By GAIL FINEBERG
The Library of Congress works with the broader library community to develop cataloging guidelines. The Library will make no unilateral decisions about the future of cataloging without consulting the country's leading library associations, other national and research libraries, and the owners of three major digital search engines to consider the broad implications before making any major changes.
Associate Librarian for Library Services Deanna Marcum told Library staff on July 21 that she had made a promise at the annual conference of the American Library Association (ALA) in New Orleans, June 24-30, to convene an advisory group to work with her to consider how bibliographic control will be applied in the digital environment.
"When I met with the ALA Executive Board, I pledged that I would establish an external advisory committee to help us think about the broad issues of the future of bibliographic control, and that we would have, at some point, a summit on these issues," Marcum said at the ALA-debriefing session for some 65 Library staff. "So I am in the process now of establishing that advisory committee."
Marcum said ALA and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) each has named three representatives to the committee. She has invited the Special Libraries Association (SLA) and the American Association of Law Libraries to name representatives.
"Microsoft and Google have agreed to name a representative, I have invited Yahoo to name someone, and Cliff Lynch, director of the Coalition for Networked Information, has agreed to be an at-large representative," said Marcum, who is appointing two to three members at large. (In response to a question from the staff audience she said ALA had nominated someone from the Public Libraries Association.)
"I think it will give us an opportunity to begin thinking collectively about the future. I very much don't want to have a national referendum on cataloging decisions one by one. Instead, I want us to engage in higher-level thinking about the broad issues and then begin working them through with our colleagues in the library community," Marcum said.
She and Director for Acquisitions and Bibliographic Access Beacher Wiggins reported that, between them, they attended some 20 meetings with groups of librarians to explain the rationale for the Library's controversial decision to suspend creation of series authority records (SARs) on June 1.
"I spent much of my time at ALA going from one meeting to another to talk with people who were interested in our series authority decision. That was a really valuable experience for me, and, I hope, for them," she said.
"What I realized once again, and something we can all remind ourselves of over and over again, e-mail conversations tend to be much sharper than we intend. The kinds of conversations that had been going on in e-mail exchanges were simply not the kinds of experiences we had face-to-face," Marcum said.
"It was evident there are lots of people who are concerned about the way the decision was made. There is almost no one, I think, who doesn't at least understand why we made the decision," she said.
Encouraging Collaborative Cataloging Policy
Marcum said she met with all the presidents and incoming presidents of all of the ALA divisions, to discuss the SARs decision and to encourage collaborative catalog policy discussions in the future. "All libraries are facing major challenges as they think about the best ways to use technology to bring content more directly to people, and every library in the country is faced with sorting out how that is best done; we all agree that it's important that we think about these things together," she said.
In a pre-ALA briefing for the staff, on June 19, Wiggins presented the statement that he spoke from again and again at ALA, "to calm the waters" before Marcum faced constituents who were agitated by the Library's SARs decision. In this statement he explained the decision to discontinue the creation of series authority records, which provide an established, unique standardized name for collocating works published as a series and also provide instructions on how to process the individual works in the series.
The work is time-consuming, labor-intensive and expensive, so much so that the Library's cataloging managers originally had considered discontinuing it 12 years ago. This spring, with the availability of powerful search engines to help users conduct keyword searches and evidence produced by some studies to indicate that more users are likely to use search engines than libraries, the cataloging managers decided the time had come to stop creating series authority records.
Announced on April 20, the decision caught the library community by surprise. The response was swift and vocal. On May 15, Michael Gorman, then president of ALA, wrote the Librarian of Congress to complain that "keyword search is not an adequate substitute for authority-controlled series access, especially over time, as variants and name changes proliferate and as errors enter the best databases."
Among those expressing their opposition—in letters, e-mails and a petition signed by nearly 4,000 people—was Thomas Mann, a reference specialist in the Library's Humanities and Social Sciences Division, who posted a 22-page paper on the subject on a Guild Web site, at www.petitiononline.com/MARC830/petition.html.
Controversy and Solutions
In his post-ALA report to staff on July 21, Wiggins discussed two other topics of controversy and solutions in progress. One was an agreement with a vendor to purchase cataloging data, on condition that the Library not redistribute the data through its Cataloging Distribution Service, in order to protect the proprietary interests of the vendor. The other was the Library-commissioned report, "The Changing Nature of the Catalog and Its Integration with Other Discovery Tools" (www.loc.gov/catdir/calhoun-report-final.pdf), prepared by Karen Calhoun, head of technical services at Cornell University Libraries.
"In this report there is a series of recommendations; some of the recommendations by their nature caused another stir, and all this was coming and fomenting about the time that the series decision was announced, so we have had quite a lively spring and summer, and I had quite a lively ALA," Wiggins said.
Wiggins told the staff on July 21 that a fiscal 2005 agreement with Casalini Libri provided the Library with "shelf-ready material" (nearly 4,000 Italian books) in fiscal 2006, complete with core-level cataloging and physical processing. As part of this initial agreement the Library agreed not to redistribute the cataloging records for these books through CDS.
"As you might expect, because the Library of Congress has always shared everything that it had, that caused concern," Wiggins said. "So what we have been doing since then is looking at ways we can address this in a larger context."
To that end, he said, he convened an April meeting at the Library of several key administrators of technical services from large research libraries "to begin wrestling with how do we accept different sources of bibliographic data in the world that we now find ourselves, and how do we do it in such a way that we develop a different kind of business paradigm both to help institutions that need to get more data, to get more data at a more reasonable cost, as well as to protect those who are willing to step forward and create and supply that kind of data."
This conversation continued at ALA in a meeting of "Big Heads"—heads of technical services of large research libraries—who will recommend names for a task force to address questions raised by the Casalini experience. "We want to have a mixture of vendor representatives, bibliographic utility representatives, but that's just OCLC now, and others within the information community," Wiggins said.
He said people in the library community were most upset by one of the Calhoun recommendations, which, "as she originally stated in the report, was to jettison LCSH (Library of Congress Subject Headings), dismantle it and stop applying it. She didn't really mean it the way it came out, but that's what people latched onto and that's what we had to react to.
"One of the things I issued in all the contexts and settings that I was in, in New Orleans, was to say that we have no intention of abandoning the LCSH.
I have a strong belief that subject terminology is important; that is one of the key things that we librarians provide," Wiggins emphasized.
However, he said, he has asked Barbara Tillett, chief of the Library's Cataloging Policy and Support Office (CPSO) and acting chief of the Cataloging Distribution Service, to assess the value of continuing "pre-coordination," which is the creation of a string of subject headings (for example, Immigrants-Argentina-History-20th century) for online catalog records.
Wiggins said he also will work with the Library's Integrated Library System (ILS) staff, as well as other libraries that share the same ILS software vendor, Endeavor, to address a Calhoun recommendation that the Library's Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC) provide the user a more direct connection between description and access to content. He said that he hopes that by joining forces with the National Library of Medicine and the National Agricultural Library, as well as the Cornell University Libraries, "we will be able to make some of the changes and recommendations, at least those that feed into Endeavor, based on a united front, that we haven't been able to achieve on our own."
Gail Fineberg is editor of The Gazette, the Library's staff newsletter.