Challenging Metadata Surrogacy processes

Provenance, discovery and evaluation: A review of a future of cataloguing

There exists currently, and for some time, tension in the cataloguing world; that of those advocating an incremental change to the processing rules from AACR2 to RDA, and others who believe that description should take a more formidable leap into the digital era. Essentially, to catalogue or not to catalogue: that is the question.  Should we even still be using the term ‘cataloguing’ for what our role will be in the future? Libraries are facing an existential crisis, seen by authoritarians as antiquated gatekeepers, the future of collections and the professionals who manage them depends on the library world’s response to technology that others are already embracing; have no delusions about the guilty pleasures of Google and even Wikipedia!

This brings us to the catalogue; the accomplishment of the meticulous cataloguers, linking resources to patron or user – provenance, discovery and evaluation. However, catalogue records work in close conjunction with the LMS, and the systems librarians is now an integral part of the cataloguing team. Cataloguers are increasingly being asked to rather than work as individuals on the intricacies of a single record and build in a taxonomy, manage bulk record amendments and removals, digitization and repository data inputting. Cataloguers’ presiding over books in a dark corner with rules and rulers is, if not already, an out-dated stereotypical image of a role that is becoming extinct.

Patrons are demanding a plethora of options rather than a particular resource from their search, and web search engines provide speed and full text with little effort on the part of the user that the LMS cannot currently compete with. It is not necessarily true that search engines should be the model for accessibility that libraries should aim for, but I think it is fair to say that is clear that changing cataloguing rules is not a bold enough step in what is being demanded by the patron or user, or for the continued future of libraries at large.

So a question put forward by Marcum (2004) was how do the LoC justify spending 44 million dollars a year on cataloguing in the age of the internet? Since the publication of these papers, the LoC is attempting to address and define the future of cataloguing whilst simultaneously progressing with RDA trials. In my opinion it will be less than a decade before RDA should it be implemented, be obsolete. Complex metadata surrogates will no longer be required. There are very intense arguments surrounding tag fields, denominators and cross overs from AACR2, which are taking far longer to define and decide than technological advances would care to hang around for.

What is our raison d’être?

Cataloguing is more and more about self-describing metadata, data harvesting, and creative data outputting as well as mass digitization projects. The cataloguing world needs to rethink who does what in cataloguing. If resource description can be achieved by ‘technicians’, the cataloguer can be re-skilled to work within systems management, information technology units, automated applications and interoperability issues.

Something that we all need to ask ourselves is what adds value in a record in the Age of Google? The prolific information trend is pushing the cataloguing future into the forefront.  Cataloguers need to embrace interaction with, and collaborative development of, resource discovery technology, and dissemination of that knowledge. From implementation of ‘shelf-ready’ to metadata management is a very short step indeed! Therefore cataloguers need to find equanimity in systems technology, just as LMS need to find parity in the ‘cloud’.

Consider if we could start from scratch what would we do? How can this be a reality without chaos ensuing? If xml and rdf instead of MARC alone allows for greater cross-searchable data, we could consider the use of interoperable automated applications. It is time to challenge traditional processes, although to be fair it has been the time to challenge the legacy of our library cataloguing forefathers since the original concept of the world wide web in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee.

Venessa Harris

Resource Description and Access (RDA) – Karen Coyle, Diane Hillmann 2007

The Future of Cataloging – Deanna B. Marcum 2004

  1. I would have added a comment but I had a lot to say, so I’ve posted here: Hope that’s OK.

  2. That’s brilliant, I was about to add a link to your blog here so people would see it. We love a bit of discussion!

  3. Great post Vennesa,
    I think your comment about the obsolesence of RDA in 10 years is probably true, especially when it’s not freely available and hidden from the non-library world behind a pay wall. I also agree that the role of cataloguers is definitely has become more technical and systems oriented, although I would argue that this has always been true and really becoming the case for the library profession as a whole.
    F. Tim

  4. These are really constructive comments thank you and I hope that a lot of you have got hold of a copy of ‘Conversations with Catalogers in the 21st Century’ to be able to engage in the book chat.

  1. Pingback: The Future is Not Quite Now. Or Something. « Rise of the Inforgs!

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