Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Changing Role of Cataloging?

I had several interesting conversations on a variety of library topics while visiting librarian friends this past weekend. One of the topics we covered focused on the future role of technical services and specifically, cataloging.

The one question we were exploring is if extensive bibliographic records, where the data may only be rarely used, are still needed? What are the opportunity costs of managing cataloging staff to create such records when bibliographic detail is available elsewhere?

As I began writing a blog stub on this discussion I came across Lloyd Sokvitne's paper Redesigning the OPAC: moving outside of the ILMS, presented at the Beyond the OPAC : future directions for Web-based catalogues seminar.

Sokvitne's discussion of The State Library of Tasmania's process of changing their OPAC design and functionality brought into sharp contrast the tension between the bibliographic data created to manage physical collections and the data actually needed to enable simple user-orientated discovery. The State Library's findings raise the question as to whether it makes sense to alter the nature of cataloging activity to focus on discovery needs rather than bibliographic detail.

Much of the traditional MARC record and bibliographic system is geared to meeting the needs of acquisitions, unique title/edition identification, and internal collection management and use, not discovery using current search tools. Bibliographic records provide very little assistance in providing supplementary information such as a book synopsis, reviews, recommendations, ratings, and popularity which can help a patron select an item.

Sokvitne points out:

"Ultimately it would be better if libraries could create and share this type of data amongst themselves, and thereby provide a commercial-free source of evaluative data and information. It would be easy to argue that this type of data sharing and reuse among libraries would be more valuable in the web world that (sic) the recurrent sharing of unnecessary bibliographic data."

"If only we could share and access that data so as to deliver the type of advisory, recommendation, and supplemental information that is now expected by our users to augment bibliographic data. This type of data sharing may be more important in the long run in terms of keeping our services relevant than any amount of sharing of bibliographic data."

Libraries could be better served using bibliographic data from WorldCat with links to local acquisitions and circulation systems. Libraries need to look hard and moving common resources, such as bibliographic data, to a network-based resources sharing level. We then need to look hard at reallocating technical services staff, specifically cataloging staff, to focus on creating discovery tools rather than bibliographic detail.

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