In preparing for class this week, I’m brushing up on some readings on the topic of authority control, controlled vocabulary and AACR2. While reading Michael Gorman’s article Authority Control in the Context of Bibliographic Control in the Electronic Environment (2009), I stumbled upon these wise words:
People who talk of “MARC cataloguing” clearly think of cataloguing as being a matter of identifying the elements of a bibliographic record without specifying the content of those elements. It is, therefore, clear that those people do not understand what cataloguing is all about. (p. 16)
While there are many of you who may not always agree with Gorman, you must acknowledge that this statement is spot on in its observation. How many of us, in the practicing profession, have seen the devaluation of cataloguers from a position that requires training in cataloguing to a position that requires no more than a high school diploma? Cataloguing is not simple data entry, and understanding how to catalogue within a MARC record is not as simple identifying the field and inputting straightforward data and punctuation. However, in many public libraries with tight budgets, we often turn to library assistants for help in editing our MARC records. Does this activity make them a cataloguer? While using staff as a valuable resource, is this also confusing (sending mixed signals) management and other professionals about the knowledge, skills and judgement (Gorman) necessary to be a cataloguer?
Gorman goes on to state “[T]he most important thing about bibliographic control is the content and the controlled nature of that content, not the denotations of that content.” (p. 16)
While Gorman is discussing all of this in the context of his dislike of Dublin Core, his comments should have us all rethinking how we hire, train and educate our future cataloguers and librarians. It should also have us questioning why such a vital service – the access to information and retrieval of information – is so misunderstood.
A great discussion can certainly develop from the brief comments I have made, starting with the complexity of MARC and our descriptive standards, however, if our professional can’t clearly communicate the overarching goals and practices of cataloguing, the details about how we set out to achieve these goals will not matter in the long run.