 original catalogers at the University of Chicago! Wow – I didn’t know there were cataloging departments that were still that large. This is why I found that Craft and Gwynn’s description of their department was a great idea. Yes – the cataloging department has been restructured and changed and definitely doesn’t consist of 18 original catalogers. People have left. There are less professional catalogers (and in many institutions there are less paraprofessionals). The types of resources cataloged are different: less monographs, more e-resources, less printed materials, more digital collections. The focus is now on electronic resources whether it is for a digital project, part of a PDA load, or streaming media. Of course, there are still monographs and everything else to catalog. Suffice to say, Craft and Gwynn highlight correctly that this new focus calls for new skills. In the case of Craft and Gwynn’s institution it is working with EAD, metadata creation and maintenance, and metadata consultation. Whatever new work is implemented, Craft and Gwyann are right on target when they say that “teamwork is the assumption” and “new positions will likely work in all three worlds”. These three worlds are cataloging, archives, and digital projects. I would go further and say that teamwork is essential and positions now and in the future should work in at least these three worlds of cataloging, archives, and digital projects. I would add that current and new positions need to work with subject liaisons, ILL, reserves (especially eReserves), and IT. Of course, all of this depends on the structure of your institution. In short, cataloging and metadata are really a central service.
  • “Cataloging partners: collaboration across the library”, Amy Jackson and Rebecca L. Lubas: Unlike the first presentation, Jackson and Lubas start off on a very positive note of collaboration. They talk about how the cataloging department can use existing skills in new ways to help bridge the gap between other departments and cataloging. Also, they talk about how these new skills are used in new partnerships with special collections, IT, and digital libraries. Jackson and Lubas bring up the need to connect with administration, the front lines, and beyond. The key theme here beyond the collaboration already seen in Craft and Gwynn’s presentation is flexibility. Flexibility is important for such a wide breadth of collaboration as well as customized cataloging for local needs. But Jackson and Lubas’ presentation has a strange twist. They insert towards the end a note on “metadata fundamentals” and “how to create metadata”. In the “metadata fundamentals”, they assert that “catalogers specialize in descriptive metadata”. In the next slide, they say that any project should take into account the interoperability and accessibility of data to its broadest context. Further, there is a note about harvesting. Lastly, metadata creators need to have “proper training”, know mapping to Dublin Core and ensure metadata is harvested. I assume that when Jackson and Lubas refer to catalogers as specializing in descriptive metadata, that they understand that catalogers understand the other types and functions of metadata. However, why would you want someone who solely specializes in description? I would think that you need a cataloger who is more a generalist unless your staff is large enough to have specialized metadata librarians. By generalist, I mean a cataloger should have a handle on what are data and how these data are interoperable, accessible, shareable, stored, indexed, etc. This entails knowing about the types of metadata (descriptive, administrative, technical, structural, rights), the function of metadata, the systems in which these (meta)data will be stored, accessed, discovered, indexed, etc. This is a large body of skills, tools, and knowledge. But if you specialize in just description, I think you run the risk of loosing flexibility and not understanding how descriptive data interacts with other types and functions of data in your systems and in those systems where your data might end up. Having such flexibility also provides the greater advantage in mapping and migrating data. I have learned that referring to Dublin Core is like referring to a can of worms because there are at least 31 flavors of Dublin Core depending on the system you are using to store, access, and index your data. In short, it is insufficient to map to the model of simple or qualified Dublin Core. Local needs, local systems, even vendor applications are complex. Some don’t follow standards or mix standards up into their own brand of metadata format. A good example is ArcGIS which uses 3 different metadata standards and metadata tags of its own for an end result of an ArcGIS metadata format used by only ArcGIS. Digital Commons, a common ir platform from BePress, also does this; some of the data are not encoding in Dublin Core fields but fields only used by Digital Commons. As a result, I don’t think it is as simple as Jackson and Lubas describe. It is not just about specializing in descriptive metadata. If that were so, many cataloging departments would probably be smaller than what they are currently. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has heard that description is easy and anyone can do it, such as the student working in special collections – so why pay a cataloger who is expensive? We need to focus on other standards and the types and functions of data. Furthermore, we need to push for authority control, whether it pertains to names or controlled vocabulary as seen in all types and functions of (meta)data. In short, I would take Jackson and Lubas’ flexibility beyond that of mere collaboration and include it in the work done by the cataloger.
  • “The ever changing role of the cataloger and how catalogers manage change”, Debra Skinner: The first two presentations focused on cataloging. In this presentation, Skinner returns to common refrain that cataloging is out and metadata in. Unlike the first two that saw the equivalence between cataloging and metadata, here we have a split that necessitates new skills, training, new ways of working, and change. Skinner doesn’t talk so much about digital initiatives but the changing work flows in cataloging such as: increase in batch loading, streamlining processes, training, etc. I think Skinner illustrated that yes indeed change is the new norm. However, does “constant staff training” and “regular workflow evaluation and revision” show how catalogers manage change? I would say that it is how a head or coordinator manages change. In some institutions this might work. But what happens when you have staff that simply won’t change for whatever reason? What if this leads to inequitable workloads that might lead to a jealous and/or angry staff? It’s a shame that Skinner didn’t expand on how her staff managed change in the long-term.
  • “21st century cataloging: changing priorities”, Pat Headlee, Sandra Lahtinen, Julie Swann: This presentation again focused on the changes in cataloging. Headlee, Lahtinen and Swann discussed data exchange, electronic resource management, interlibrary loan in terms of the changing faces of Document Delivery, Course Reserves and Bibliographic Services. These are three areas in which there are overlapping duties and where Course Reserves and Document Delivery have grown while bibliographic services has dwindled. Because of the overlap, these three areas were combined. Success is measured by the time specified for specific types of materials, such as 48 hours for a rush. This joining of the three areas necessitates diverse job functions and collaboration. But there’s a need to be flexible and to be able to learn new skills. This is the shortest presentation and doesn’t go into much depth.

We have all heard about the need for greater collaboration, change, efficiencies, skills, flexibility, and what not. The cataloging and metadata landscape is complex and often confusing. These presentations are a good way to get you thinking about these changes, whether or not you agree with them. Have a look and enjoy.


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