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Wednesday, July 09, 2008


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At the school I went to, the online cataloging course (I attended completely online) was always filled, every semester it was offered. I never did get in. Fortunately, I had 8 years of experience as a library assistant, so the lack of cataloging education wasn't a big issue for me.

From that experience, it seems that there is enough interest in cataloging...whether enough attention is given it by those running the LIS departments is another question, though.


I started by teaching in library technician program to train paraprofessionals. If I can find one person each semester interested in cataloging, then I feel I have succeeded. Usually that person goes on to graduate school for an mlis which means even more. That's my way.

Irvin Flack

I intend to have my dead body stuffed and mounted in a glass case at the museum alongside a set of the red LCSH volumes and Deweys and a Concise MARC Format. And a little girl will run up and point and say 'Grandpa, what _is_ that thing?' And the old man will say, 'Sweetheart, that's a cataloguer -- we used to have lots of them, once, before the Semantic Web came along.' They used to work with things called books in a place called a ... a libr ... now what _were_ those things called again?' But by now the little girl will have run off to see the glass case with the newspaper journalist in it and a single tear will fall from the old man's eye as he suddenly recalls the smell of a freshly opened book and the compact wonder of a 5 x 3" catalogue card.


Chris Schwartz

Okay, I see the future of libraries as a hybrid combining of books, other physical media, and digital media. For a lot of reasons, I don't see the majority of libraries going digital only.

In this scenerio, catalogers will still have an important role to play. We probably won't be called "catalogers" and the way we do our work will be quite different, but we're not obsolete.


I was not there, so I do not know how Calhoun said it, but she has written previously (so has LC's Beacher Wiggins ; see his "Managing a shortage of catalogers..." at http://tinyurl.com/57n9zk) about the shortage of catalogers as though it were a condition of the Universe and ackowledges only a few of the reasons for the shortage. And, by the way, because of the shortage, OCLC has the answer for you. When Calhoun says in a .ppt that MLIS students are not entering the profession, she is only acknowledging part of the story. Well, why aren't they taking cataloging? Perhaps because students are told there is no future in cataloging or they hear the typical cataloger stereotypes. Students who do take their first organization class often get turned off by the encoding aspect, which I think is introduced too early in courses, based on my occasional quizzing of newly minted librarians. Removing cataloging courses from the LIS curriculum is also another part of the story. The LIS schools will add or remove courses based on what they see happening in libraries. If Library Administrators reduce their cataloging staffs, it's only natural that the LIS schools will respond by reducing their course offerings, thus creating a self-perpetuating feedback loop. Perhaps recasting cataloging as metadata will help increase our numbers. Let's hope.

Laurel Tarulli

I am a "twenty something" cataloguing librarian. In the past three months, we've had two practicum students work with us. They have indicated that they're not the only students interested in cataloguing. In fact, we have another student we're expecting in the Fall.

Recently, I went to our local university for a library conference put on by the LIS program. Many of those students were very interested in pursuing a career in cataloging. I think the future looks bright.

The future of cataloguing may only retain some of the characteristics of what cataloguing is today, but there certainly is a future. I see it in the growing demand for cataloguers in the business sector and the need for *someone* to be able to organize and access the growing information out there - not just in library environments, but in businesses, law firms, museums, schools, government departments and so on. If LIS programs are dropping cataloguing courses, that has more to do with us and what we're doing wrong as professionals, rather than the lack of demand for cataloguers and their skiils for the future.


I'm working as a cataloger... not a librarian, because I don't have my MLIS. But I've been working for two years and plan to do one or two more, on my way to a PhD and teaching in another field. The experience has been wonderful and I'm so glad that I'm here, even though my career plans are elsewhere.

So I'm not a solution to your problem; perhaps my lack of training is even depressing to hear about! I hope that my work does something to contribute for the time being, and I would say that if ever I return to library work (which is a common enough occurrence in my field), cataloging will be near and dear to me, and I'll fight the good fight!

Steven Miller

Our library school (UW-Milwaukee) offers a concentration in the Organization of Information (OI) for both on-site and online students. We offer a Cataloging and Classification course every fall, summer, and spring semester, usually two or three sections of it, and they are always full.

We also offer Advanced Cataloging, Classification Theory, Arrangement and Description in Archives, Metadata, Information Architecture, XML For Libraries, Social and Cultural Issues in OI, and others, and we’re still adding new courses. Our enrollments are growing and we have a number of students keenly interested in OI, cataloging, and metadata.

