I was impressed with your postings on the LC series decisions. You showed a concern with both detailed and “macro” issues. I was particularly impressed by your willingness to get a little bit autobiographical in the “Dealing with conflict” message. Here’s one passage I wanted to respond to:
I agree strongly with that statement, with one exception, and hope we will stop to consider it. I was considering sending a message this afternoon on the same matter. Here’s an excerpt:
“In my scant 5 years in librarianship (or maybe 7 if you count library school), I have seen two attitudes among librarians that are often confused. I think one is good and the other, not always.
“1) Be helpful.
“2) Get along with others.
“Helpfulness is one of the real bases of librarianship and the reason we have a truly "noble profession." We are people who really care about others' needs and work to fill them if possible. We care about more than the "bottom line." We're satisfied to earn smaller salaries than people in some comparable professions because we love our work. But too often, I think librarians, in their desire to be helpful, think that ducking controversy is the best way to do it.” [end quote]
Where I may disagree with you is the part about “valuing niceness
over new ideas, risk-taking . . .” On the contrary, in the time
I’ve been in librarianship, I’ve heard “change is the only
constant” repeated ad nauseam. To respond to your message below, when has anyone on this list ever refused to
“give our process and metadata elements a good, hard
look”? When I critiqued the Calhoun and
On the contrary, I
see librarians’ excessive “niceness” as manifested more in a
readiness to give up important library values than in fear of “new
ideas.” I particularly recommend to anybody who hasn’t read
it the article “The bookless future” by David Bell in the May 2,
2005 New Republic. I think I can
escape suspicion of being biased in this recommendation, because
nature of the computer presents a different problem. If physical discomfort
discourages the reading of texts sequentially, from start to finish, computers
make it spectacularly easy to move through texts in other ways--in particular,
by searching for particular pieces of information.
“If my own experience is any guide, "search-driven" reading can make for depressingly sloppy scholarship. Recently, I decided to examine the way in which the radical eighteenth-century thinker d'Holbach discussed warfare. I could have read his book Universal Morality in the rare-book room of my university library, but I decided instead to download a copy (it took about two minutes). And then, faced with a text hundreds of pages long, instead of reading from start to finish, I searched for the words "war" and "peace." I found a great many juicy quotations, which I conveniently cut and pasted directly into my notes. But at the end, I had very little idea of why d'Holbach had written his book in the first place. If I had had to read the physical book, I could still have skimmed, cut, and pasted, but I would have been forced to confront the text as a whole at some basic level. The computer encouraged me to read in exactly the wrong way, leaving me with little but a series of disembodied passages.”
Bear with me as I pass on one more gem from
I know that’s pretty far afield from where this message started, but I do think all of these matters are connected.
Gemberling, UAB Lister Hill Library,
Sent: Thursday, May 25, 2006 1:14 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [PCCLIST] "Culture wars" in cataloging
I agree with David that we in the cataloging/metadata communities are
at a point at which many of our philosophies and practices are undergoing
upheaval; we do need to change our community culture. But, as with recent
I agree that front-line staff want to and should participate in our rethinking of cataloging. Dialog works both ways; if LC is not entering into true dialog, of course catalogers feel shut out.
Yes, there are indeed some for whom "moving away from the old practices is being met with fierce resistance". But I think David and others misread the community as a whole. It is not so much old _practices_ that are being safeguarded, but core values and philosophies
Statements in David's message below such as:
"The discussions would need focus lest they turn into rambling gripe sessions about the end of the world."
"It is more appealing [for some] to
serve to further exacerbate the polarization that is being deplored in other parts of the message.
At 2006/05/24 09:15 a, you wrote:
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
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.
Head, Cataloging Services
Subject Specialist, Bibliography, Information and Library Science
Library Technical Services
110D Olin Library
Voice: (607) 254-8031
Fax: (607) 255-6110
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