Cataloging still must change, but not like that

Another followup post to RDA-L. I think there’s been a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding in what (insufficient) dialog we’re having on the future of cataloging, at least on those lists. I think we’re all really after the same thing, although people have different visions of how to accomplish it. Interestingly, both Roy Tennant and Hal Cain emailed me off list saying that the idea in this post was a welcome one that needed to be said. Maybe it’s possible to begin speaking the same language on cataloging after all.


One sentence in Hal Cain’s post jumps out at me, I think it’s important to make clear that the issue (from my point of view anyway) is NOT about “inhibit[ing our practices] by constraints asserted to be demanded in the interests of efficient machine processing.”

I believe this is neither desirable NOR necessary–I don’t think the necessities of machine processing should require us to give up any bibliographic control. (Whether there are _other_ reasons to desire or require us to give up certain bibliographic control is another debate, but I don’t believe ‘constraints in the interests of efficient machine processing’ are or should be _or need to be_ valid reasons—the machines exist to serve our needs not vice versa).

Rather, the issue is instead that our data as currently formatted is _not taking maximum advantage of what is possible in the digital world_. It is not about constraints of machine processing, quite the opposite, it is about new opportunities and possibilities of machine processing, that ought to be able to make our systems of bibliographic control so much more powerful and flexible than they once were. [Which is good, because they NEED to do so much more than they used to, to keep up with the ever expanding universe of recorded knowledge and information]. But our current systems put barriers in the way. As other non-library metadata systems (more nimble, without the baggage of 100 years of metadata, and able to start controlling only a portion of what constitutes our present ‘bibliographic universe’) take advantage of these new possibilities, our systems of control, once truly state of the art and ahead of their time, seem increasingly archaic, have increasing difficulty interoperating with these other (ever multiplying) new systems, and have increasing difficulty doing what users are coming to expect from their experience with other systems. (The statements at the first LC session on users and uses of the catalog do a good job of explaining some of this context).

But if it instead appears we’re being _constrained_ by the machine world (compared to our pre-machine world)– that would instead indicate a case of not using the machines properly (as indeed we all know that we are NOT currently, indeed). This is not a point of view I subscribe to, and I say with some confidence that it’s not what other (for lack of a better term, and at the risk of suggesting there factions when really I think we are all after the same goals) advocates of ‘cataloging modernisation’ such as Hillman, Coyle, etc., advocate either. The idea that machine processing demands constraints on control. (As opposed to being constrained by other factors of our current environment, such as economics–those constraints can be all too real).


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