6 Debunked Myths About Cataloging

21 Oct

Myth 1) Copy is always correct and can be used “as is”.
* Debunked!: While most records are good and useable, trusting that copy can just be grabbed and put into a catalog without changes can lead to dirty catalogs and misinformation. Even though I’m still new to cataloging, I’ve seen lots of unique errors in copy records that make me cringe, especially when OCLC shows that multiple libraries have touched the record. Simple errors from mistyping a name or word in a title to misclassification of call number or subject headings. I’ve also seen mistakes is nearly every MARC field–wrong or unneeded 043, odd 260s, and don’t get me started about 5xxs. All copy needs to be reviewed and checked before it is used, to better help the patrons.

Myth 2) It takes a certain type of person to catalog.
* Debunked!: Catalogers don’t need to be anti-social, strict rule-following, cat-crazed, computers-preferred-over-people people. What does it take to be a cataloger? It’s about skills and abilities. Obviously details are the core of cataloging–representing, verifying, and exacting the item’s information. Also, there’s a certain rhythm to cataloging, being able to deal with the mundane, pretty straight-forward description, and yet not get too wound up about (or bogged down in) analysis of the item. Balance is key. Navigating the rules and creatively thinking about the item and its record takes a talent and a sense but also experience. Remaining curious and interested in learning more and questioning how to represent items and content is also key. It’s more a mind-set and capabilities rather than a personality that represent catalogers.

Myth 3) Cataloging is a solitary job.
* Debunked!: This couldn’t be further from the truth. Don’t believe, sign-up for cataloging listservs! Catalogers love to talk, discuss, and help each other out. (Perhaps another myth included should have been that cataloging is black and white.) These listservs are very popular and discussions carry on, sometimes for a very long time. Cataloging communities are important and beneficial to cataloging. It’s great when libraries and organizations have multiple people cataloging who can and do pick each other’s brains and bounce ideas off each other, debating what to do and how to best serve their patrons with the cataloging records. And for those who are solo catalogers, there are the listservs and conferences and professional connections. Collective knowledge, besides experience, is beneficial to cataloging.

Myth 4) Computers could and should do cataloging.
* Debunked!: Sure, the possibility exists but when it comes down to it, humans still do much more that what computers are capable of with cataloging. Catalogers add value because we assess the item for what it is and what it’s about. Sometimes the item itself isn’t clear-cut and takes interpretation. It might use new lingo for an already well-document topic or put a spin on an old idea. Plus, descriptive cataloging alone requests a certain assessment level since items might be missing a title page, or mention a series in passing within the prelim pages, or have more on a title page than just an author and a title. It’s these gray areas that humans still excel at. Then there are subject headings and boy does it take skill to understand and apply those! And sometime even post-coordination can’t account for some items and topics. As humans, we care and in cataloging that can make all the difference in creating records.

Myth 5) Cataloging is unnecessary now with internet capabilities and full-text searching.
* Debunked!: First off, the internet is not organized and search engines use algorithms to produce lists that are likely relevant to the search but usually require vetting and sorting by the user. Also, not everything is tagged nor in full-text on the web. Nor in library catalogs. Here at UMich, the Google Book scan is not just a hot topic but a real issue since the school is now part of the lawsuit with several authors and publishers. If full-texts were available for every item in a catalog, it’d be way too overwhelming and there would need to be a system in place to rank and gage each item in relation to the search. However, as mentioned above in a previous debunking, writers don’t always do their topics justice. A book might saw it’s about cats but perhaps it focuses on the natural enemies of cats and hardships that befoul them, meaning a lot of other terms are going to be contained in that book and might skew a search result. Or what about the idea that new lingo is used to talk about the same idea, which would result it in probably getting missed when searching the more popular terms. This is where, again, librarians are crucial because of our human ability to asses and think things through in ways computers can’t. A library is a library with or without books/items due to the knowledge and expertise of its librarians, plain and simple.

Myth 6) Vendor records are terrible.
* Debunked!: This had to make the cut since I work for ProQuest and create vendor records. Look, I chose to work there because my records will be disseminated to libraries who pay for our content. I love what I do even more knowing that my good cataloging will make it easier for libraries and their patrons to find our items. Catalogers in libraries can produce bad records, just as vendors can. Bottom line, it comes down to the individuals doing the cataloging. It doesn’t matter if the person is a paraprofessional, a degreed librarian, old or new to the profession, working in a library or for the government or in a corporation. All that matters is that the cataloger cares and puts in the effort to create and use the very best cataloging records. This is what I strive for everyday and what makes me so passionate about what I do. At the end of the day, where I work or what I catalog doesn’t mean as much as why.

So, take a moment to admire the craft and art form that is cataloging and the MARC record–and if you spot any errors, please make the catalogs a better place by leaving cataloging in a better condition than when you found it.

1 Comment

Posted by on October 21, 2011 in Uncategorized


One response to “6 Debunked Myths About Cataloging

  1. Lorna Flynn

    October 24, 2011 at 11:59 am

    You are such a detail person! Love it!

    “First off, the internet is not organized and search engines use algorithms to produce lists that are likely relevant to the search but usually require vetting and sorting by the user. ”

    Watch TED,

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