Thursday, July 03, 2008

Future of Cataloging

Part one. Part two is here.

On Sunday I participated in the ALA panel Creating the Future of the Catalog and Cataloging. My panel-mates were Diane Hillmann, Jennifer Bowen, Roy Tennant and Martha Yee. Robert Wolven moderated.

The whole panel was four hours long, with brief presentations by each of us and a lot of conversation. I recorded almost all of it, but the quality is very poor and I'd need everyone's permission—including the questioners—to put it up. I can, however, put up my presentation. I had do re-record the screencasting part, which therefore isn't click-perfect.

The second part is here:

Reading the Book. As usual, I neglected to underline just what all my evidence demonstrated, expecting the evidence to speak for itself. Thus my point in mentioning my wife's book's wrong LCSH's was to point out that, while expert training is certainly valuable, the untrained taggers on LibraryThing often exceed the trained expert in having actually read the book. I should add that I say this to emphasize one way in which tagging is good, not to attack catalogers who have insisted, quite rightly, that they don't have time to read the book, and aren't being lazy or slapdash.

As you can imagine, this observation of mine has got me into some hot water. But I think it deserves saying, particularly as, despite all the discussions of cataloging vs. tagging out there, I have never seen this point mentioned.

To press my luck a bit, I'd also like to note that it sets the professional classification-vs.-tagging argument apart from similar arguments in related fields, e.g., real journalists vs. citizen journalists, real dentists vs. your dad with some string and a doorknob, etc.

But there's an easy retort here too. Once cataloging is fully distributed—with librarians around the country able to take part—we can certainly imagine a future where, in addition to everyone else, at least one qualified, degreed library professional has also read the book and classified it. Wouldn't that be the best of both worlds?

If I get some time—in short supply after letting emails pile up for a week!—I'll blog about the panel in general. Despite its topic and length, it was very well attended—the police actually removed people from the room for overcrowding! And it spurred a lot of people to come by the LibraryThing booth to congratulate me or take me up on some point or another.

Incidentally, I forgot to name Jeremy Dibbell, who heads up Legacy Libraries now, and I referred to him as an archivist, not a librarian. I do my talks ad lib and make such mistakes. Mea Culpa!

Update: Diane Hillmann posted here slides here.

Labels: , ,


Anonymous SilentInAWay said...

Great talk, Tim -- not only informative to those on the outside looking in (or not), but also entertaining for those of us playing around on the inside.

Sorry to have missed you during both of your recent trips to SoCal. You owe me--at some undetermined point in the future--the opportunity to buy you a drink!

Have a rest-filled fourth!


7/03/2008 10:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've also seen some shocking cataloguing in my time coming from the joint efforts that we have in our education system - Zombie Bums from Uranus with the subject of Human Anatomy rather than Humour. I kid you not. It is so obviously wrong you would think they were just taking the piss, but it is infecting catalogues throughout our system in all its unhelpful glory. This is another reason that tagging is a useful addition to ordinary cataloguing - the people who know then book can identify its qualities. Because they have the time and inclination they have the opportunity to identify things in a way that makes sense to untrained users (and librarians too), which is after all the point. Another virtue of tagging is that it really doesn't matter if you have 50 different tags for an item, they help people to find it in the way that they think about and search for it.

7/05/2008 11:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Here's the rest of it:

7/07/2008 10:24 AM  
Blogger axel said...

No, that was another panel. Interesting panel, though.

7/07/2008 1:20 PM  
Blogger JBD said...

No worries ... technically I'm trained as an archivist anyway (right now I'm a librarian who happens to work most of the time with archival materials) :-)
- Jeremy

7/07/2008 7:25 PM  
Blogger The document doctor said...

Your observation about faulty LCSH application is well taken. However, at least in academic press practice, the direction is definitely away from the "professional cataloger" adding that value: the preparation of the copyright data (incl. LCSH assignment) is done now by the press itself (or its contact agents). From the samples I've surveyed, the UPs doing descriptive cataloging could give a fig about LCSH and the role it plays in organizing and accessing scholarship.
This is compounded by LC's own head of patron access and tech, Dr. Marchum, who wants to jettison all that "expensive" and "tedious" librarian work. She would replace cataloging with full text searching [sic!], which we all know has severe limitations. She oversaw the notorious Calhoun Report that enraged much of the professional technical staff at LC a few years ago. The decision by LC cataloging no longer to check LCSHs submitted by publishers is a step in the direction of jettisoning the practice entirely, I should think.

7/28/2008 4:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home