Schuitema, Joan E. “The Future of Cooperative Cataloging: Curve, Fork, or Impasse?”
In this article, Schuitema offers a thoughtful and timely evaluation of how technology and society are immediately affecting the practice of cataloging. She infers that the days of MaRC and AACR2 are numbered and new metadata schema must be implemented to account for digital formats and patron expectations. She addresses the historical development of cooperative cataloging and further outlines the reasons why the future is uncertain for professional catalogers.
According to Schuitema, the same issues plague each successive generation of catalogers. She specifically details the printed card cooperative era, as well as the LC card distribution program. Based on her historical evaluation, common cataloging problems emerge. Library, research, and user need for standardization conflict with the expensive and time-consuming application of rules for standard structure. Ever-increasing publisher output exceeds the ability to catalog. Evolving skill sets to match technological advances demand that catalogers either keep up or face job loss. Finally, libraries are always searching for a panacea to alleviate cataloging problems and constantly bemoaning the lack of right tools right now to make cataloging better and cheaper.
Schuitema stresses the difference between past problems and the current cataloging crisis. Today, budget constraints mean catalogers face a streamlined environment combining acquisitions and cataloging. Bibliographic description is a costly and time-consuming value-added service provided by catalogers, whereas vendors can provide it at a quicker rate. Users no longer view the library catalog as their primary source of information access, instead turning to the one-size-fits-all search engine interface. Whether journals, books, blogs, or art, more resources are either born digital or also offered as digital and they require different types of metadata for content description. Yet, metadata is not equal in quality—it is not the sole domain of the professional cataloger because anyone can create metadata. But professional, good metadata is needed to find and access important information, so a contradiction exists in loss of professional control over the organization process.
Schuitema applies business and psychological perspectives to the current cataloging problem, claiming that the skill sets of traditional cataloging—which values detail, precision, consistency, and stability—do not necessarily match the emerging cataloging environment. She says that professional and organizational values are both changing. While cooperative cataloging historically changed over the long-term, organizational parameters now experience the same rapid change as individual professionals.
The author concludes that cooperative cataloging is currently at a fork in the road, split between traditional pre-coordinated organization following standards and on the other hand new tools and practices that deconstruct the discovery of information. Schuitema asserts that neither choice is best, instead old and new cataloging approaches should be integrated because their shared ultimate goal is to aid users. In other words, catalogers should not be forced to make a Solomon-like choice to forsake the old ways or never look at new methods.
Schuitema’s article was very informative and I appreciated the consideration she gave the argument. She reflects upon the field as it is today—in a state of flux. I was interested in her suggestion that the LIS profession should be open to looking at outside organizations or settings to find new or better practices. In my opinion, the cataloging debate is analogous to the debate over U.S. constitutional theory—should our set of legal rules reflect global laws or stay the same? Are originalists or revisionists correct? I thought Schuitema’s argument was weakened because she deviated from the cooperative cataloging theme and never really answered Tillett’s question of “what it is we’re trying to accomplish by joining forces.” Schuitema essentially argues that catalogers are no longer regarded as the authority for the organization of knowledge. Catalogers will have to learn new skills for a dynamic environment and its evolving infrastructure. Since digital production will outpace print, new metadata schema for a wide variety of digital content carriers will be critical to cataloging’s sustainability. Only by actively engaging in and working with new cataloging methods can the profession grow and perhaps redefine itself through a merger of old and new.