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When the basics don’t stick

May 26, 2009

I’ve been looking at WordPress for a while because it’s so slick and shiny, but I had held off from creating a blog because I was thinking of doing so on my own domain.

However, the need to rant has overcome my over-thinking of the situation, so I decided to create “The Cataloguer’s Meow” – a place where I can vent my gripes and praise the awesomeness of all things cataloguing. For any US readers, I am spelling cataloguing, catalogue, and cataloguer correctly – I’m in Australia, and if I can’t use British spelling in LC Subject Headings, I’m sure as hell going to do it on my blog!

My rant today is based around something I consider a fundamental aspect of cataloguing – making sure that the place of publication in the record matches what is on the imprint/title page of the book.

I’ve been writing pre-publication records for around 6 months now, and was somewhat confused by the inclusion of a list of publishers with the places of publication which appeared on the imprint page in our (hardcopy) procedures manual. It seemed a little bit backwards to me, after all one of the basic things I had learned in library school is that assumption and cataloguing do not mix. Yet here we were with a list that was of dubious relevance and usefulness.

I let it go, figuring it to be something that hadn’t been chopped for whatever reason, but then I was asked to update the imprints. Thanks to the virtues of the library’s VuFind catalogue, it was a less daunting task then it seemed, but still didn’t guarantee accuracy. It had been suggested that I also check items which had come in from the publishers with the list, which is when I stopped and said “Hang on, aren’t they meant to be doing that when they upgrade the prepublication records?”

I was told resignedly by a colleague that yes, they were supposed to, but not all of them did. I couldn’t see how making a list of publishers and imprints for the pre-publication cataloguers had ever evolved as a viable solution to the problem. Even without nitpicking to any particular area of the ISBD, making the item match the record is a mantra which should be beating in the hearts and minds of every cataloguer, all the time.

Were we a smaller institution, perhaps I would be content to nurse my discontent and join the ranks of those who have given up the hope of matching the high standards which we should be striving to. But we are not small, we are national, we have the responsibility of showing cataloguers around the country and the world that we have high quality standards, and we stick to them. I believe there is no place in our institution for apathy, for those who don’t see or understand the importance of accuracy. I cannot reasonably expect to meet others who get so fired up on the subject as I do, but I do think we owe it to ourselves and to our reputation to keep striving, to keep enforcing how important these small details are, and why. Understanding and caring are the keys.

If I feel ashamed of the indifference at what (to me) is a fairly big part of this job (it’s not an access point, true, but it makes you wonder what, if anything, actually gets checked when a record is upgraded), what job can I go to and feel satisfied that we have the leanest, meanest cataloguers on the block?

If there were a Cataloguing Idol, I would surely be the Simon Cowell of the show, taking no prisoners, telling people to go and drop a copy of AACR2 or even the RDA draft (in hardcopy of course) on their foot. Perhaps it’s being forced to learn the International Standard Bibliographic Description off-by-heart (including punctuation) but I think a cataloguing boot came might not be a bad idea. Chuck out these diplomatic and cordial relationships between supervisors and their staff and bring back some good ol’ Machiavellian principles like ruling through fear and all that.

Not that I don’t think a good, communicative workplace is important, it’s just sometimes a bit of tough love can bring people back into line.