Friday, 29 March 2013

Little Essays on the Rules (4) Cataloguing and Cataloguers

Philip Harvey

The fortunes of Cataloguing in Librarianship in the past twenty years have been mixed.  Certainly in Australia we have watched our library schools downplay Cataloguing, to the extent that there have been years when the subject seemed to have no independent existence as a dedicated object of study. Some of this now seems to be related to technological change and the corresponding assumption then by many in library schools and elsewhere that Cataloguing was an increasingly specialist area conducted by a few experts. Access to online records, the thinking seemed to be, meant that a lot of the hard yards of Cataloguing in our own libraries could now be spent on other activities, because all the real work had already been completed by someone in a citadel of Cataloguing excellence like the Library of Congress.

Unfortunately, the results of these assumptions have been a paucity of quality cataloguers, a lack of adequate knowledge and experience amongst young librarians in Cataloguing, and a loss of awareness about the basic expectations of the rules and how to apply them. This is especially unfortunate when we know that cataloguing doesn’t change or become any easier just because of technology. The work remains to be done. Downloading readymade records has speeded delivery and expanded the capacity of our databases, but the actual editing and upgrading of each record still has to be done by someone who knows what they are doing. In the Carmelite Library there are dozens of titles, new and old, for which there is no online record: the work has to be described from the ground up in the same old fashion. Who is going to do that other than a trained cataloguer?  

There are signs though of hope, with some Australian library schools finding in recent years that offering Cataloguing as a main subject is an act of necessity. The implementation of Resource Description and Access (RDA) only accentuates the need for knowledgeable and intelligent people with the requisite skills. On Tuesday the 26th of March, Jim Pakala (Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri) listed on Atlantis some useful points for consciousness-raising in RDA. These points have implications for what I am talking about. Cataloguers older and younger are required in larger numbers to deal with the changes being wrought by the new Rules.

For example, Jim Pakala asks “When do you have to begin cataloging in RDA?” and then replies, “The answer is no time soon. There is no end date for AACR2. That said, OCLC’s policy is that if a record is entered using AACR2 rules, it can be upgraded to RDA rules. However, an RDA record cannot be changed to AACR2. Also, you cannot create a duplicate AACR2 record if you find one catalogued using RDA.” From a cataloguer’s point of view, this means we now have to be au fait with two sets of rules, not just one. And he continues, “So, your cataloguers, reference librarians, etc., still need to learn to recognize and use RDA records, even if they do not create original records using RDA.” The ‘etc.’ in that sentence I take to include everyone in the profession, all librarians need to be making the time to have at least a working knowledge of RDA changes and their implications.

So, even though we continue to follow the AACR2 descriptive rules, there is after the end of March only one authority file. This means that “the RDA changes to the authority records affect us all right now, whether or not we are using RDA for descriptive cataloguing.” The rate of global changes and individual correction of individual records to reflect accurate RDA usage is going to vary from library to library. This means having trained cataloguers. It means having trained cataloguers who are adept at interpreting and applying a range of detailed information, who can correct where correction is called for, who are across the style changes that have fallen to us, thanks indirectly quite often to the technology. As Pakala puts it, with a touch of good-natured humour, “The changes in the authority file are pretty extensive, so give your cataloguers some extra TLC. They will be very, very busy.”

All of this means sending your cataloguers for training, or to special courses. It means staging training at library conferences. It means looking out for webinars, online training sites, and the essential online documents. It means increased training of new cataloguers in our library schools. As Jim Pakala puts it, “RDA will affect everyone, including those who (like my institution) are not planning on switching to cataloguing using RDA rules any time soon.” It means making sure your system is configured to handle the RDA records, that it can read the new fields and display them.

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