Martha Yee on abdication in cataloging

A short essay by Martha Yee titled “Will The Response Of The Library Profession To The Internet Be Self-Immolation?” has been circulating in the cataloging blogosphere. I found it rather late, when it hit the JESSE list, which is read by LIS educators. It’s a good example of a statement that is being dismissed by many as “traditionalism” in a way that I think sidesteps its arguments. Comments on JESSE have been interesting, but I’m afraid I no longer republish email discussion threads, so I will leave it to you. I think the weakness of Yee’s argument is in the fact that library catalogs tend not to work as well as they are supposed to, but I think she’s very much right on the whole, in that MARC just does a lot more for users than the things that are being used in its place, which tend to dumb down the entire information cycle.

One comment on “Martha Yee on abdication in cataloging

  1. I generally agree with her view, but a few random observations:

    – She focuses on the LC system and subject headings, and how this relates to internet and library research by college undergraduates, but not the Dewey system which is used by most public libraries. I wonder how the changes she discusses might impact public libraries.

    – I have found the ongoing digitalization of books by Google to be useful, and came across some books I might not have discovered using the normal library search tools. So I think this project can be used to supplement more conventional library research. Also, I have often used Google and sometimes Yahoo for finding information on a day to day basis, as I assume most others here have, even when cataloging books.

    – I have noticed the Library of Congress putting out more records that are incomplete, i.e. without subject headings, although often with a brief summary in the 520 field, or informal subject listings inthe 653 field.

    – It might be of interest that here at UC Berkeley library, because of the large backlog of unprocessed books and the shortage of catalogers, we now have a new workflow where we in copy cataloging are encouraged, even pressured, to make more incomplete records, level 2 (LC call number but no subject headings) or level 3 (random non-LC call number and no subject headings). Under this new system the incomplete records will eventually be replaced, but it isn’t clear to me how this will work and to what extent it will really save labor time in the long run. There has also been some outsourcing involved in our cataloging.

    – The advantage of the LC system is the logical organization of subject headings and corresponding call numbers, but I think for most users it would not really be a matter of searching for particular subject headings as opposed to keywords, but rather seeing how the headings organized and using this knowledge to browse the stacks either onsite or online. In books I catalog from Vietnam, for example, there are certain main categories, such as history, language and literature, government, law, agriculture, economy, where the books would be grouped together in their respective subject areas.

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