Just a few comments on Joe Kiegel's response to my posting yesterday:

I am sorry that Joe feels I polarized the debate.  I think it's quite clear that the polarization was in place long before I stepped into the fray.  I did not create the "culture war."  I only described it. 

Joe is indeed correct that my message was not neutral.  The posting expressed my opinion, and opinions are by definition not neutral.  He's not entirely correct in a few other areas.  I did not specifically label those opposed to LC's series decision "conservative".  I did use the term to describe those who, on the whole, seem to prefer the status quo and oppose significant change, which seems to square with the definition of conservative.  As for being "downright insulting" to catalogers by saying that an apparent majority resists change: I refer the reader to the 3500 (as of this morning) signatories to the online petition demanding LC reverse its series decision, not to mention the countless others who've posted to this and other lists expressing their outrage or sense of betrayal.  I leave it to the reader to draw her or his own conclusions about the motives of those who engaged themselves in those activities.  My view is that these folks did not seek to engage in discussion.  They sought to reverse change, period.  They are of course entitled to their opinions and are perfectly free to advocate for their positions as actively as they see fit.  But that's not the same thing as looking for dialogue.  In any event, I never said that all catalogers resist change while all managers support it.  I do believe that the sides fall roughly along those lines.  But of course there are catalogers who strongly support major changes and mangers who resist them.  To say that I wrote otherwise is, to borrow Joe's words, simply unfair.

If even a fraction of the energies devoted to denouncing LC's decision or criticizing other recent developments like the Calhoun report or those from UC and Indiana had instead been used to offer new strategies that need the expectations of today's users while still upholding the principles of librarianship, we might be in a much better place today.  The biggest challenge --and here I think Joe and I might well agree--is in finding a way to harness those energies in support of truly innovative ways of accomplishing our goals.  That won't happen if we spend our time signing petitions or demanding that professional association leaders advocate for reversals of administrative decisions made at LC, just to name two examples. 


At 05:42 PM 05/24/06, you wrote:
While I agree with some of David's points, I think he has unfairly characterized front-line catalogers and unnecessarily polarized the debate by introducing "culture wars".

I agree, as he says, that the principles underlying our cataloging practices remain valid today and that we must be careful not to disparage them as we consider the issue of series headings.  It is cataloging practitioners who often best understand these principles, and who are making principled arguments about series, even though sometimes emotions run strong.  I encourage us all to listen for the arguments rather than the emotions.

I also agree that the PCC Policy Committee needs to gather feedback, listen closely, and allow for open discussions to take place.  A genuine dialogue must occur, and the best way to foster such a dialogue is to act in a neutral manner.

The biggest problem with David's posting is that it is not neutral. There is an obvious value judgment placed on the sides of the debate, and it is very clear who is judged right and who wrong.  Those who disagree with LC's decision are labelled "conservative" and are seen as arguing for the status quo, which is clearly a negative judgment.  His analogy with the welfare states of Europe is very unfortunate, and it is downright insulting to imply of catalogers that "it is more appealing to resist the change and insist on the importance of traditional values than to engage thoughtfully in a discussion about the future".

Catalogers have dealt successfully with change for decades.  There have been tremendous changes in technology and substantial changes to cataloging rules and practices.  Catalogers are also very aware of the need for economy, and certainly have watched their own ranks thin over the years. In my experience, they have dealt pragmatically with these changes while striving to provide the best service to users they can.  To say that catalogers are resistant to change while managers are not is simply unfair.

I suggest that we focus on the common ground we have.  I suspect that virtually everyone agrees we want libraries to provide good service to our users.  It's true that we don't have consensus about the means to this end, and there is plenty of room for debate and exchange of ideas concerning series statements.  But in the end, this is a discussion of means, not ends.  Let's assume good faith and reasonableness on the part of all sides and listen for their arguments to principle, rather than hearing just emotions.

We need a fair and neutral airing of the issues, and PCC is the best forum we have today for that to occur.  We need the Policy Committee to lead the way, and to let member institutions know how we can contribute to a solution.

Joe Kiegel
Head, Monographic Services Division
Univ. of Washington Libraries

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 24 May 2006 12:15:36 -0400
From: David Banush <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To: Program for Cooperative Cataloging <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: [PCCLIST] "Culture wars" in cataloging

All:  I sent a slightly different version of this message to the PCC Policy
Committee earlier today.  I've been asked to share it beyond that
group.  Here it is.

The flurry of messages on the various lists concerning LC's series
treatment decision has been an interesting look at the current (mental)
state of the profession.  LC's announcement, coming on the heels of a
number of other significant developments --the reports from Karen Calhoun,
the University of California, and Indiana University, as well as the merger
of RLG and OCLC, have certainly brought a lot of heat, if not always a
great deal of light, to the ongoing discussion of the future of cataloging
and library catalogs.

That two camps with widely divergent views exist is quite obvious. The
sharp reactions on both sides indicate to me that we are in the thick of a
major transition.  We might think of this as a "culture war" within
cataloging, with each side trying to (re)claim the purpose and nature of
cataloging and catalogs for both present and future.  The more conservative
forces, which seem to include many front-line staff, are vigorously
(sometimes stridently) defending the status quo, or even the status quo
ante; others, primarily managers and administrators, are trying to move
away from the old models toward something very different.  The challenge
for folks in the latter group is that they don't --indeed, can't--know
exactly where all of this will lead.  A gulf of uncertainty created by the
inherently unknowable nature of this future has become patently evident
these last few weeks.  That the uncertainty threatens many whose
professional identities and notions of worth hinge on the indefinite
continuation of the status quo accounts for much of the emotion surrounding
the debates here and elsewhere.

