Uncontrolled Vocabulary, the Carnival, and the LC Working Group; or, the recognition of frustration

Back in December, a few days before the deadline passed for comments on the Library of Congress Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control, I wrote a post called just that.

In it I expressed much frustration; with both the big picture issues facing bibliographic control and those of my daily frustration in trying to use the tools my profession supplies me to do so.

I was popping off in that post. Clearly. Heck, I even tossed out an f-bomb. I was (am) mad.

Well, thanks to Anna Creech (or so I believe. By the way, thanks, Anna!) that post showed up both on Uncontrolled Vocabulary #24 [revisited momentarily in #25] and in the Carnival of the Infosciences (#86) about a month after I wrote it.

My first reaction to learning it had been discussed on Uncontrolled Vocabulary was mild shock. Oh my! Which idea in it had they latched onto? Hopefully not my (temporary) defeatist attitude regarding my personal feedback on the report. Thankfully, not.

Greg’s initial “almost motivated me to advocacy” line really struck me. A fair few of my colleagues—I’m guessing a significant percentage—have no real idea of the issues catalogers and metadata folks go through with their tools, or the lack of them.

Everyone picks on the OPAC because it’s easy to do so, and most stripes of librarian have to use one. My gripes are much broader. Yes, the OPAC sucks. But so do the various modules in the ILS. I have almost 7 years experience with Voyager’s circulation and cataloging clients due to working in Circulation; (minimal) Cataloging (E-Reserves); and now Cataloging. I have no doubt the Acquisitions folks have complaints about aspects of that module, and so on.

In cataloging, besides needing our ILS module, we need our classification schedules—either in print or online, or both—DDC in our case, AACR2, subject headings list (LCSH), Classification Web, Cataloger’s Desktop, “foreign” language encyclopedias, Connexion (WorldCat), Cutter tables, ….

Then there are the assorted policies emanating from the many organizations involved. Let’s just leave that at many. And some number of these policies actually constrain the work we can do in most libraries.

While OCLC policies do allow qualified libraries to enrich WorldCat records centrally, some consider these policies to be overly restrictive (On the Record : Report of The Library of …, 13, emphasis mine)

These not very well expressed reasons are why I and many others are frustrated. And most of our colleagues cannot even feel our pains. Folks working with other forms of metadata face similar and related issues with their assorted tools, or lack thereof.

Cooperative cataloging. That’s existed for a long time. Right? People use the phrase all the time so it must be an “entity” of some sort one would assume. I would beg to differ.

I do appreciate the Working Group’s calls for increased cooperation and “distribution of responsibility for bibliographic record production and maintenance” (16). I particularly like:

1.2.4.1 LC, PCC, and OCLC: Explore ways to increase incentives and tools for contributions of new bibliographic records, as well as upgrades or corrections to existing records … (18).

While I realize that some may need incentives, could you please just get out of my way and let me do my (basic) job? Yes, there is a bigger context to this such that this item makes wonderful sense. But I still find it more than mildly ironic.

As slight side excursion based on the first quote from the LC report above:

While OCLC policies do allow qualified libraries to enrich WorldCat records centrally, some consider these policies to be overly restrictive (On the Record : Report of The Library of …, 13, emphasis mine)

When will we stop talking like this? Could someone please explain to someone intelligent involved in writing this report that there is not a single library that has ever produced any kind of surrogate, much less added any records to WorldCat. Nor will there ever be.

This poor use of language (rife in our field and made fun of here before) leads to issues with policies which must be defined within the context of this poor use. Libraries, qualified or not, do not really do anything. People of the cataloging persuasion (or assignment) catalog and add or correct records in WorldCat.

But it is libraries that are “qualified” by our various cooperative agreements. This is part of the problem.

I am not through reading the final report yet, about half-way (read this past Mon. at the diner for dinner. Now 2 past.).

This realization that:

A fair few of my colleagues—I’m guessing a significant percentage—have no real idea of the issues catalogers and metadata folks go through with their tools, or the lack of them.

… I had due to my post being featured in these 2 collective stalwarts of the bibliogosphere around the same time. I was aware of the UV appearance first and there is really something odd about hearing your post discussed on the web.

Like Greg, my realization almost led me to advocacy. But this is a delicate situation for a multitude of reasons. I try to be very careful on the few times I bring my actual experiences at work here. Almost every one of my complaints is with something other than my institution and I do not want to give the impression otherwise. But there is so much that does not get talked about in our field (not only in cataloging, of course). Even critique towards a positive end state is rarely publicly welcomed and/or welcomed in public.

Thus, as much as I would love to spend more time talking about these issues here and perhaps shedding a little light on them for a handful or two of people, I simply cannot do any more than the rare instance when I do. Which lines can or cannot be crossed, and which of the first are wise to do so seem like questions best answered by avoiding them (like everyone else).

There was a bit of discussion in the comments at Uncontrolled Vocabulary #24 about what I was saying. I came a tad late to the party but was able to add a comment clarifying what I was trying to say.

As I wrote there, I am feeling a bit better as I am learning to try and modify in increments. I just wish when you weren’t allowed to change some specific field it would tell you versus making you look in some crazy long document, especially if you forgot the 1st sentence about increments. Other validation errors tell you what the problem is.

But. Yes. I remain frustrated when I cannot do something like change a title that is wrong in a pre-pub record.

I also got a decent amount of long-term headaches taken care of and off of my desk the last couple days. :) I don’t do resolutions anymore but I did swear I was going to move some of that stuff. About half is gone (mostly in the last 2 days) and I’m waiting on an answer on 2 things.

I do feel bad about some of that stuff sitting there for a couple months sometimes. But let’s be realistic here. They give me these things (or wait for someone like me to come along) because they are nightmares and they don’t want to do them. I get a lot of found stuff. Some of it has been sitting somewhere from 2 years to several decades. Literally. So, honestly I can’t really sweat the couple months it’s been on my desk. And as I said it is moving on.

Hope is hard when you are continuously frustrated from doing your job.

2 thoughts on “Uncontrolled Vocabulary, the Carnival, and the LC Working Group; or, the recognition of frustration

  1. thanks for linking that Jenn. Simon is wonderful doing these kind of things.

    I had already seen it and even brought it up in Pauline & Kathryn’s seminar.

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