From my perspective I see a continuing need for new graduates with knowledge and skills in both traditional cataloging and new types of metadata, FRBR, RDA, other metadata models, and how to manage repurposing and interoperability for all types of bibliographic or descriptive metadata. Knowing AACR2/RDA, MARC, LCSH, etc. will remain critical in order to gradually move the vast quantity of existing catalog data into new structures and systems. Perhaps what we think of as cataloging today will gradually transform into something different but related. Until we have true artificial intelligence, I personally don’t see that the need for human beings to organize information is going to disappear. My two cents condensed into a couple of sentences.

Chris Schwartz

Thanks everyone for these interesting and insightful comments.

It's encouraging to hear a mostly positive take on the future role of catalogers and metadata librarians. Steve, I really appreciate your description of how knowledge of old and new standards is necessary.

Evan, your experience mirrors that of some students I've worked with. They've come away from learning and working in the cataloging department feeling very enriched for their continuing research work.

Jeffrey Beall

Isn't the first word of the alternate title supposed to be capitalized?

Rotten Arsenal

I just completed my MLS and will "walk the stage" in about three weeks. I must say I was highly disappointed in my school's program.

I want to be a cataloger, specifically in a rare books or music setting. In my program, cataloging I wasn't even required, unless you were on the specific information systems track and even then, you didn't have to take cataloging II. The cataloging classes were avoided by LIS students like a plague. I took both classes and while I feel I have a nice beginning knowledge of how it all works, it still feels like an introduction because we really could only touch the surface on most aspects of LOC, Dewey, and MARC. Our professor is very much into the RDA planning and she tried to give us some introduction to what's going on there, but again, all we really had time for was some brief intro.

What I did get out of my program was a sense that rather than actually teach these future librarians the more unique skills and aspects associated with libraries and information organization, we were instead filled with a lot of "Rah-Rah Librarians!" speeches that were designed to be used to let the rest of the world know that we are still relevant, despite what they make think about Google, Wikipedia, and the Internet. Well, that and reveling in the "radical, militant librarians" quote from the FBI in regards to Patriot Act compliance (which, despite all the hullabaloo, I've really seen and heard very little that indicates a real problem).

At any rate, my program, which I found relatively easy although it was a lot of work, felt very much like a "give 'em the spiel, give 'em the degree, and let them run amok"! I ran into a lot of people that will probably make very good public and school librarians that can be friendly people who help those poor ignorant masses find books. They'll also make fine administrators in these same libraries, using all the exciting management techniques gleaned from whatever "Idiot's Guide to..." type theory book that is on the shelves that month. What we don't have are people who really have the desire to actually organize and manage information, particularly at an academic or professional (law, medical, international business) setting.

If we want to stay relevant, we need to concentrate on training, using, and explaining to non-librarians the skills that require more than a smile and a customer service mentality. Cataloging is one of them.

Chris Schwartz

A cataloging mistake on a cataloging blog, how embarrassing! Jeffrey, thanks for catching my lack of attention to AACR2 1.1B1.


I realize this it's kind of late to comment on this one, but I just had to comment. I'm a recent graduate, high interest in cataloging (especially metadata), and I'm just wondering... um ... WHERE ARE THOSE JOBS? I don't see anything out there for me unless I already have 5 years of experience, but I only have a 1 year internship under my belt. Again, I'd like to know where these shortages are so I can move there.


The chickens most certainly will come home to roost, especially at academic libraries where directors think that EVERYTHING can be outsourced, even catalog librarians. My university paid me a year's salary to go away, rather than force the director to follow the unit recommendation in a contentious [tenure-track] contract-renewal situation. They clearly believe that cataloging is not necessary. On the other hand, while I love cataloging and organizing information, I have entirely lost heart for the nastiness I found in academia. I'd rather work in a bookstore for $10 an hour and no benefits.

Chris Schwartz

Thanks for these 2 additional anonymous comments.

The problem of getting that 1st job out of library school is a tough one. It's been with us for a long time--how to get that 1st job with just an internship under your belt? I'd encourage you to apply for jobs that ask for experience. If you impress them, they will probably be willing to train you on-the-job. Cataloging is still somewhat of an apprenticeship. Also, network within library organizations, some jobs never get advertised.

Anonymous #2 thanks for laying out the stark reality--a perception that cataloging is no longer necessary. This seems to be the trend at larger academic institutions. I think smaller libraries are still inclined to hire a cataloger for in-house work rather than outsource.

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