Monthly Archives: January 2012

Post-RDA: the next generation of cataloging

Since RDA has yet to be implemented, this might sound presumptuous but I’ll throw caution into the wind and just say it: we should move past RDA to a post-RDA cataloging world.

This is an idea I’ve been kicking around for several months, having cataloged professionally at ProQuest now for soon-to-be 7 months! Jan. 5th came and went quicker than the 6 month acknowledgment allowed–kinda like those linger holiday thank-yous that I swear Steve and I will write this weekend. Being a professional, rather than a student, cataloging is fully on my mind all the time now.

What we catalogers need is a grass-roots cataloging initiative and guidelines.

There, I’ve said it. Does it seem radical? I hope the answer is both yes and no.

Yes, because cataloging is coordinated and administered, on the whole, by the Library of Congress. Don’t get me wrong, I love them (and would love a job there!!!–as many of us would) yet their purpose is not to be the central conduit and decider of all things cataloging. It just ended up that way because it was nicer and easier for all libraries who happened to have many of the same items and could rely on LC for good records and shelf list cards, subject headings and call numbers. It made cataloging consistent and got items out to patrons sooner since it shared information amongst the cataloging network. So proposing a grass-roots coordinated effort sounds crazy.

No, because catalogers truly care about the information and records they provide to the public and their users. Most of the time, a para or a professional cataloger will proof the copy cataloging that is brought in, to ensure quality and make personal adjustments for the library and its collection as needed. LC was never meant, and still isn’t supposed, to be the cataloging aggregate so it makes sense that since the Internet connects us all now, that we catalogers can take back this charge that LC has wonderfully kept in check all these years and reclaim what should be our prerogative, especially now that we have the tools and capabilities to catalog together as a profession.

What exactly is the idea that I am proposing? Rather than trying to rush RDA which still seems to be not ready, and with no successor to MARC in sight, as a cataloging community of paraprofessionals and professionals, we should create and maintain our own cataloging wiki that contains all the rules and guidelines, authority files and subject headings, classification and call numbers, that can be edited by any cataloger.

We all care about the work we produce. The listservs make this clear. So what if we funneled all that energy and knowledge and experience into a self-created and maintained wiki for all catalogers? So many people complain about lacking and unsatisfactory subject headings, for example, that wouldn’t it be great to have a wiki in which we all give our input and create not only what we need but what the users want? It would remain a standardized list but we as catalogers would control it.

AACR2 and MARC are still viable but what we need to do as professionals is start hacking them more–see my previous post. There is room for expansion in the available fields and subfields, as well as indicators. We could repurpose what we need for now and growth for the future, rather than trashing it all for RDA or some other systems that isn’t yet fully realized. If we took over cataloging guidelines and standards, cataloging could become what we want it to be for the current and future needs of libraries and their patrons. We shouldn’t let the past blind us to the capabilities of what we already have and use today. Computers hold far greater quantities of information, so we should put in all the information, fully written out and complete, that we need to explain the item and that the user needs to find it. Sure, AACR2 and ISBD were especially useful for shelf list cards but we can and should expand beyond those restrictions since they don’t apply anymore. Same goes for MARC, it is still perfectly good; it just needs some tweaking to expand it.

Sure, this time next year RDA might be officially rolling out and we will all likely be learning it, but what if? What if an idea like mine took off and revolutionized the cataloging world, not in a way we expect by undertaking a new set of guidelines but in a vastly different way of conceiving and maintaining the cataloging world all together, in a collaborative wiki run by us catalogers?

What if?


Posted by on January 30, 2012 in Uncategorized


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If the shoe doesn’t fit, make it fit: hack cataloging

Although I could write a riveting post about the subject heading “containerization”, there’s a topic that’s more pressing: hack cataloging.
Perhaps it is a familiar idea, that of the hack, but if it isn’t, please know that I am not disparaging the profession. It’s a term that has come to mean using something in a way that wasn’t intended. And it cataloging, I’m thinking specifically of MARC fields.¬†Everyone knows that there are cataloging rules and guidelines but what I’m referring to is using the record in a way that flies in the face of these norms in order to provide access that couldn’t otherwise be delivered to the user.
Sometimes there are cases in which the provided fields and terms just don’t suit the item’s, user’s, or library’s needs. For starters, there is a system already built into MARC records–the local fields (9xx, 090, etc.) and some indicators as well. It seems that for the most part these would suffice for unique needs. But I am sure that there are other ways catalogers make records and fields work for them, though my work has never had the need so I can’t speak from personal examples.
Local fields allow libraries to put in the information they need in a way that suits their collections and users. Since many libraries batch load records, there is also the issue of reviewing and sometimes making corrections accordingly or to fit the library’s needs. If local fields do get loaded into OCLC, for example, a library that brings that record in would need to asses and probably strip those parts out.
On a different yet related note, a couple of weeks ago on the PCC listserv, there was discussion about how to best deal with multiple 856 fields in Provider Neutral records–one library flips all the 856s to 956s, reviews which they want to keep and then turns those back to 856 and nixes the rest. This to me is a hack since fields weren’t intended to be used this way but it is an ingenious workaround!
What is your cataloging hack, or hacks?
*About the title: Did you know that in the original Grimm fairy tale, Aschenputtel (a.k.a. Cinderella), the step sisters cut off parts of their foot to make the shoe fit? The original tales were not meant for kids, nor the faint of heart!
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Posted by on January 23, 2012 in Uncategorized


There’s a Subject Heading for That!?: Random walks

Okay, the whole subject heading is: random walks (mathematics).

That doesn’t sound quite as, well random, as with it unqualified. Still, when I first set eyes on this one, curiosity drove me to figure out the meaning–that and the item in hand.

Turns out that Wikipedia has a great article explaining the term, even if you are a librarian with no math capabilities nor inclinations; yeah right, who would that be? The term refers to data sets that have no defined path–such as, says Wikipedia, the drunkard’s walk. See we can learn math still and it can be interesting!

The fun part is the LC authority file:

LC Authority File for random walks (mathematics)

Not only are we blessed with random walks but we also get self-avoiding walks (mathematics). Yes! These occur when the data set prefers not to return to a point that it’s already been. Simple enough, huh? I’m sure if a mathematician were to read this, there would be comments left complaining about my oversimplification. But it makes sense to me and now I can, and have, used this subject heading!

Lately, word has consisted of difficult math texts that also happen to be thought-provoking. Another one was on the math of card tricks. However, both that work and the one on random walks were stuffed full of complex equations and dense technical explanations. As cool as they are, for me I can merely just catalog them rather than sit down to read and, gasp, enjoy them. But they are ready and waiting for those who can! And, they have my sweet cataloging to help those smart users find them.

Cavet: I’ve been doing a lot of this odd subject headings recently mainly because they relate directly to my work and what I’ve been up to and thinking about. Next week, I’ll post about a theoretical cataloging idea to spice things up again.

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Posted by on January 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

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