I think our current metadata environment is seriously and fundamentally broken in several ways.
I do NOT think the solution lies in getting rid of everything we’ve got, or in nothing but machine-analysis of full text. I think the solution requires continual engagement by metadata professionals, which will be continually needed. We will always need catalogers—that is, metadata professionals involved in the generation and maintenance of metadata. Because that’s what catalogers are and have always been.
For some reason, in much of the professional discussion of ‘cataloging modernization’ certain ‘traditionalists’ seem unwilling to recognize the possibility of such an honest position. They seem to believe that anyone who thinks things are seriously broken must really be motivated by those who think computers can do everything, those who, in recent words spoken on one listserv, “don’t want to spend money on doing cataloguing properly and neophiliacs obsessed with Google, Amazon, etc. without considering what the implications of abandoning controlled vocabularies, complicated frameworks standards (MARC), and international standards (ISBD, etc.) might be in the real world.”
That group of people may exist. But that’s not me, and that’s not everyone who thinks our current environment is fundamentally broken. I think abandoning control in a mis-guided effort to save money would be disastrous. And I’m not alone, I see many people in many professional forums sharing my perspective. Our current environment is fundamentally broken, and the solution lies only in professional attention to metadata, to apply better, smarter control of metadata. Not to give up controlled metadata.
Now, this defensiveness, this insistence that anyone who thinks things right now are fundamentally broken must not be seriously concered with meeting the needs of users for information access–or must be seriously deluded about how that can be done–is, someone remarked to me, recently, perhaps evidence of a “certain bunker metality due to the serious trend of deprofessionalizing cataloging and reducing cataloging staff.”
This is a good point, and this is a tragedy. The deprofessionalization of cataloging and decimation of cataloging staff is exactly the wrong direction, when we are facing serious problems that can only be solved by a collective effort from a community of metadata professionals. We need to strengthen that community within the library world, not decimate it. This is a tragedy because our current environment is so broken.
But continuing to insist that everything is Just Fine and not really broken (and that anyone who disagrees must be malign, idiotic, or probably both) does not help, I think it’s the surest path to the continued decimation of cataloging. Because if THIS, what we have now, is the best we can do for the money being spent on it–then indeed it is not an efficient use of resources, and may not be justifiable. But it’s not the best we can do. Solutions to the serious problems we are facing will take serious change, which can in fact only come with the strengthening of a professional cataloging and metadata community within libraries.
When people read my comments as exhibiting “little value given to new
entrants [to the field of cataloging] or to cataloging itself”, or “the idea that computers and full texts will solve all the problems” I am saddened, because it couldn’t be further from the truth.