Castle Librarian

Faulty Library Foundations

In Librarianship, Musing on October 15, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Most libraries are teetering on faulty foundations and librarians have only themselves to blame. Decades of budget cutting have led to repeated reduction in the quality of technical services, i.e. cataloging. Few libraries have catalogers who are producing complete catalog records that accurately reflect the description of the book, accurate classification, thorough subject headings, and authorized names/series titles. Catalog records are copied from other libraries without checking more than the ISBN or title to make a match. Classification is assumed to be correct. Cutter numbers are not checked against the existing collection to make sure the book is placed where it should be.

In fact, most librarians couldn’t even identify what is wrong with the existing, low quality catalog records. Reference librarians seem to be surprised when they do a catalog search, but do not get the results they expect. Why don’t the right books appear in the results? Because when you put garbage in, you get garbage out.

Non-cataloging librarians view cataloging as a boring occupation for anal-retentive introverts who love rules for the sake of rules, completely missing how foundational and vital it is. Librarianship is about gathering, organizing, and disseminating information. When I catalog, I am not just thinking about the rules, but I am thinking about how a reader will be able to find this book. The sole purpose of the rules is consistency and accuracy in order to provide access. I have trouble understanding why this should not be understood and valued by all librarians, but it is not. The advent of keyword searching led people to think that the cataloging rules are no longer important, but if the keywords are not in the record, what use is a keyword search?

What gets attention and is valued is flash and glitter. An image of the book cover in the catalog display is more important than the inclusion of a contents note or plot summary. Apparently, people are to choose a book by its cover. More importance is placed on consumer ratings and reviews than on professional evaluation.

Unfortunately, administrators who hold the purse strings when faced with budget cutting decisions decided, all too often, that public services could not be cut, but technical services, out of sight in the back room, could be cut without damaging repercussions. They were wrong.

Technical services has been reduced to slapping labels on a book as fast as possible and getting it onto the shelf, any shelf. (I even worked at a library where the director stubbornly insisted that books hit the shelves within 24 hours of receipt. Yet, she wanted high quality catalog records. Let’s just say I left that job.) Time is not spent considering the accuracy of the classification, headings, or subjects. Don’t even get me started on inputting the table of contents in a note field for keyword searching purposes. The catalog is the central finding tool and it is a mess. The status is not quo and we just need to catalog better.

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