Going from A Traditional to Hybrid Cataloging Department

I recently attended the ACRL New England Conference. It was a very good conference, especially since I was able to connect with a couple of my colleagues in cataloging. We got to talking about how to make the jump from a traditional cataloging unit to a hybrid one. Let’s back up a bit to explain more about tradition and hybrid. A traditional cataloging team has nothing to do with heirlooms. In fact, it is a busy department working with a plethora of materials in a variety of formats. These departments have seen numerous re-organizations. Many are no longer even referred to as “cataloging”. Perhaps resource management or resource access team is the name of the year under their current administration. But what’s missing in these departments is working on digital collections. When I was talking to my colleagues, I was interested to hear that in their case the “Digital” add you name of the year here team administered the metadata for digital projects. In this case, there was a definite split between cataloging and metadata. A hybrid cataloging or cataloging/metadata or resource access or something access and management team is one that takes care of all the MARC cataloging projects and the non MARC cataloging projects in some capacity. Typically on this hybrid team, there are people who know everything about the MARC world and then also some xml, MODS, METS, DC, and other varieties of metadata schemas and perhaps how to navigate some digital collection management software. Now of course, there are large variations in this model and my summary is only a very general picture of a stock hybrid situation.

To get back to my conversation with my colleagues, they asked how to make the jump from being solely a MARC shop to be and not to be MARC! I like to take the example of Tufts University and their Miscellany Collection. Alex May, who is the metadata librarian on the project wrote about it in this PDF. Taking a small collection from the Archives and Special Collections, they digitized it. Using xml, they created a small database with a front end of PHP to present the lost Miscellany Collection. Alex May has given several presentations throughout the New England Area on how he created this online collection and created the metadata for it. With a small collection and a talented metadata specialist with the skills to pull it off, Tufts Library has added a super digital collection.

But what happens when your staff lack skills such as xml or PHP? Find someone who is interested in learning new skills. Then thanks to free courses online, let them explore the xml universe. The w3 schools has some great training guides online and for free on xml. If you have access to a training budget, there are a number of other alternatives, from lynda.com to bringing in experts in the area. And New England has a whole bunch of experts in xml, programing languages, or metadata. In my experience, many of these fantastic individuals would be more than happy to come help out for a modest fee. If you don’t know who these people are, then talk to a few of your colleagues and they can certainly hook you up with the right people. Increasingly, there are a number of “unconferences” where you can network and learn to your hearts content.

With training and a small project (such as 31 images in one collection or a diary), make sure you have a plan. Boise State has a good guide to help get you started on this route. It’s not just a question of: Now we can just scan images! Yea! You need to know how you’re going to scan them, what type of images you need, storage, to be hosted or not, what digital collection management software you use (vendor or open source), etc. The more you work out the details of how to make your small print collection become digital, the easier it will be. Also, you’ll be more prepared to deal with changes and challenges that will inevitably happen along the way. Taking time to read up on how other libraries started their digital collection is also an excellent way to get information on the dos and don’ts along the way; for example, check out “Using Omeka to Build Digital Collections“.

Don’t forget to give yourselves time and a timeline that includes training and time to make mistakes along the way.

The first time your traditional cataloging department starts to be involved in a digital collection will involve most likely lots of opportunities as well as plenty of experience on how to do a better job the next time. With a decent plan, time and support, your traditional catalogers can confidently make the switch from traditional and rocking to hybrid and still rocking. This initiative will illustrate just how cataloging skills can be transfered to digital initiatives bringing new attention to your catalogers and perhaps more respect. Also, this could open up new collaborations with departments that might not have worked with cataloging before.

In short, plan, train, plan and collaborate. With a willing member(s) of your traditional team, you can help them by giving them the time, tools, and support they need to make the switch from MARC to xml and help them participate in the creation of the creation of a digital collection.


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