To use an imperfect but illustrative analogy, cataloging today resembles
the welfare states of Europe. Like contemporary Germany or France, it is
marked by high labor costs and a high degree of regulation; is heavily
bureaucratized in the form of a vast array of professional groups and
institutional committees; and it has a rapidly aging population.  Its
prospects for long-term growth in a very dynamic global information economy
are dim unless significant structural changes are made.  Like many
political and business leaders in Europe, most library leaders have
identified the problems and know what needs to be done, at least
generally.  But they also realize that for the most part, the staff do not
want change.  Like life in the European welfare states, the professional
environment for catalogers has been comfortable and secure.  The rules of
the trade may be elaborate and the bureaucracy can be stifling, but mastery
of both brings to many practitioners a strong sense of satisfaction and the
comfort of community.  Indeed, the community been especially valuable as a
support for its members as the pressure to become more efficient  (and thus
to re-evaluate the need for traditional practices) has increased.   To
exchange that existence for one filled with risk and uncertainty, even if
the status quo seems unsustainable, is not something the majority are
prepared to do.  It is more appealing to resist the change and insist on
the importance of traditional values than to engage thoughtfully in a
discussion about the future.

My unsolicited advice for the PoCo is not to fall into the trap of arguing
with the people most threatened by change.  The debate is surrounded by far
too much emotion to be productive.  Instead, I think that the PCC
leadership should think carefully about what kinds of roles catalogers will
have in the future.  They need to gather feedback, listen closely, and
allow for open discussions to take place.  A genuine dialogue must occur;
if the opinions are solicited only to be ignored, the process will be
nothing more than a cynical facade, and it will most certainly
backfire.   If front-line folks feel they are part of the planning process,
they may be much less likely to resist and much more likely to become
engaged.  We must also remember that in looking to the future, the past
must be honored and respect.  Traditional cataloging has served many
library users well for decades.  The principles underlying those practices
remain valid today.  We must be careful not to disparage those principles
even as we seek to move away from the old practices that hinder our ability
to respond to rapidly changing user expectations, that have higher
opportunity costs than value, or both.  But we must also look
forward.  Honoring the past does not mean living in it, nor does it mean
squandering opportunities for the future to placate the disgruntled staff
of the present.

The statements from the ALA Executive Board about the LC series decision,
Thomas Mann's rebuttal of Karen Calhoun's report, the many, many messages
on AUTOCAT and other lists about both topics, and even Michael Gorman's
most recent column in American Libraries, bemoaning the state of library
education (he believes it's not traditional enough) strongly suggest that
moving away from the old practices is being met with fierce
resistance.  It's obvious that library leaders who seek meaningful changes
in the way we work have their work cut out for them.  What is not so easy
to see is how to bridge the gap between those who wish to move to a
different way of looking at cataloging and catalogs and those who feel too
threatened by change to consider reforms anything but heresy or
betrayal.  If the PCC wishes to diffuse some of the heat surrounding these
issues--and I am hopeful it does--then PoCo needs to be thinking very
carefully about how it can help to bridge this gap.  I believe Joan
Swanekamp has pointed out that the strategic plan calls for PCC to assist
catalogers in this time of transition.  I think there can be no issue of
greater importance.

But how to do it?  Obviously (pace Hamlet) that is the question, and
unfortunately, no one has the definitive answer to it.  But perhaps there
are few things that could be done now.  Holding open forums at the PCC
membership meetings to gather the kind of feedback I mention above are
simple to do and would help community members air their views.  The
discussions would need focus lest they turn into rambling gripe sessions
about the end of the world.  The community has people who could lead such
discussions skillfully and productively.  PCC should also consider taking a
more active role in gathering real evidence to inform decisions about
cataloging through thorough and ongoing user studies.   Anecdotal evidence
alone is not sufficient to justify continuing a given practice, but the
debate is filled with assertions that "our users rely on X to do their
work."  A partnership with appropriate groups across specialty lines would
seem the most logical way to handle this.  Having examples of projects in
member institutions where catalogers' skills are being put to use outside
of the traditional MARC/AARC2-based universe may also help illustrate that
there is indeed life after the card catalog, ISBD punctuation, and series
tracings, at least for those who want it.

I realize these are only a few suggestions, but I think if PCC is to
demonstrate a true leadership role, it will have to move beyond reaction to
change or mitigating the "damage" caused by changes in practice.  Thanks
for your attention.


David Banush
Head, Cataloging Services
Subject Specialist, Bibliography, Information and Library Science
Library Technical Services
Cornell University Library
110D Olin Library
Ithaca, NY 14853

Voice: (607) 254-8031
Fax: (607) 255-6110
[log in to unmask]

David Banush
Head, Cataloging Services
Subject Specialist, Bibliography, Information and Library Science
Library Technical Services
Cornell University Library
110D Olin Library
Ithaca, NY 14853

Voice: (607) 254-8031
Fax: (607) 255-6110
[log in to unmask]