Cataloging Issues

Presented by Barbara Anderson, Virginia Commonwealth University


You all know what the issues and training needs are where you live. I would like to offer two stories from my years at VCU that highlight some of the issues that are high on the list where I live:

  1. Sad Story. Soon after my arrival at VCU (at a time when the library was engrossed in retrospective conversion and still maintaining the card catalog), I was exploring a basement storage area and came upon a treasure trove of cards: boxes of commercially-prepared cataloging cards for analytics contained in "A History of Women" = thousands of monographs, periodicals, mss on over 1200 reels of microfilm. Why were these in the basement and not file??? Answers:
  • On verge of closing card catalog
  • Not enough room in cabinets
  • Index available in printed guide
  • Not enough staff

Upshot == providing this access to enormous resource had enormous implication costs (too enormous) Cards were never filed à countless grocery lists/ phone messages…

  1. Happier Story. Jump ahead 12-13 years and enter a local vendor of full-text American and English poetry databases (one of 1st consortial efforts to provide access to remote electronic resources in Virginia.)

The database vendor initially advertised that MARC records "would be available." Periodic prodding finally resulted in receipt of records needing major manipulation before they could be loaded in local systems: no discernible name authority work; no 856 fields with direct links, etc.

Enter VIVACAT (charge includes: enhancing intellectual access to VIVA resources, sharing bibliographic records). VIVACAT focused its attention on poetry databases à good things began to happen:

  • Jackie Shieh et al at UVA formatted and customized records for loading into the UVA catalog and made records available to others
  • A group of volunteers from VIVA libraries (led by Elaine Day/JMU, Allison Sleeman/UVA , Ed Summer/ODU) collaborated to clean up headings on database records à LCAF forms + file of corresponding LCAF records
  • Ed Summers developed a perl script for ODU and made his script and expertise available to VIVA libraries.

Result = 8,000 records with (almost) full name authority control and direct links to full text of individual poems/volumes of poetry.


Some issues illustrated by these stories:

  1. Cataloger’s Judgment. (not just the AACR2 kind…) Catalogers need to make major decisions weighing access needs with direct and indirect implementation costs (and need to know what these costs are).
    • Record enrichment (formatted TOC, form/genre/fiction subject headings vs. simplified cataloging (e.g., core records)
    • Collection level cataloging for fixed collections vs. analytics for "here today/gone tomorrow" contents of aggregator databases

We must use our best judgment to determine which approach is manageable/which applies best in which circumstances …

  1. Hitting the Links. Obviously we are facing major challenges in creating and maintaining catalog links to remote electronic resources. The poetry database analytics were relatively easy (a stable collection). [Lib.Lit. search of "Cataloging" + "Issues" since 1995 à ~1/2 on cataloging some sort of electronic/internet resource.]
  2. Macro Cataloging. Without ignoring the importance of individual title cataloging (especially for unique holdings), catalog librarians (and also Acquisitions and Collection Management librarians) are dealing more and more with large groups of records. Responsibility for managing quality control, loading, maintenance, and (if necessary) unloading of large files, requires:
  3. Geek Factor. A solid understanding of database structure and systems (and often some basic computer programming skills). We need to understand local system idiosyncrasies, industry standards (MARC21, Dublin Core and other flavors of metadata), possibilities for using Web technologies to manage access to bibliographic records
  4. Strength in numbers, or, if two heads are better than one, then… Cooperation is critical! 75 years ago (just as PTPL was getting its start), a cataloging professor at Simmons College named Harriet Howe surveyed a group of catalog librarians in an effort to develop a sort of vocational aptitude list of characteristics needed by catalogers so that library schools could better prepare their students. High on the list was "Cooperation" about which she wrote: "Teachers should impress upon novices that cataloging does not consist of making cards for one book at a time in a vacuum completely sound- and other sensation-proof, but that it means working for, with and beside people." (!) Not even today’s cubicle-world cataloging environment qualifies as sound or sensation-proof, and we are more than ever dependent on cooperation with others -- colleagues in local institutions (automation, collection management, acquisitions, public services) and colleagues in other institutions (local, regional, national cooperative cataloging projects, standard development, etc.)
  5. In ? We Trust. Cooperation implies that we TRUST in the work of others (ideally this would be an earned trust…) Trust = another attribute noted on H.H.’s list. She claims to have overheard a cataloging supervisor make the following remark: "That is the third truck load of perfect work that I have revised from that cataloger." (!) If we are ever going to attain the goal of UBC; if PCC is to be effective in saving time and effort at the local level; if outsourcing (of any kind) is to reduce our in-house costs--- then we have to spend less time scrutinizing each others work.
  6. The Ones We Love to Hate. Not only do catalogers need to work with "people" (as noted by Ms. Howe), but it is imperative that they also work with vendors -- increasingly the source of large files of records (outsourcing projects, WorldCat Collections, Chadwyck-Healey, journal aggregator database services). We need to be clear and firm in stating our expectations and requirements and remember that we need them as much as they need us (albeit with different ultimate goals)
  7. The 3 C’s. 75 years ago "adaptability to change" was considered essential. Ms. Howe wrote that the high response to this trait "…would seem to show that the cataloger’s work is not monotonous as has been falsely rumored from sources outside of the department."
  8. We all know that change is a constant, so are challenges and complexity.

    13 years ago John Duke, Director of Network and Technical Services at VCU, wrote the following. He was writing in support of academic promotion for a VCU cataloger and was trying to convey to others in the university the nature of the work:

    "Cataloging is arguably the most complex of library occupations. One must have knowledge of a vast array of cataloging rules and codes. One must understand the principles of subject analysis and classification, as well as their practical application. One must be conversant with a wide range of languages and have a broad appreciation of the entire range of subject disciplines. In addition, one must have more than a casual awareness of the principles of data processing and the structure of machine-readable records."

  9. Replenishing the Stock. Of course we know all this because we’re living it, but not many people know what our work is like because they never see us doing our work. We need to convey the excitement of working in today’s cataloging world to catalogers of tomorrow – a theme I hope we can discuss more this afternoon…
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