About Us

Friday, 20 January 2012

Should professional librarians be the only cataloguers?

by Charlie Molepo

Should cataloguers be professional librarians? This has been a growing debate in the industry for some years.

In the past there was agreement that cataloguing was reserved for qualified librarians only. The question has cropped up recently as a result of library schools closing;  those that are still open only offering cataloguing/classification for a six month period as opposed to four years' training in the past; and some schools changing focus from librarianship to information and knowledge management.

At the last LIASA (Library and Information Association of South Africa) conference there was an acknowledgement from the practitioners and academics alike that cataloguing is fast becoming a scarce skill in the industry. It was also clear that academic departments are reluctant to teach cataloguing as it was done in the past, with an added problem of a scarcity of academics to teach the subject. One institution mentioned that they could not find a single candidate to fill a post to teach cataloguing skills. Are these challenges unique to South Africa?

Below is the executive summary of a study undertaken by the Primary Research group that was forwarded to me by a colleague and I thought I would share it with you.

On their website this group define themselves as a Group that publishes research reports, surveys and benchmarking studies for businesses, colleges, libraries, law firms, hospitals, museums and other institutions. Our benchmarking studies allow institutions to compare their budgets, managerial decisions, technology purchases and strategic visions to those of their peers, and to identify best practices. Our market studies, based on substantial primary and secondary research, assist our clients in identifying opportunities and threats.

Primary Research Group has published: The Survey of Academic Library Cataloging Practices, 2011-12 Edition, ISBN 157440-178-5.

The study looks closely at how academic libraries deploy their cataloging personnel, how they use librarians and cataloging technicians, and how large are cataloging and technical services departments. It helps library administrators to answer questions such as: What kind of work is performed by cataloging librarians and paraprofessionals in different types or organizations? How much cataloging work is outsourced? How are special collections handled? Are cataloging staff growing or shrinking? How does administration assess work quality? What are considered reasonable measures of excellence? To what extent is cataloging of eBooks or AV materials outsourced and how does this compare to other types of materials?

Some findings of this 160-page reports show that:
  • Copy cataloging was routinely performed by paraprofessionals in 81.43% of libraries in the sample, and by librarians in 58.57% of them.  

  • Master bibliographic record enhancement in OCLC was performed by paraprofessional support staff in 30% of academic libraries, and by professional librarians in 75.71% of academic libraries.

  •  On average, the libraries in the sample anticipated the retirement of 0.50 professional librarians performing cataloging functions within the next five years, with community colleges anticipating the fewest, a mean of 0.10.

  • 28.57% of private colleges and 17.95% of public colleges considered turn-around time very useful as an indicator of cataloging work quality, including 33.33% of community colleges and 25% of 4-year degree granting programs.

  • 45.71% of academic libraries outsourced authority control in the form of obtaining new and updated authority records. This outsourcing occurred most often in private colleges and in higher level academic institutions, as in level 1 and level 2 Carnegie Class research universities, 73.33% of which had outsourced this work.
It is quite clear from the above executive summary that cataloguing challenges are not peculiar to South Africa. For us to be able to meet the needs of our users, we need to think out of the box. The irony is that while we place much emphasis on a university qualification as the entry requirement for cataloguers, it is the Universities of Technology that still teach cataloguing as universities used to.

Maybe we need to develop cataloguers as artisan rather than academic professionals, i.e. cataloguing would be a vocational skill. I do not see universities allocating more than 20 Credits to cataloguing - in the past it constituted almost, if not more than 50% of the library qualification. The library Association can then train cataloguers using the apprenticeship model. This would be very useful even for qualified librarians who are currently not taught cataloguing.

It makes you think doesn’t it?