The anatomy of a cataloguer – a response
Posted by Jennie
Theresa Schulz’s LISNPN post The anatomy of a cataloger has clearly stirred up great strength of feeling in the cataloguing community and it seems appropriate that a blog about High Visibility Cataloguing should respond to the sentiments expressed in Theresa’s post as many commenters on LISNPN and Twitter have done already.
In a way it is good that we are being stirred into having this debate. The old stereotypes of cataloguers “off in their own little nooks/rooms, with unprocessed, not-quite-alive materials” absolutely needs to be challenged. As Céline Carty points out in her response to Theresa’s post the profession as a whole is trying to break out of the echo chamber and prove these outdated stereotypes wrong.
That doesn’t mean to say that I haven’t worked in institutions where what Theresa describes was largely the case in the past, but as with everything in librarianship roles are constantly evolving and changing to meet the needs of our institutions and users. From a personal perspective I’ve seen my job title change from ‘Cataloguer’ to ‘Bibliographic Services Librarian’ and then to ‘Acquisitions and Metadata Librarian’ in the last 3 years alone and as my role develops further I expect more change. Many people who have cataloguing as part of their job description also staff issue and enquiry points, write code, contribute metadata to institutional repositories and other electronic objects, think strategically about service-wide workflows, liaise with suppliers of material in a myriad of formats and then work out how to describe these items so that people can find them when they need to. There are a doubtless hundreds more diverse aspects to the cataloguer’s role that have been missed out here – feel free to add yours in the comments because it is important to explain to each other, to other librarians and to the world at large the scope of what we actually do.
The idea that cataloguing doesn’t involve a lot of change is something I absolutely disagree with – and I think most people currently trying to keep up with the pace of change in the metadata sphere right now will disagree too. At the moment cataloguers are writing policies to cover RDA, DDC23, whatever might replace MARC21, RFID, how we manipulate freely available data in a variety of standards to be of use to us, how our catalogues will work with newly purchased resource discovery platforms, and how we can mine our data more effectively to give better results to our users and better statistics to our colleagues.
Perhaps part of the difficulty in battling the stereotypes expressed in Theresa’s post lies with the traditionally back office nature of the cataloguers role. The idea that cataloguing isn’t a high-visibility role needs to change, which is why this blog exists in the first place – so that cataloguers and metadata practitioners have a place to demonstrate and share all the ways that we have broken out of the ‘cataloguing echo chamber’ and proven our value as a branch of librarianship to colleagues who might still cling to the outdated vision of cataloguers hiding behind piles of books, not engaging with our users.
Finally though, it is important to acknowledge the limitations of what can be said in a 300 word guest blog post and that the spirit I suspect Theresa had hoped her post would be read in just doesn’t have much chance to come through in such a short piece. Hopefully the debate that has ensued will lead to more cataloguers becoming vocal and visible, which can only be a good thing for us and the profession as a whole.