This is, of course, the tension we feel and the balance we try to maintain -- and no, we have no theory. I also smile to myself when students complain about any of our courses being "too theoretical." I do try to bring some theory in, primarily from cognitive psychology, but no, we have no theory. Just descriptions.
As I said before, we must first understand who our students are in our schools and our programs. We have to take into account both their backgrounds and their career aspirations. A school such as ours, with a high percentage of students with degrees in Education, English and Psychology who are planning on careers as school librarians and public service librarians in a public library, is going to offer a very different type of information organization than a school with a high percentage of students interested in information and knowledge management and whose backgrounds are in STEM.
Our students, by and large, will be users of cataloging, not producers. They need to understand the structure of the record and of the classification systems, to understand why we organize information the way that we do and how that enhances access. They need to be able to make intelligent decisions about how to organize the information in their libraries -- they have to be able to decide which boxes to tick on that Follett profile and to know when to send something back for re-classification.
I figure I'm doing something right when the students who took the undergraduate cataloging course offered at another school, in order to earn school library certification, tell me that "This course is nothing like that one! It's much more theoretical!"
Throughout the course, I am consistently asking them, "Why do we do it this way?" I try to present them with examples that illustrate the principles and concepts -- "Special Topics in Calamity Physics" is my favorite for demonstrating that keyword just won't cut it for subject access. I require them to write a paper that looks at the intersection among user, material and subject/classification schema. They only scratch the surface, but they are now aware of that surface and have at least scratched it.
We talk about prototypes and stereotypes; the Western structure of knowledge and how that underlies both DDC and LCC; C.P. Snows' two colleges; issues in providing subject access to non-literal materials (fiction, poetry, the arts); how society and culture, as well as individual differences, affect interpretation and thus subject access; we look at faceted classification.
Suzanne M. Stauffer, Ph.D.
School of Library and Information Science
Louisiana State University
277 Coates Hall
Baton Rouge, LA 70803
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Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
--T.S. Eliot, "Choruses from The Rock"
From: Discussion List for issues related to cataloging & metadata education & training [[log in to unmask]] on behalf of Shawne Miksa [[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Monday, January 07, 2013 6:40 PM
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Subject: Re: [eduCAT] Seeking input for upcoming ALCTS CAMMS talk
I would not feel comfortable sending out a student who did not know the
basics of creating a simple record, but I can also see Diane’s point about
the age-old conundrum of practical versus theoretical. Ideally, they must
know both. They must know both the nitty-gritty and also how to change
and/or move away from that nitty-gritty through an understanding of the
underlying fundamentals of organizing information. By this I mean seeing
past MARC, or any encoding schema, to the purpose of doing it in the first
place and what products are created with it (i.e., a record, or some else
altogether). In my cataloging courses I teach them MARC, yes, but at the
same time I emphasize that it is one of many metadata encoding schemas and
that the true goal is to understand how to learn and use any type of
encoding scheme and its use in whatever system it is employed. In other
words, they must be adaptable to whatever information organization
environment is there. Mastering any encoding schema will take time and
practice--we need to give them the tools for how to take on the task of
mastering it. Same goes for learning any type of cataloging rules or
guidelines, or any type of classification system. People learn to analyze
and to classify…they don’t just learn how to build numbers in DDC or LCC.
We start all of our students with an overarching course in information
organization—introduce them to the fundamental concepts and principles and
at the same time have them create an information organization system from
scratch. This includes their own metadata elements and overall schema,
database fundamentals and technical specifications, input rules,
classification system and guidelines for how to use it, and some very basic
authority control of the data values in their system. Then we can send them
on to library cataloging course, or if they are not interested in that, a
course on metadata overall. Cataloging courses are required, or not,
depending on what course of study they pursue within our two majors (LS and
We do need to train people to manage change—I agree wholeheartedly. I said
this before in a different thread some months ago. We need transitional
people—those who can bridge both the current and new. Call them transitional
catalogers, if needed, but the emphasis is on transition. My opinion on
catalogers not getting enough, or even wanting, continuing education is that
they weren’t taught how to learn the fundamentals, just how to do the
process to produce a product. Plant the seeds for continually learning while
you have them in the classroom.
Diane also talked about ‘theories of information organization’ but I don’t
see that we have any theories. We have some models, principles, objectives,
concepts, some methods and practices, but no true theories. Theories are
still sadly lacking in our field as a whole.
Shawne D. Miksa, Ph.D.