Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Waging wars to shape the poet and the beat

In 1994, the Program for Cooperative Cataloging emerged from the work of a group called the Cooperative Cataloging Council. The founding documentation of this movement toward a national-level cooperative cataloging initiative came as the result of the work of a group called the Cooperative Cataloging Council. This group identified potential goals of a cooperative cataloging program and then charged task groups with writing recommendations in each of these areas. A short monograph, Towards a New Beginning in Cooperative Cataloging, includes both background documents and the final reports of each of these tasks groups. The six task groups reported on record creation and reuse, availability and distribution of records, authorities, standards, cataloger training, and foreign MARC. At 76 pages, it's a quick read. And one I would recommend if you're curious about the history of the PCC. It felt especially timely to look at the PCC's original strategic plan in light of the fact that the group will soon be embarking on a new strategic planning cycle.

Task Group 1's final report, titled "More, Better, Faster Cheaper," proposed a new model for the cooperative cataloging of non-serial materials. The group contextualizes its argument by stating "they [current cooperative cataloging efforts/models] fail because they are based on the belief (or hope) that any library can, and will, create a cataloging record that will be fully usable by other libraries. In fact, no single library can create such a cataloging record. Or, perhaps more accurately, it won't-nor should it be expected to" (30). Task Group 1 goes on to argue that the non-serial cataloging community should see the cataloging process as iterative in the way that, at the time, the CONSER program did. "Rather than focusing on cooperative cataloging, CONSER has focused on cataloging cooperatively, if you will: on cooperative creation and maintenance of cataloging records" (30). Task Group 1 then went on to propose that the cataloging community "should be putting its efforts into fostering an environment in which cataloging records are 'vouched for' or 'authenticated' and made part of the national database for subsequent use and emendation as necessary" (30). One can imagine that Task Group 1's report served as the foundation for BIBCO. And it gives us the basis for our current understanding of the record creation and reuse model that we know and love today.

As a serials cataloger, I feel really connected to the idea that cataloging is an iterative process. Because a serial record covers the entire life of the publication, our work on a record representing a serial title is not done as long as the serial continues to be published. And I like that other communities took seriously the idea that it makes more sense to build upon the work done by others rather than continue to duplicate their work. The current record creation and reuse model is a smart one, built on collegiality and on enhancing the work of others.

I'll be honest, though, I bristled a little when I read the title of Task Group 1's report. And it's the same reason that I struggle to accept the current record creation and reuse model. If our motivation for accepting this model is for cost savings and efficiency, how much does the cataloging community truly build upon the work done by others? How often do we accept the records we find as being good enough for our local context when our local context might vary significantly from the one where the record was originally created?

And this, I think, is where I find myself feeling stuck when it comes to thinking about the current catalog record creation and reuse model. I don't think it would be a wise use of our resources to go backwards in time to a place where catalogers at many libraries created records for the same title. I think that thinking of cataloging as an iterative process where one cataloger enhances the record created by another, leveraging each one's strengths makes much more sense. But our motivation for cataloging cooperatively in any format should be to create records that others can not only reuse but can also enhance.

I also think that part of the record creation and reuse model has to incorporate a consideration of the context of users in any given library. Records downloaded from a bibliographic utility or purchased from vendors should be evaluated to ensure that their metadata reflects the needs of a particular user community. This may mean enhancing those records in any number of ways, including additional access points or additional subject analysis. This requires a commitment to well-formed metadata that goes far beyond a more/better/faster/cheaper way of thinking.

I felt grateful to read this book because it helped me understand the ideas that undergird so much of our modern ideas about catalog record creation and reuse. And it helped me better understand and articulate my feelings about that process. I think we should continue to think of the cataloging process for all formats as iterative, and think about how our local processes could change as a result.

Stay positive,

Works cited:
Towards a New Beginning in Cooperative Cataloging. Washington, D.C. : Library of Congress Cataloging Distribution Service, 1994.

No comments: