Who is responsible for the quality of the information we catalogue?

If you’ve been following the RadCat listserv recently, you’ve been reading a lot about 9/11, conspiracy theories and whether or not we should be questioning the legitimacy of the material we catalogue.

Some cataloguers, simply put, say no. The quality of information and the items themselves that we catalogue are provided to us through collection development (aka. Acquisitions). It is their job to decide what the library will or will not collect. It is up to the cataloguer to provide access to it.

Other cataloguers believe we should question what we catalogue to a certain degree. To what degree should that be? Should we bring the item to the attention of our collection development department? Should we add a note in the record? What type of subject headings are we going to assign to it?

This idea of how far we should go in mindlessly cataloguing items without regard to quality sits on the edge, I believe, of information ethics. As professionals, how far does our professional obligation extend beyond just providing access? Should we be providing false material to the public while representing it as legitimate? What if we notice one collection or point of view becoming a bit too heavy or one-sided?

While we must catalogue objectively, I believe it is part of our professional responsibility to question what we catalogue. Of course we shouldn’t make a nuisance of ourselves and question every religious book that opposes our personal view or book about sex that we don’t agree with. We can, however, question the balance of our collection and speak with our colleagues about that balance.We want a diverse and varied collection that represents all points of views and opinions. In many libraries, the selectors of materials in the library system are not centralized. Meaning, although the purchasing of the materials goes through a central location, the choosing of those materials don’t. As a result, we are the only department that sees the collection as a whole because it must pass our way before making it out to the public.

Cataloguers are the last “check-stop” before an item reaches the public. Rather than working in our individual silos, we need to start collaborating between departments. Our colleagues question our cataloguing decisions daily. And, many times, their questions lead to better access or a clearer definition of why we do what we do. Do we not have a right to question their decisions as well? Will our questioning the collection not enhance what we collect and provide access to?

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4 Comments

Filed under Access Issues, The Cataloguer

4 responses to “Who is responsible for the quality of the information we catalogue?

  1. Melanie

    Well, here’s another area where size matters. At a big library, like mine, I think questioning would be a good thing, if only because so much of what we buy is done based upon an approval plan, and that kind of thing is based upon the vendor’s judgment of our needs, not necessarily upon our own. Quality checks are done, but things definitely slip through that really don’t match our collection development plan, so as the last stop before the shelves, we should be keeping an eye on these things. But we should definitely be doing it with the library’s plan and policy in mind, not just based on our personal likes and dislikes. (I’ve definitely catalogued things with which I do not agree.)

  2. Laurel Tarulli

    Hi Melanie,
    I definitely agree with what you’re saying.

    Large libraries do pose a problem, especially if you are receiving materials based on vendor profiles/decisions of what your library receives. I would imagine very small libraries face this same challenge, as I’ve heard many are outsourcing collection development. Do you have the opportunity to question materials that you catalogue? Is your input welcome? I’m asking because in your comments you use the words ” we should” rather than “we do”.

  3. Melanie

    Well, mostly it’s been we should, because the physical and mental distance between the catalogers and the acquisitions/collection development people has been big, and communication non-existent. There might be occasional comments going back, but we never even SAW each other, much less know who those people were down in the basement. With the reorg happening here, this is one of the benefits I have hopes of, because if the Acquisitions person is sitting right next to me, maybe I can more easily question some of the books that strike me as peculiar choices to buy.
    (Personally, I think some of the Acq people are most interested in the fact that this move will put many of them on an upper floor with access to windows instead of down in the basement.)

  4. Pingback: Qualité de l’information: bonnes questions… « pintiniblog

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