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PCCLIST  April 2006

PCCLIST April 2006

Subject:

Comments for Possible Consideration at OpCo Meeting

From:

"Karen S. Calhoun" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Program for Cooperative Cataloging <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 25 Apr 2006 00:31:45 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (144 lines)

Dear PCC colleagues,

Thanks to Kevin Randall for forwarding Elaine Sanchez’s post to OCLC-CAT
and urging OpCo members to consider the points she makes in preparation
for next week’s meeting in DC.  As a long time PCC activist (including its
predecessor programs, back to 1987 and the Linked Systems Project, which
set the stage for an exponential expansion of the NACO program), I would
like to offer some thoughts of my own, to add to those from Ms. Sanchez.

I spent Monday and Tuesday of last week at the Library of Congress, and I
can affirm that the managers in LC’s Acquisitions and Bibliographic Access
(ABA) group—that is, Beacher’s group—continue to take LC’s role as a
national bibliographic agency very, very  seriously. I predict they will
continue to take this role seriously, but the way they meet their
responsibility will continue to change. The ABA managers, it seems to me,
have recognized that some of their current practices for supplying
cataloging and authority data to the nation’s libraries are unsustainable.
Part of the reason is manpower. A large number of LC staffers recently
took advantage of a buy-out retirement offer, and many of those
individuals were in the ABA group. It is my understanding that ABA will
not be able to replace these lines.  PCC members should not be surprised
by this—why should LC’s experience of the current economic realities
facing libraries be so different than our own?

But LC is changing not just because of a lack of funds.  They are changing
how they do cataloging because it needs to be changed.  The PCC itself
began with the slogan “cataloging must change!” Why did the PCC founders
want cataloging to change?  In preparing this response, I re-read the
seminal article of that name by Dorothy Gregor and Carol Mandel (Library
Journal 4/1/1991. 116 (6): p. 42-47. I found it online in Business Source
Premier).  At the risk of oversimplifying the points they make, Gregor and
Mandel note two main drivers for change: (1) “the job must be done within
current resources—that means doing the job differently”; and (2) a
mismatch between user searching behavior and costly, rules-centered
cataloging practice.  Catalogers assume they are creating a high-quality
tool for scholars but “users’ typically nonmethodical approaches to
searching fly in the face of librarians’ conceptions of the catalog as an
orderly, carefully constructed, and easy-to-use tool.”

It is interesting that Ms. Sanchez cites the LC mission statement and goal
three of the current strategic plan that is accessible on the LC web site.
I was looking at those very documents myself week before last while
preparing to go to LC to discuss the report
(http://www.loc.gov/catdir/calhoun-report-final.pdf) I’d prepared at their
request.  I had learned from email correspondence prior to my visit that
it is an urgent concern and need of the ABA leadership to better
understand the audience for LC's own online catalog, which is heavily
used.  Is the purpose of the LC catalog and its data to serve other
libraries?  Or to serve the Congress and the American people?  One must
conclude it is both, but precisely how to do so, and how to balance these
responsibilities, are unresolved.

While response to the LC report at LC and elsewhere has been largely
positive, some have made the reductionist argument that serving libraries
with the best possible cataloging and authority data, prepared in
accordance with current practices, is an absolute requirement for
supporting the information needs of the American people.  That argument is
a red herring that not only unnecessarily polarizes the cataloging
community but also distracts librarians from the real challenges facing
our libraries.  Worse, it blocks movement toward evidence-based, truly
user-centered designs for library information systems and services.  The
truth is, the way we and LC do cataloging and authority work today is not
the only way to do it and be effective.  There are other, even better
ways, but we must stop clinging to manual, item-by-item approaches that do
not scale and do not maximize benefits to the information seeker.

Some list members seem to be saying that changing series and LCSH practice
would cripple the LC mission of preserving collections and creativity for
future generations. Ms. Sanchez and others refer for example to my
report’s recommendation 4.2.3, which is properly considered in the context
of all of section 4.2, particularly 4.2.1 through 4.2.4, rather than in
isolation.  To clarify what is in the report: my issue is with the current
application of LCSH, which has been under fire for decades. We have failed
to reengineer LCSH to deploy it within sophisticated online search systems
and to match information seekers’ behaviors and preferences.  I am not
calling for the abandonment of controlled vocabularies for subject access
but for deploying these tools in more cost-effective, user-adaptive ways.
In the report, I particularly urge the exploration of ways to use legacy
LCSH and classification data to develop new tools to not only speed
subject analysis but also improve the end-user’s ability to search and
browse.

The central criticism of recommendation 4.2.3 that I have heard is that
implementing it will diminish the quality of the scholar’s information
seeking experience.  This same assumption underlies some of the complaints
I have been reading on the PCCLIST regarding LC’s announcement about
series. So, let us examine that assumption: can a convincing case be made
that series authority control and LCSH, as currently applied, are central
to the quality of the scholarly information seeker’s experience?

Up until about the mid-1980s, the scholar’s information universe included
books, serials, and some audiovisual material, which were described in
catalogs, by catalogers; primary sources, which were described by
archivists;  and journal articles, which were described in A& I services,
by indexers. LCSH and SARs underpinned subject and series analysis and
access points for books (and serials described at the title level).  Some
A&I services applied LCSH to journal articles, while others used
descriptors or other controlled vocabularies for subject access. The vigor
and broad applicability of this service model, centered on and controlled
by libraries and the A&I services, have been gradually eroding.  Now that
the scholar’s information environment is hugely bigger and more
varied—that is, it extends well beyond library collections, library
archives, and the journal literature—an argument about the absolute
centrality of SARs and LCSH to the quality of the scholar’s experience is,
to my mind, less persuasive. Given that libraries must make hard choices,
can we reasonably choose series authority control and the manual
application of the complex rules for constructing LCSH strings as the
highest priorities for libraries?  Is preserving this way of doing thigs
going to make the biggest positive difference to enhancing the quality of
the scholar’s information seeking experience?

I believe that one much more valuable improvement to the scholar’s
experience (than maintaining current practices for series and subject
headings) would come from reducing the fragmentation of scholarly
resources.  On library Web pages, we typically present scholars with
hundreds of databases and thousands of journals; our delivery options are
inconvenient or slow or both; our various information systems give
students and scholars little help in discovering which scholarly resources
are most relevant to their information needs; and our catalogs remain as
hard as ever to use. It is no wonder that many scholars now prefer to
start their searches with tools like Google, sometimes bypassing library
Web pages and search systems altogether.

What I am trying to say is, libraries need help with big problems related
to information discovery and delivery, and PCC catalogers could use their
program, their expertise, and their influence to seize or create
opportunities to contribute to solutions.  Alternatively, PCC catalogers
can expend enormous energy to maintain the status quo.  At the PCC
discussion session in San Antonio, I suggested some future directions that
catalogers might explore (for details see the PPT file available from
http://www.loc.gov/catdir/pcc/archive/pccpart06m.html).  The documents
related to the new PCC strategic plan, for example,
http://www.loc.gov/catdir/pcc/poco/VisionStatement-sellberg.pdf, are an
even richer source of ideas for discussion at the OpCo meeting.  As stated
in the vision statement, "[the future PCC program] will brand individual
people, as opposed to individual records, as PCC resources.”

--Karen


Karen Calhoun
Cornell University Library
[log in to unmask]

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