I had an appointment with my doctor the other day. When I arrived several minutes before my scheduled appointment, I checked in and was told to take a seat. I ended up waiting about a half an hour before the doctor was able to see me.
She was running late, but I didn’t mind. I usually expect to wait at any doctor’s office. However, the doctor seemed to be very aware of the time. In addition to apologizing for the delay, she rushed through our appointment. I attempted to explain some symptoms I was having, at which point she began examining me, cutting me off and asking additional questions.
At the end of the visit, the doctor indicated that she would be referring me to several specialists. Not indicating when or how these appointments were to be made, or if I could take the time off to attend them, she again apologized for running behind and began calling out the next patient’s name.
I felt rushed, unsatisfied and brushed off. I did not feel that the visit that I had just experienced was professional or patient focussed. Instead, I felt that the amount of patients that revolved through the doors and at the scheduled time was more important the the individual patients’ needs and at the expense of proper medical care.
In reality, my doctor did nothing wrong. When complaining of certain symptoms, she performed a brief exam and, not noticing anything immediate, decided to send me to a specialist. That is the way to avoid litigation and medical negligence. However, I don’t believe this visit was up to the standard that I expect of a professional. When I visit a professional, any professional, I don’t want to feel like a number. I want to feel as if the service I am being provided is of the highest quality.
Having had this experience, I began thinking about our own profession and the services we are providing our patrons.
Crunching the numbers
We hear statements like “It takes too long”, “What’s the delay, the book has been ‘in cataloguing’ for a week”, and so on, all the time. There are articles, presentations and professionals who are always expressing concern over the turnaround time for getting the items out and on the library shelves. Many times, the solutions for increasing turnaround time involve harvesting other libraries’ records, or cutting corners and creating smaller records while ignoring cataloguing rules.
Stats are important, I will never argue that point. Stats keep us employed and give us factual information to point to when budget time rolls around (in addition to many other things). However, as cataloguing stats are climbing, are we sacrificing quality? As professionals, our obligation is to our patrons and the service we provide them. We have a professional responsibility to provide accurate records with proper punctuation and spelling. If the name of a book is spelled wrong and we just “trust” the copy, how will that item ever be found? What if it is a downloadable book and there is no physical item?
In my library, while we try to copy catalogue whenever possible, it is essential that we review the records when cataloguing the item. I have never found a record that is perfect when imported. There are misspellings, punctuation errors and, at times, terms or phrases that we either don’t use in our library or do not apply in Canada. An example of this goes back to my Indigenous Peoples v. Indians subject headings posting.
In the end, even if the book is on the shelf, are we doing any favours to patrons who exclusively use the catalogue? Aren’t we setting an example that we are not capable of handling the digitalization of information but can only provide proper service through a physical visit to the library? Statistics show that visits to the catalogue are continuously increasing, while physical visits are down. Isn’t that a good argument as to why we should be maintaining our professional standards?
While numbers become increasingly more important to justify our existance, we continue to have a responsibility to our patrons. That responsibility includes providing an exceptional service. This exceptional service is reflected in the accuracy of our catalogue, the ability to properly find information in our catalogue and the continuous updating of reading lists and new items.
I don’t believe in the saying “good enough”. If you are aware that your standards are dropping to increase productivity, a review of procedures must take place. We are professionals, we do not work on an assembly line where the only thing that matters is how much we produced that day.
While stats are good and helpful, I worry that the same squeeky wheels who complain the loudest about our turnaround will soon begin to complain about our poor, inaccurate records. These records, created at their request, will further add fuel to the fire when questioning the role of the cataloguer. If the turnaround is too long, sacrifice quality. If the quality is poor and no longer adheres to any standard practice, what do we need cataloguers for? It is a never-ending cycle.
What do we do?
Market, market, market. It’s not easy, but it can be done. Besides cataloguers, who knows what we do all day? Do they understand that we create electronic reading lists? Make decisions regarding terminology? Develop search tutorials? Create new restrictions and settings to make searching the catalogue easier (for both staff and patrons)? Catalogue DVDs, CDs, Books on tape, Electronic documents, Reference materials, Books and Magazines? And, by the way, where do you find copy for local publications?
In the end, we cannot compromise our professional responsibility to suit the needs of front-line staff or whomever our critics are. Justify the time it takes to catalogue to management and make them aware of all of the factors that are involved in cataloguing an item so that it can be found. Electronically.