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Tuesday, June 10, 2008


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Shawne Miksa

Perhaps we need to first analyze who exactly is saying that traditional cataloging practices, standards, etc., are obsolete, and then compare that to the whole of cataloging community. It would seem there are more people out there who aren’t saying anything either way—simply going about their business.

We are facing new complexities and the need for the evolution of our practices. Anyone who has studied the history of the sciences will see that pattern, but along with that we encounter the naysayer’s who fear change or the proponents of wiping the slates clean and starting over. The harder thing to do is evolve. This smacks right up against the principle of least effort. (It may also be a bit of people so wanting to see a paradigm shift just because it’s a cool thing to see.) Embrace the fact that you are being challenged to stretch and work differently, but don’t grind yourself up with guilt or feel you are betraying your profession.

I was poking around Librarything yesterday and it seems to be a really cool tool, but in need of some help. (For example, I needed place and date of publication for a citation entry but in all the records there I couldn’t that information. Lots of reviews and links to similar items, but no place and date. Ended up going to WorldCat.)

Something else that bothers me on a personal and professional level: Does the Web equal everything? There is only one mode of accessing the Internet and the WWW, correct? So, logically we have to ask, if that one mode of access isn’t available then what is our fallback? Not trying to be a neo-luddite (sp?), just trying to cover all the bases. These are things I think of when I see someone freaking out about their cell phone not working, can’t make a call, but all the while they are standing next to a landline. What is our catalog landline?

Diane Hillmann


Your comment made me recall an old story from my early days as a cataloger at Syracuse University. We were still creating cards then (using OCLC to do it, then a relatively new thing) and we discovered that some student (presumably--the perp was never caught) had pulled whole gobs of cards from the catalog: Picasso, Einstein, Freud, etc.--over a dozen of the cultural heavy hitters.

No backup was available in those days, no way to recover except to start from the shelflist and start inventorying cardsets in the relevant classifications. We put signs up, too, telling patrons to ask for help when looking for certain things (mostly they browsed the stacks). It was a mess. For weeks catalogers (doing filing or not) lurked among the cabinets, looking for sticky fingered shifty-eyed card thieves.

At least now we have more than one place to look when Plan A doesn't pan out. We are surely spoiled.

And I think it's time that we took in fully the idea that "the web is our platform"--even the LC WG says so, so the notion has finally gone beyond all of us refugees from traditional cataloging!

Diane Hillmann

Shawne Miksa

The morning caffeine fix had not yet fully taken effect so my first comment doesn't make much sense to me upon re-reading.

I think what I really mean is that regardless of the "platform" we should be able to create and maintain the 'list'. [I define the 'list' as being the individual or combined, and/or cross-referenced inventory of information objects--in whatever WEMI combo you want--not necessarily tied to any one library/agency/institution]

How do we define what we do, but divorced from the platform? We should be able to function within multiple information environments--those that are changing or those that are yet to exist. It seems that the history of libraries, librarians, and particularly catalogers (born from bibliographies, indexes....lists) would support this. I confess to possessing an overly romanticized idea of cataloging (e.g., coming to theaters this Summer "The List Makers"!), but put forth nonetheless.

Need more caffeine.

Shirley Lincicum

I'm all in on the Web being our platform, but where are the tools required to allow catalogers to contribute the value they have to offer the Web? Cataloging is about much more than creating lists. It's about describing information objects accurately (identify & find) and in ways that allow users to recognize information objects that might meet their needs (select). Most importantly, cataloging is about establishing relationships between information objects that have meaning for users. I only wish that I had a platform where I could focus on doing these important value-added activities instead of having to do basic validation and clean-up on records, either one-by-one or in batches.

Shawne Miksa

Uber-lists! Not just plain old lists, but I think I will not argue the point further. ;-)

Chris Schwartz

For me defining what we do no matter the platform is close to what Shirley describes: creating ordered, meaningful access to library materials. Building a controlled, meaningful landscape of resources that enable readers/users/patrons to serendipitously discover what they don't know they necessarily needed at the beginning of their search (I'm stealing heavily from Andrew Abbott here). Shawne, I can't help but quote your dad here--he describes the heart of cataloging as "creating a unique intellectual space" for our users.

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