Sunday, 16 September 2012

CIG 2012 - The Value of Cataloguing (Part Two)


This is my report on day two of the recent CIG conference. Part one can be found here.

New Challenges for Cataloguers

The first session of day two had the theme "new challenges for cataloguers", of which I'm sure we can agree there are many. Heather Jardine cut straight to the case by talking about the changes in the cataloguers role in 2012. She outlined three main changes:
  • changing rules and formats - I think we can all agree that we're about to go through a big period of change here with the introduction of RDA
  • changing materials - as cataloguers we're constantly being asked to keep pace with the latest materials. We're often faced with something new coming across our desks followed by the inevitable question: "how am I supposed to catalogue that?!" Heather showed us that this was nothing new since cataloguers have been dealing with new materials for decades and we have always managed to find a way to cope. Any future changes will be no different
  • changing roles - there has been a change in expectations over what it is we actually do. With the cuts across all library sectors everyone has found themselves taking on increased workloads.
I think that these changes have both positive and negative points. Whilst no one wants cuts they are happening. The changing role of the cataloguer can be seen as an opportunity as well as a threat. Maybe a very long time ago all cataloguers did was catalogue books day in day out but I think that this has been changing for some time now. Cataloguers are much more adaptable than people think (see the above two points) and the changes currently taking place in libraries can help to showcase this. If we can prove to our colleagues that we are adaptable and indispensable then we can help to ensure our professional futures. No one can be trained in just one skill and expect to get a job out of it for the rest of their lives and so the more feathers in our caps the better. Proving our worth to our colleagues is an important part of advocacy - something which I feel very strongly that every cataloguer should be involved in. The flip side of this, as Heather rightly pointed out, is that all this extra work leads to a decrease in the time that we have for actual cataloguing. There is a balance to be maintained and I think that the true challenge will be in making sure that we still keep our cataloguing skills strong whilst taking on these new challenges

The next paper wins the award for best title, Gary Green's "the incredible shrinking cataloguer meets the Spaghetti Junction automation robot". Gary reminded us of the importance of  keeping abreast of the latest library technology even if we aren't using it ourselves. This is something that I try to do but sometimes struggle with so I know how hard it can be sometimes to take on yet another thing. The main body of the talk was focused on Gary's recent project to automate cataloguing and classification processes at his library service. This was tricky since computers haven't yet reached the level of intelligence of the average cataloguer (thank God!). For this reason Gary has tried to map these processes as if it were a human working on the changes rather than a computer. The project has resulted in a reduction in the amount of in-house manual work and faster processing which in turn has saved money - something which managers are finding especially attractive in the current climate. There are also of course some issues with the process; the mapping process is complex and anything which gets broken can have consequences which are equally complicated. One of the main things that Gary cautioned us about was that changes are not made in isolation, it's all part of a larger process. Work on the project is continuing in order to address some of these issues.

Helen Williams talked about the challenges involved in transforming copy cataloguers into 'metadata creators'. During her work at LSE Helen and her team were tasked with adding metadata to items added to the institutional repository. Helen reported that the same workflows used with print material could be applied to the repository material and helped in adding to the teams skill set. Using our skills in this new way can help to showcase the value of the cataloguing department to the wider institution, echoing the points made in previous sessions. Future-proofing the department and its skills is as vital right now as it has ever been. One point that Helen did raise is that whilst having a multi-skilled team has many advantages, it's also possible to consider specialising in some areas. All of the staff in a department can have a working knowledge of these new processes but since everyone has different strengths they will naturally develop a specialism in a particular skill. This is something to be encouraged from both the individual and institutional point of view. Projects such as this one at LSE make the bibliographic services team the place to go to for information within the wider institution - a definite plus point.

The next session was 'the problems of cataloguing in higher education' which was a slightly altered version of a presentation given at a CIG even earlier in the year. I'e already written a blog post about this event which is here if anyone wants to read it.

Lightning Round Talks
Celine Carty presented the first lightening round talk of the day and focused on the work of the High Visibility Cataloguing initiative. She outlined a project to set up a 23things style programme for cataloguers - Cat23. The first phase of the programme involves interviews with cataloguers working in a variety of roles. More can be read about the programme here on the HVCats website but I will say that I am really looking forward to it. When I first heard about the project I did wonder how it would work in practice but I think that the authors have done a wonderful job of coming up with something new and creative (and I'm not just saying this because I work for one of them!). I'm really looking forward to taking part and will be encouraging my colleagues to do so.

Karen Pierce talked about ways of promoting the work of the cataloguing department both internally and externally. This was a strong theme at the conference which came up in many of the papers. Karen talked about the importance of maintaining a physical presence and actually being seen by colleagues. Cataloguers are often tucked away in offices and too often it's a case of out of sight and out of mind. Getting involved in wider institutional events and committees are two ways in which the department can maintain a presence and raise its profile. One popular initiative that Karen talked about was "Do something different day" which gives staff at her institution a chance to do what it says on the tin. The day allows the cataloguing department to give an in-depth look at what it really does on a day to day basis and hopefully this will help to correct some common misconceptions about the work that the department does. Karen also gave us several hints on external advocacy:
  • conferences - both attending and presenting. And don't think that you have to be limited to cataloguing conferences - get out of the echo chamber!
  • report back from events - show people that you do sometimes escape from your desk
  • have an online presence - this can be important in sharing your experiences with a wider audience
One of the key themes of Karen's presentation was to grab unexpected opportunities. The more widely you and your department get known the more chance that colleagues will approach you if they need something you can provide.

