Thursday, July 10, 2008

Catalogers are not the enemy

One of my colleagues was at ALA, and sat in on a session sponsored by LITA called "There's no catalog like no catalog," or something like that. She said that she was in a minority by being a cataloger at this session, but that it was the attitude of the presenters that made her the most uncomfortable. She said that catalogers were portrayed as being inflexible, reactionary, and backward-thinking. She also said that she wanted to stand up and say "the real problem is that the library systems we use have never caught up to what catalogers actually need to do their jobs." That made me laugh. True.

But here's the thing: my colleague wasn't witnessing some small, misguided group of people who think of catalogers as Luddites and reactionaries. She was witnessing a microcosm of the thought of most of the information technology people out there today. I feel bad for all the catalogers when I hear talk like this (so I guess, really, I just feel bad for myself). Catalogers aren't backwards, they just want to create metadata for their objects, like anyone who has an object that they want other people to see. We use MARC for that. And let's face it, there isn't another metadata format out there that can rival the completeness of MARC. Most of the new metadata standards are still working out problems that this standard figured out 20 years ago.

I don't like the idea that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. MARC is not the greatest, I realize that. Neither is AACRII, or LCSH. But they're not terrible, either. Speaking strictly from metadata schemas, MARC is still pretty awesome. It still does things that DC has never even dreamed of (and which we've been trying to squeeze into qualified DC with mixed results).

The need to create metadata is not going to go away just because someone decides that catalogers are obsolete. I don't know how some people think that we will get our information about information in the future, but one great example of the need for metadata comes from images. An image doesn't actually tell you anything about itself without you looking at it. So how do you search a database of images? You search the metadata that was created by someone who cared about creating metadata--ie, someone from the family of catalogers. You can call them something else if you want; data analysts or metadata-creation experts or whatever, but it's the same thing.

Anyway. This is my soapbox. I sigh a lot when I think about how abused catalogers have become at the hands of the techies. It's not like catalogers have created the downfall of civilization or the corruption of technology. In fact, we often wish that the search-mechanism creators would find a way to use the information we give them more profitably. Does that make us reactionary?

1 comment:

Jennie said...

Well said.

"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.