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From: Discussion List for issues related to cataloging & metadata education
& training [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Hope A. Olson

I find this discussion quite interesting because of what seem like different
underlying assumptions about what should be in the graduate curriculum (and,
of course, all of us putting in two cents on behalf of our schools). Are we
assuming that the actual skills of hands-on cataloging should be central or
the conceptual foundations of organizing information or both?

JSH:  I'm speaking from the perspective of an employer, and a long-time
observer.   I truly believe that EVERY individual who receives a masters
degree from an accredited program should have at least some
introduction/exposure to hands on cataloging.

1)  Just as one never really learns how a piece of software works until one
uses it, one never really understands how it is that the mechanisms of
cataloging work to create bibliographic control until one has "used" them by
creating a record or two, and seeing how the product would "play out" in a
catalog.   And even people who will never catalog need to know "how it

2)  It is very easy for someone who has never had to try to translate the
reality of a book/map/video/website into a cataloging record that fits into
a catalog to assume that the work is simple-minded, simple, rote,
not-worthy-of professionals.   Such a mistaken view of the work can lead
those in other departments, and management to make disastrous decisions
regarding personnel allocation and prioritization.   (I once offered to
contribute some of my cataloging staff to Special Collections, if they would
also contribute some of their staff time to begin cataloging the vast
majority of their collection what was completely inaccessible through the
catalog.  (my department was not responsible for their cataloging, theirs
was, but over time they removed their cataloger from cataloging and put her
on the desk).   The answer was .... No, that would be hard.  We can do
without cataloging.  Talk about a shortsighted decision!  It sprang from a
lack of respect and understanding for what cataloging can accomplish)

3)  It is very difficult for someone who has had no exposure to cataloging
prior to coming into an MLIS program to have any sense at all of what the
work is like, whereas it is very easy for them to envision what reference
work might be like.   And so, it is easy for them to reject cataloging
(after all, there are many around them who are willing to tell them how dull
it is) without trying it.  If they just got a little taste of it, they might
be drawn to it by the satisfaction of bringing (partial) order to chaos, of
solving puzzles and getting paid for it, of dealing with BOTH the forest and
the trees.

4) Libraries only succeed through cooperation/collaboration within them, and
cooperation/collaboration among them.  The more we can all understand about
the work of each other, the more effective our collaborations will be.

I appreciate the fact that cataloging/bibliographic control has gotten more
complicated over time, and that it is crucial to convey principles and
establish context, and that doing so takes more time than it used to.   So
it's easy for me to see how the old "Introduction to Cataloging" courses
have transmogrified into "Introduction to the Organization of Information".
But because it HAS gotten more complicated, it seems to me that it is at
least as critical as it ever has been to make sure that EVERY prospective
librarian has to contemplate the principles, and ALSO has to see, through at
least a little practice, how those principles translate into action and

Bibliographic control/organization of information is the gift that
librarianship brings to the world of knowledge.   It is the sine qua non of
our profession.  How can we send new professionals out into the world
without making sure that they have more a solid foundation in it that
includes both principles and basic application?

Stepping off my soapbox now ....


Janet Swan Hill
Associate Director for Technical Services
University of Colorado Libraries
Boulder, CO 80309
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