Rachel Playforth carried on the professional development theme by talking about her experience of changing her role from cataloguer to repository coordinator. Rachel pointed out that even if your job role changes you probably won't get training for your new role. I think this is something we can all relate to! She advised us to be strategic about taking on new responsibilities as it's important not to take on too much. We need to be selective and learn to say no occasionally. Consider how the change will benefit you in the long term - will it add a new skill? is it something that you've always wanted to try? Always be open to new opportunities but remember that you can't do everything at once.

Karen Pierce returned to tell us about the benefits of regionality when it comes to professional development. Karen was part of the organising team for Conversations with Cataloguers in Wales, an event which brought together a group of cataloguers with a common region. There are many benefits to holding regional events such as this; people often find these events easier to get to and they can be identity forming. One interesting point raised was that conferences and events can create a great sense of community but this is often only temporary. We need to be looking at ways of carrying this on and local groups are one way to do this. Karen encouraged us to look into developing our own local groups - you never know what could come out of it!

The open mike session was a chance for delegates to discuss any issues which had been raised so far. Unsurprisingly the chief topic of conversation was RDA and its impact on cataloguing practice. One issue raised was that of training. Once an institution has made the decision to implement the new standard the staff have to be trained in its use. There is lots of training freely available on the Internet but we were warned to check the material for currency. RDA is a constantly updated standard and so web-based content can become dated very quickly. The cost of RDA was also mentioned. It is not a freely available standard and this has caused problems for some libraries who would like to implement it. It was pointed out that whilst there is a cost to moving there is also a cost to not moving and the consequences of either action need to be weighed carefully.

Developing Working Practices
The theme of the final full session was "developing working practices" and began with a talk from Elly Cope about reclassification at the University of Bath. The library used a number of classification systems which had led to negative feedback from students. The decision was made to implement a more consistent system and gradually switch from UDC to DDC which is a more widely known system. User feedback to the change has been positive and plans have been made to continue with the scheme. Elly made the point that although it's a lot of work, one of the added benefits of reclassification is that it provides an opportunity to work on the records and ultimately produce a better standard of cataloguing.

Neil Robinson talked about his experience of developing cataloguing and classification at Marylebone Cricket Club library. The library houses one of the biggest research libraries on the sport and so is an important resource. Neil was tasked with updating the original classification scheme used by the library since the 1940s. The scheme was unsurprisingly out of date and in need of serious attention. The key decision to be made was whether to adapt the current system or to start again with something new. Neil went with the decision to adapt the scheme and said that it has led to an increased knowledge of the collection. One top tip that he shared was not to be afraid of changing something that you have just changed if you think you can make it better - be constantly on the search for improvement.

Daphne Kouretas from OCLC gave the final full paper of the conference on managing metadata for ebooks. Libraries need to acknowledge that resource discovery is changing and we need to keep up with these changes. She talked about the importance of cataloguing as a public facing library service, something which I am very keen to promote. Cataloguing is one of the backbones of a successful library and I think that this is something that non-cataloguers forget and that cataloguers forget to shout about.

Lightning Round Talks

The final lightning round talk session opened with Katrina Clifford talking about harvesting repository data for use in an LMS. She explained how rich data for repository contributions was available but all too often this wasn't being linked to records in the catalogue. Research has been done into this problem and although I'm afraid the technology is beyond me, a way to export this data into the LMS has been developed. This has led to an enrichment of the cataloguing records which had aided user discoverability. Needless to say, this is proving very popular with library users!

Helen Garner talked about cataloguing media materials and its associated problems and benefits. The workflow for this at Sheffield Hallam University has been streamlined so that cataloguing staff now only need to view the first iteration of a program in order to catalogue it. Helen also raised the point that libraries need to maintain a consistent display across the catalogue so that users understand that they are looking at a media resource.

The final two sessions by Emily Bogie and Christina Claridge focused on the issue of shelf ready. Working in a library which uses its own classification system this isn't something that I've had to deal with personally but it is still an interesting development which needs to be monitored. Both sessions reported on the advantages and disadvantages of projects at the speakers' libraries. The scheme provides an important way to free up staff time but it is important that errors, however small, are spotted and corrected. This of course requires human intervention. Accurate records are even more important in today's catalogues with their faceted searching capabilities. The most important thing to check is if the records reflects the item that you have, obvious but still easy to miss in a busy environment.

I really enjoyed the conference and came away really energised and positive. To me this is one of the primary benefits of any event. I will take away several points and try to spend my time until the next conference focused on advocating my job and keeping the momentum going!

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