Jack Of All Trades, Master of None

Our cataloguing department had a chance to sit down this past Friday and listen to ALA’s super debate “There’s no catalog like no catalog”.

1.   How does a library catalogue get better every time it is used?
2.   What do we “cost” in relation to our benefit?
3.   Where do our services fit in to a user’s goals?
4.   Is our “virtual” library just as well staffed (with its own librarian too) as our physical branches?
5.   Why aren’t we collecting data from our patrons to enhance the catalogue and share community interests?

Some other interesting points:
1.   We need to be more evidence and cost driven.
2.   It’s important that we place more emphasis on statistics to justify what we are today and where we want to go.
3.   Our largest enemy is indifference – indifference from the profession, management and from the public.

And finally, my one concern:
It seems as if many professionals want us to become a “jack of all trades but master of none”.   A catalogue can’t be all things to all people.  Rather than try to be a Google and an Amazon, what do we do well?  What can we grow and enhance?  We are, after all, a database, not a search engine.  Perhaps I’m taking a narrower view than some.  Yes, the sky is the limit, but where do we start?  In the end, people use the catalogue because they are looking for information that is free and local.  They use the library website to find programs, links to additional reading resources and links.  I see, in the near future, a melding of these two ideas.

I found the debate useful in that it has started a dialogue in our own cataloguing department about the future of cataloguing.  I’m hesitant to adopt an “all things to all people” mentality, but I do believe we can be doing much more than we are.  I’m certainly looking forward to change, but not at the expense of a catalogue’s integrity or the detriment of the communities we serve.  First and foremost, we provide local service to the taxpayers who support us.  What do they want and need from our catalogue?


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Filed under future of cataloguing, Our Profession, The Library Catalogue

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