Tuesday, August 4, 2015

There's a ton of the twist, but we're fresh out of shout

Last week, Rachel wrote about what we're trying to do with the catalog. If you haven't read it, you should. Go ahead, I'll wait. Just remember to come back here when you're done.

Okay, I want to spend a little bit of time unpacking this bit that Rachel wrote about shared cataloging and whether or not it is helpful for library patrons. Rachel writes:

An important wrinkle in the story of the library catalog is shared cataloging. I would argue that shared cataloging helps library staff and communicating with other libraries, but is of questionable value to the library patron. After all, I really am not sure that a librarian at Harvard or Duke or even the Library of Congress knows best the description of the item that is both accurate and facilitates my users at Rural State University or Large Public Library or Tinest Library Ever looking for a thing. (this same discussion could be happening about subject cataloging, for instance).
So, in some ways shared cataloging is in our DNA as catalogers. If you pull records into your local catalog from a bibliographic utility you are taking advantage of shared cataloging. This type of shared work allows us to reuse records created by other libraries and saves us from having to create records from scratch for every item in our collection. There is a long tail in library collections, though, and your bibliographic utility of choice will probably not have records for everything in your collection. But by contributing and pulling down records for more commonly held items, your library's catalogers can focus on those unique items for which there is no copy.

Shared cataloging happens on the micro level as well. Consortium and university systems have long banded together to share cataloging resources among their membership. In 2014, the Committee on Institutional Cooperation conducted a cooperative cataloging pilot. The program was opt-in and participants assessed where their cataloging needs were and what they could offer in exchange. The pilot focused on both language and format expertise and helped reduce backlogs at participating institutions. The California Digital Library also has a shared cataloging program whose goal is to provide records for material licensed by the California Digital Library and to eliminate cataloging redundancy among libraries in the University of California campuses.

Shared cataloging is useful in my estimation because it allows libraries to work together to share expertise for certain formats and languages. It is a local solution for outsourcing a problematic backlog of specialized materials because it allows libraries to leverage their strengths to cover their weaknesses. Oh, you have a reading knowledge of Arabic? Great--I know a lot about serials cataloging! Let's work together to clear our respective backlogs! On the macro level, shared cataloging allows us to move widely held material through cataloging and processing to get them on the shelves and into the hands of our users. It also allows libraries to focus on their hidden collections of unique materials.

So, clearly shared cataloging provides value to libraries. But back to Rachel's point about the value of shared cataloging for patrons. Is the value of eliminating backlogs and uncovering hidden collections enough of a boon to users to justify our libraries' involvement in shared cataloging initiatives?

I do think Rachel is right about the fact that different user groups have different needs when it comes to description and access. I wrote earlier about the micromanagement of metadata and how we, as catalogers, need to learn to accept more metadata as-is. I should note that I don't think all local editing of records is bad. Sometimes we do need to augment records with data that will be useful to our users in the form of local notes or copy-specific information. Adding this information falls into the category of adding value to existing metadata. And shared cataloging doesn't mean that we have to leave our users high-and-dry when it comes to meeting their discovery and access needs. It just means that we have a place to start from.

So, no. I don't think that shared cataloging is a panacea for all of our metadata creation woes. We will probably always need to add value to records that reflect the needs of our users. But I do think that shared cataloging allows us to make material available more quickly to our users (always a good thing), and gives us the freedom to address the collections that are unique to our libraries.

Stay positive,

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