Library School – Cataloguing and Classification

I took this module last autumn, one of the last two of the PG Dip. For my general post about the course, go here.

This module was highly practical as you might imagine and I found it very difficult. Cataloguing and classification are generally considered core skills for information professionals, although their relevancy has been hotly debated (see references).

Cataloguing is the practice of recording standardized information about an item so that it can be searchable and findable. The field has recently undergone a big change with the introduction of a new international cataloguing standard, Resource, Description and Access, or RDA. Classification is the logical system for organising knowledge. A famous example of a classification scheme is the Dewey Decimal System. In short, cataloguing describes the items in a collection, while classification is concerned with the physical arrangement of the items.

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Remember these?  Photo credit: Card catalogue by Book Finch (Flickr CC-BY 2.0).

So this module was some history and theory, but mainly was very task focused on actually cataloguing and classifying stuff. Cataloguing felt very much, for me at least, like referencing on steroids. I had to get to grips with MARC fields (coding that makes a catalogue record machine readable) but otherwise it made sense. I do feel that lots of catalogers doing unique cataloguing of the same objects in libraries all over the world is duplicated effort and a bit obsolete when collaboration is made so easy by the internet. The solution ‘cooperative cataloguing’ is becoming more widespread.

Learning about RDA was brilliant if a bit brain teasing at times (what’s the difference between expressions and manifestations again??). RDA was intended to move cataloguing into the digital world, where print formats are not dominant. It’s supposed to be a flexible framework that can cover all the new media and objects that we have now and the ones yet to be invented. One half of the module assessment was an essay with the set title ‘Resource Description and Access: Evolution, revolution or dead end?’ My opinion ended up mid-way between the first two and it was interesting to read around the subject because a lot of people have gotten up in arms about it – passionate commentators are always more riveting don’t you think? Though I still get confused with the relevant technical aspects like the semantic web and linked data, I came to the conclusion that generally RDA is a positive step forward.

Classifying was fun (everything in it’s place!) until it came to the other half of the module assessment which was a workbook of made-up titles to classify (and also cataloguing tasks). I was in a constant state of wondering whether what I thought was the correct classmark for “Pan-African nationalism” was actually what the tutor thought was the correct classmark. Classification really is an art more than a science. Different people can come up with different classmarks for the same item AND justify their reasoning.

So Cat and Class, the Marmite of librarianship – done!

References:

Boydston, J.M.K. & Leysen, J.M. (2014) ‘ARL Cataloger Librarian Roles and Responsibilities Now and In the Future,’ Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 52(2), pp.229–250.

Cerbo, M.A. (2011) ‘Is There a Future for Library Catalogers?’ Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 49(4), pp.323–327.

Park, J.-r., Lu, C. and Marion, L. (2009) ‘Cataloging professionals in the digital environment: A content analysis of job descriptions,’ Journal for the American Society of Information Science and Technology, 60 (4), pp. 844–857. doi: 10.1002/asi.21007

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