Yesterday I did a long program for NELINET, entitled “Trepidation or Anticipation?: The Future of Cataloging and Catalogers.” This topic has been a theme of mine for some time, and I’d been invited to do this program after doing a similar, though shorter, one at the Massachusetts Library Association in the spring. The response to the initial announcement was gratifyingly strong, and we ended up with an audience of about 55, including one logged in from Missouri.

I admit to coming into these sessions with an expectation that I’m going to have to win over people to the “anticipation” side of things—I suppose some of that derives from the skepticism I still hear online (a few loud voices predominating, I will admit). The group was quick to reassure me that they weren’t by any means as resistant to the changes washing over us as I had anticipated—they “got it,” were ready to hear what they had to do to make it happen. They were a great audience, asked good questions and listened to the answers, then asked some more questions. But I’m going to have to change my approach somewhat, I can see that.

I was interested to hear from one participant that it was the reference librarians in her shop who were the most resistant to change. Every time something new was added to the catalog, be it book jackets, tags or reviews, the front desk folks wanted it eliminated—deemed it “confusing.” I’d never heard this, and questioned her after the session—did she think this was an anomaly in her library or more a wide spread phenomenon? She didn’t know, but noted that it was generally those who’d been around the longest who were the most resistant. As someone having a birthday ending in a zero in a few weeks, I wasn’t happy to hear that (though sadly not surprised).

One of the participants questioned me about Heidi Hoermann’s presentation to the OLAC/MOUG Conference in Cleveland this past September. This presentation, which predicted the death of RDA and the rebirth of AACR2, took the lists and the library blogosphere by storm when it first hit Slideshare. Though I’ve also criticized the JSC publicly myself, and don’t necessarily disagree with many of Heidi’s points, I think she’s way off base concluding that because of the acknowledged flaws, RDA is dead. I find it disturbing that someone who’s teaching the next generation of librarians has so thoroughly missed some of the important work going on around RDA (particularly the work of the DCMI/RDA Task Group, which I’m co-leading), and then focuses primarily on the failings of the JSC process in concluding that RDA is dead. I admit to occasionally getting far too adamant when commenting on this particular point of view, but it disturbs me greatly.

I’m wondering if this change I’m starting to see—from trepidation to anticipation—has implications for how we think about training catalogers for RDA. I’m quite sure that, before we train, we need to prepare catalogers for the training itself by giving them a more general introduction to what has changed about their mission. I’m finding that as I do these presentations, I’m starting to see what works, and what doesn’t. I’ll try to keep posting on this because I think it’s critically important that we not make too many simple assumptions about how this training ought to proceed, and miss the boat entirely.

By Diane Hillmann, December 6, 2008, 8:28 pm (UTC-5)

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Currently 6 comments

  1. Comment by Patty Hatch

    I am also very concerned about training for RDA. I work as a trainer, and have trained cataloging standards in the past. At the last ALA, I gave my card to someone working on the group that’s concentrating on training the new rules, and offered to volunteer time and resources to assist with the effort. I believe that training, and the quality of that training, will have a significant impact on the success of RDA.

    I have not heard anything back from the RDA folks about the training effort since ALA Annual. They may already have folks onboard to develop the training and conduct it however, so I don’t want to imply that nothing is being done is this area. I simply do not know.

    Thanks for bringing up this topic–I’m sorry I missed your talk at NELINET.

  2. Comment by Catherine Tuohy

    I am so psyched to join this online community!
    I attended Diane’s session Friday (Nelinet 12/5/2008) and was really energized by it. I am perfectly poised to sponge any and all of what came out it as someone who began cataloging on an OCLC screen (non-windows!)
    I knew realized I had not looked at developments in the cataloging world since I had last checked out the discussion around the JSC re: development of AACR2. I have been missing a lot, and will keep our staff more informed of the developments with RDA going forward… thank you for your hard work Diane!!

  3. Comment by arkham

    I’m glad to see that you’re continuing to push cataloging to move in the direction I think it needs to.

    I completely understand the reluctance you often run into – I work in a library system with a lot of member libraries, and many of the catalogers are terrified of what kind of change RDA will mean. Some of them are planning to retire rather than change what they do. It’s kind of become my job to introduce them to what’s coming down the road and hopefully, allay some of their fears.

    There are fortunately a few younger catalogers that are genuinely interested and ready to learn more. I sometimes wish I had something more concrete for them, though. As long as RDA is just a draft with a possibly uncertain future – and without knowing for certain whether things will actually move in the way you’re advocating (and which I think is the way we need to be going) – I feel like I’m just giving them a lot of abstraction, and many of them are only interested in what effect it will have directly on them.

  4. Comment by Mia Massicotte

    The one participant who mentioned that at her place of work, it’s the reference staff on the desk who are the most resistant to changes in the catalogue and who demand that some changes be removed (or simply not instituted in the first place) — is most certainly not alone. These are not uncommon criticisms, and they can unfortunately result in any number of constraints on both the appearance and functionality of the catalogue.

  5. Comment by Jennifer Eustis

    I am a recent graduate from a Library Degree Science program where cataloging is actually very much in vogue. I saw two distinct approaches to teaching cataloging while I was there. One was very encompassing but managed to question why there was a need to organize information and how that need is becoming ever so prominent given the growth of original material (in particular that in non-print formats). The other method focused on books and print materials with some brief overview of the other chapters in AACR2. This course did not question procedure or even the more traditional methods of cataloging. Instead it tried to encourage students to think of cataloging as almost a timeless and unchanging activity. This course even encouraged a certain type of individual fit for cataloging. It was a common thought that catalogers had to be introspective, much too detailed oriented, and obsessive in strange ways in order to be a cataloger. I would agree that this type of stifled teaching does not help the profession or catalogers in any way. Quite the contrary, it prepares professionals who are not as ready as they could be to question their profession, to be more proactive in terms of stepping out of the confines of their daily tasks to take on more innovation duties, and to be flexible. I believe that cataloging is important. However, the information resources have changed as well as what users need and how they find these resources. In this respect, catalogers in training need to be more aware of this and thus have a broader understanding of how information is organized, sought, used, and transformed into knowledge.

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