Monday, May 01, 2006

TLA Conference Notes: Day 1, Contributed paper on library cataloguing and its value

Title: "You Need My Metadata: Demonstrating the Value of Library Cataloguing."
Presenter: Shawne D. Miksa, assistant professor, SLIS, University of North Texas

Now, I am probably the last person who would be interested in a paper on cataloguing. Yes, I took the required class on it. I can certainly speak the lingo, but I am not a cataloguer, and the minutae does not excite me (I am not making it up when I say I had classmates in cataloguing who got excited about spacing between elements in a record). I do, however, firmly believe cataloguers are part of the public service libraries offer, not to mention the fact that they make my work possible. At any rate, this paper came right after the one on the Millenials, so I just stayed in the room. It turned out that it was not a technical paper, and I did find it interesting.

The cataloguer is the person that ensures the quality of the information in the system. However, this branch of the library profession is undervalued. For one, funding issues can make a professional cataloguer seem as non-essential. In small settings, there is often one librarian who does reference, works with computers (systems work, if they have computers), the cataloguing, cleans the bathrooms and turns off the lights at the end of the day. The problem arises when a cataloguer is lost. Often the job is then cut to pay instead for two paraprofessionals, if the job is even kept.

Authority control is also something that is costly and time consuming. Thus it tends to often be skipped. Libraries often will outsource this operation (and other cataloguing processes) and assume that authority control will be fine, when it may not be. There are also issues of adding local details and other issues. Every collection is different, so using the same headings in every situation is inappropriate. This can also lead to complacency.

The presenter said that you may call yourself a metadata specialist or any other label, but you are still in essence a cataloguer. Do what you need to do to get the job when you are in the market. Metadata may be the sexy word, but it is not a new idea. In or out of the library, the principles and skills are the same.

Cataloguers put the value in "value-added." They can anticipate user needs for accessing materials and using the catalog.

The presenter's presentation gave details of a survey she conducted of public libraries in her area. Some of the findings included asking about use of tools like AACR2, and it found very often that the tools were not used, or at least, were used very infrequently. The findings are limited, and she would like to expand the study.

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