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Friday, May 25, 2007

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» Should catalogers learn to be programmers? from What I Learned Today...
There is an interesting discussion going on at Cataloging Futures. The question is how do we upgrade our Catalogers skill sets? How do we prepare them for cataloging of digital collections? Most catalogers have the important skill set already... [Read More]

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Nicole

This (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0073052337) is the text we used at Drexel for our Systems class - like I've said it's hard to learn just by reading - but I'm a very hands-on kind of person - so you might like just reading.

I also found this (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/156308693X) - which I've never read - but might be an easier read for a librarian.

Kevin S. Clarke

I think there are a lot of similarities between cataloging and computer programming. My first programming experience (aside from playing with Basic on my Apple IIe as a kid) was working with OCLC's OML (their form of Visual Basic) to simplify my cataloging tasks. Both (cataloging and programming) are a lot of fun and very useful skills for the future.

Nicole

While I agree with you (as I'm sure you already know) - that programming and cataloging are fun - I don't know if everyone would agree with us :)

Also - I've met catalogers who are great at their job, but would never want to get into computer programming.

Kevin S. Clarke

Hi Nicole, I agree... there is no need for every (or even a majority of) cataloger(s) to get into programming (I think it's good for one or two in the dept to though -- those that might have the interest already). Likewise, there isn't a need for every library programmer to get a better sense of cataloging. I do think, though, that some should... there is a benefit from doing so. :-)

Christine Schwartz

Hi Kevin, Since you've done both cataloging and programming you might have some insight into one of my concerns--What skills do traditional catalogers lack for becoming metadata librarians? How are they not prepared for what lies ahead? And what can we do about it?

Nicole

I am still learning :) but I find that some catalogers (ones I've met and worked with) are surprisingly uncomfortable with new technology! I find it surprising because they are (or should be) the most technologically savvy in the library (well - except for the IT folks). So, in this case - it's not a skill that they're missing but a personality trait - they need to want to play with new technologies - and they have to do that without fear.

Play is the key to almost every technology-related learning experience.

Rob Styles

DISCLAIMER: I work for Talis.

I have to agree that the two key points here are 'new technologies' and 'play' - although some would call it 'experimentation'.

I keep seeing XML listed as a learning objective - NGC4Lib, here, Web4Lib and so on. That's no surprise given its prevalence, but there are other interesting things happening...

It would be great to see more people getting involved in Linking Open Data (http://esw.w3.org/topic/SweoIG/TaskForces/CommunityProjects/LinkingOpenData) and getting some data out there for everyone to play with.

At work, we're building a platform to help you do this stuff, and it's free to have a play. http://www.talis.com/tdn/

I'd say:

1) Learn about what makes the web work.
2) Talk to people who are making the Semantic Web work.
3) Find a way to get your data onto the Semantic Web.

:-)

David Bigwood

Being able to read code and being able to write good code are very different levels. I think catalogers would benefit from being able to read XML and SQL (or prehaps CQL), if not necessarly write them. Both are so intertwined with our work it would nice if they were area that we could at least see.

As it is we create the records and then pass them on to the database folks who do some magic we know very little about and have little control over. The OPAC would be a lot better if catalogers had some input to what happens to our records after they are created.

Jonathan Rochkind

Well, I don't think all or even most catalogers neccesarily need to _be programmers_. (Although I think we need a lot more cataloger-programmers than we have now).

But I do think nearly all catalogers need to 'get into programming' in the sense of understanding more about how computers work, what they can do, what they can't do.

Over in a comment on my blog(http://bibwild.wordpress.com/2007/05/24/my-catalogingmetadata-credo/#comment-270), Jason Thomale writes "A fundamental understanding of computer systems and modern technology should be a prerequisite to being a metadata librarian–just as it is with somebody that wants to be a database administrator or some other type of data specialist. Our data must support the functionality that our systems require, and not vice versa–and creating data that effectively does that requires some familiarity with the system’s “guts.”"

I think that's *absolutely* true, and goes for nearly all catalogers, personally.

Jason goes a bit further:

"metadata librarians should be good enough with systems and imaginative enough that they can look at a group of objects, see what data already exists for those objects, and employ the necessary automatic and/or manual processes to derive the appropriate metadata and convert it to the appropriate format."

I think that needs to be true of a LOT more catalogers than its' currently true for, but maybe not all of them.

Personally, I think "metadata librarian" and "cataloger" are, or ought to be, the same thing.

Chris Schwartz

Thanks for these perceptive comments. I hope to revisit this issue in the near future. I recently found a Karen Calhoun slide presentation that deals with some of these issues, so I'll take a closer look at that and report back in another post.

Nicole

Jonathan, I totally agree - I guess I'm biased though - I'm currently training to be both at the same time (cataloger & metadata librarian). Coming from a programming background though certainly makes it all easier to follow and pick up. I also think that if you love programming (like I do) then it's fun to learn to catalog!

Woeful

Eventually, XML will undoubtedly replace MARC and catalogers will become "metadata librarians" regardless of any expected moans and groans. XML isn't a programming language, but it would certainly help to have a basic understanding of SQL... Again not a programming language like say, Ajax. I really don't think "catalogers" need to know how to code Java.

Kevin S. Clarke

Christine, I agree with Nicole. I don't think there are any metadata 'skills' that catalogers lack. It is a willingness to learn new technologies/standards and to experiment/play that is required (and many catalogers have this, but not all).

Jennifer

What a great discussion! Chris, I'd love to see your "gathered" resources for catalogers - I think it promises to be a good complement to what LC is doing.

I think the biggest hurdle, which some of you have already noted, is convincing some catalogers that it is necessary for them to have at least some rudimentary understanding of new(er) technologies.

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