Librarians: Thursday’s Question

David Lankes wrote, “Rather than cataloging artifacts and assuming they are self-contained, we need to build systems that focus on the relationships.”  This quote proposes the idea of building catalogs which are functionally different from what we see in libraries today.   Instead of basic inventory systems, which can be cumbersome or useless for members of the library, Professor Lankes proposes that future catalogs be structured to include information that is more contextual in nature.  This poses a few questions.  If we push for this new system of cataloging, who should contribute in the design and development of this new system? How much influence and involvement should members have in their design?  How should librarians address value of contextual information and judge its inclusion in the catalog?  Should contextual information value be differentiated based on categories of the materials within the catalog (ex. fiction vs. historical, etc)?

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  • Jan

    Taking the stance which at least aligns with Atlas, members
    need to be the driving force behind updated form of the catalogs.  The librarians need to be part of this
    conversation, very important part.  Even
    if members can develop the contextual information for the catalogs, the final
    decision of what should be included is the responsibility of the
    librarians.  This is not an issue of the gatekeepers,
    but of the moderators.  The librarians need
    to adjure in good faith and in impartiality for the members, so catalogs carry
    authority for them.  The value requested
    for catalogs would be derived from within the communities which will use the catalogs,
    but librarians should keep to our biases while assisting communities with the catalog
    development (those biases could be defined as you see fit, but for me they are open
    information, accessibility to information, freedom of speech, etc).   This
    member driven development of the contextual information within catalogs then
    would cause catalogs to be differentiate based on what the subject matter is
    within.  This type of cataloging then
    moves out of realm of inventory maintenance, which can be managed nowadays with
    use of automation, into a new realm where catalog becomes constant work in
    progress.

  • Pamela Espinosa de los Montero

    I like the idea of providing additional contextual information in the structure of catalogs.  Constructing a system that can show interdisciplinary connections to materials  may encourage wholistic learning.  However, the connection of materials to each other may be subjective and dependent on a particular perspective.  How may these differences be taken into account in a new catalog system?  Also, under the current system, the exercise of connecting the dots on how materials relate to each other is done independently.  Under a new proposed model, these connections would be given to members.  Would this foster laziness in critical thinking, perhaps another example where technology is training an individual to have an instantaneous answer without understanding the process of how to arrive at it. 

  • Jan

    Laziness exists no matter if we change catalogs or not.  By providing members with the tools to
    generate connections between materials and disciplines a new possibility for innovation
    is created.  One of the examples I heard before
    is intersection of astronomy with study of paleontology.  When conversation occurred between these two
    fields it generated a theory for dinosaur extinction due to the meteor
    impact.  Librarians in the new system could
    function as moderators for the conversations to make sure that those conversations
    do not get de-rail.  Never less the new
    system would give chance for the people to generate those new conversations.  At this time when the conversations occur there
    is often no formalized platform for them to occur on.  As to your point of subjectivity because of certain
    perspectives involved, this is the nature of the beast.  Since each individual carries biases based on their
    understanding of the world they will bring them to the conversations.  This new approach to the catalogs might actually
    generate more conversations if those biases have chance of being challenged by
    others.

    • Pamela Espinosa de los Montero

      What elements of the traditional catalog model do you think should endure in this new method of cataloging structures?

      • Jan

        The catalog still is valuable in providing guidelines for dividing collections into manageable sections which at least offer idea of the subject matter.  Also catalog in itself is ideal tool to keep track of inventory which comes with maintaining of the large collections.  Traditional catalog is not abandoned and redesigned, but expanded to provide more value to members as well as allows librarians to provide more functional role in reference to catalogs.