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Cataloging is like a car: how to explain cataloging to non-catalogers

Nothing too exciting has crossed my virtual desk lately. Pretty standard stuff with subject headings that I’ve seen before, or just don’t call for any extended pause. One interesting item was title 50 jobs in 50 states in which the author traveled around the country in 50 weeks to work in every state, as a way of doing something productive with his life after not being able to land a full-time job after college. But the sub. heads weren’t earth-shattering.

I did notice an oddity with sub. heads–everything is plural. Delimiter x examinations. Delimiter v study guides, etc. Though there are exceptions such as web site development, yet it cousin is web sites. But that’s not nearly enough to write a whole post on!

How does one explain cataloging to a non-cataloger?

When I introduce myself to non-libraians, I say that I am a catalog librarian but continue on to explain that what I create is the information you see when you search a library catalog, the record with the title and author and description of the item. Sure, this is pretty basic and perhaps still not helpful enough for some people. Maybe after hearing “librarian”, they have already tuned out anyway, or just think of people checking books out and sitting at a reference desk staring at a computer screen.

But that doesn’t get at my question still about what is cataloging.

This weekend my reference librarian husband asked me what AACR2, MARC21, and subject headings were and how they work together. Being the Emerging Technologies Librarian, he’s tech-savvy and has looked at many catalog records while helping students and faculty but he didn’t take a cataloging course nor has worked with MARC records himself. Really, he was asking about their purpose. My first instinct, for some reason, was to compare them to cars.

Cataloging is like a car. AACR2 is the idea, the concept, the form (thanks, Plato!); a car has wheels, doors, a body, a steering wheel, and so on. In general, most cars look similar because the hood goes in front, the trunk in back, wheels on the sides, a roof on top. There are choices: engines can go in front or in back, doors can be two or four or lift vertically, side airbags are optional but becoming more prevalent. AACR2 assumes certain things in a record such as main entry, statement of responsibility, and publication information. Main entry varies depending on the item, as title or author. Authors can also be added entries instead of main. But all in all, the content that goes into a record is similar to parts that make up a car.

Next, MARC21 is the details, the execution, the item itself. Car types vary but each make and model is arranged a particular way. The exterior color, the interior material, the dashboard knobs and buttons, the hub caps all form an individual item. A car can be embellished with dealer extras and upgrades, or bumper sticker, a new paint job, or even damage from an accident that make the car more unique and distinctive. Though it has a multitude of details, each person sees different aspects of that particular car; someone might notice the scratch on the door, the customized flames on the hood, or size and shape of the headlights. MARC21 holds the details of an item, whether there is a cover title that differs from the title page, a series title, or if a disc is missing. These basic and distinctive aspects of an item truly describe it and its nature. However, I might catalog it differently from someone else, which is where variation arises; someone may add a 500 note to include added information, others might decide that the classification should be different for their collection and library. Though MARC21 contains the item’s description and details, each cataloger chooses what to represent and how.

Subject headings group related items through the ideas, concepts, people, and places they represent. Cars are described in many ways: by color, size, type, purpose, shape, brand, and on. Each description can change just what is being talked about: blue cars, SUVs, supercars, cars that look like cubes, Fords. A car will have numerous descriptors, some that are more distinctive that others. Subject headings are the same. I catalog a book about how to use the iPhone and choose to use a sub. head for iPhone and smartphones and mobile computing. But another book about iPhone app development requires tweaking those sub. heads and adding more such as application software delimiter x development, and bringing out the programming aspects of the other sub. heads with a delimiter x. Though they are related items, they get different terms, some similar and some not.

This version is extended from the version I gave Steve but the gist is the same. When I asked him if it helped, he said no.  :/  Maybe the life of a cataloger is only understood by other catalogers. What do you think? Does this example work? Is there a better one?

Addition (July 11, 2012): RDA will replace AACR2, though for not it will live along side. RDA is a different set of rules and guidelines for building the same general thing: a record for an item. From my understanding, FRBR could also fit under what AACR2 currently covers as well; it works in tandem with RDA to help shape a record for an item and the relations of information within it. Yet FRBR doesn’t provide much in the way of strict rules and decisions–it’s the big picture whereas RDA digs down a bit deeper. FRBR could be the car brochure while RDA is the car manual. And now with linked data in the picture as well, MARC records may be more versatile than ever, able to switch and swap out information as need for the users, and truly trick out records to become resources. See my ALA Annual post on the all-day workshop or the general overview session for more about linked data and cataloging.

P.S. We love Top Gear, hope you enjoy the clip! I’ll have to be more than a cataloger if I every really want to own a Zonda.

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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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?

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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