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Monday, October 27, 2008

The vanishing cataloger

In the past few years, I've been noticing a trend amongst many of the smart, talented cataloging colleagues that I know -- they are are leaving the Cataloging profession.
I think there are many factors at work, but I see a few trends:
  • The shifted job: Their jobs have shifted even if their job descriptions or titles have not.
  • The evolved job: Their jobs and official job descriptions have shifted from "Cataloger" to something involving bibliographic services, metadata, electronic resources, digital initiatives, etc. Their home department has also changed names and scope from traditional cataloging services, to encompass more digital projects, non-MARC metadata, and more.
  • The transition job: Their new jobs are no longer centered on traditional cataloging (and in some cases are not in a library) . These librarians are leaving the cataloging profession to be reference librarians, systems librarians, school media librarians, web designers, information architects, technical writers, library science instructors, and more.

I do realize there are still lib sci students studying traditional cataloging, but I am not sure that they expect to find a job as a "Cataloger." I think many of them will be looking to digital libraries, IRs, a consortia, the web, and elsewhere.

Perhaps, this is the reason:

Our catalogers began to disappear with the takeover of that function by OCLC, the nonprofit that aspires to be a corporation in this brave new retail library world. The standardized result of the effort is bypassed by patron and librarian alike, as they turn to the more friendly Amazons, Googles, et al., for the less precise, more watered-down “metadata” that has replaced what used to be cataloging. Apparently, users don’t miss the old catalog, except as a familiar artifact, which is testimony to how low this dumbing down has taken us.
In the new model, that most sacred of our professional duties, the selection of materials to build services and collections, is turned over to either small centralized teams of two or three librarians and clerks, or in extreme cases to an external vendor, usually a library book distributor.
from the LJ's Vanishing Librarian

There is alot of great stuff to be said for the Amazon/Google model, but if librarianship continues to move down that path, will we completely give up the expertise (and respect for that expertise) that is inherent in the profession? Will our services become superficial, mediocre, and generic? Is this part of the larger trend coming out of web2.0 technologies (every one is an expert, so no one is an expert?)

I don't have a good answer to any of those questions, but it does seem like librarianship (especially cataloging) is changing.

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