Okay, I have been immersed in cataloging/metadata/FRBR discussion lists and blog posts lately. All of this discussion is making my head hurt a little, honestly. Is cataloging becoming obsolete? Should it? People seem to fall on all sides of this argument. It seems like there’s a lot of pressure on those of us who haven’t picked a side to do so, and loudly.
So, here’s what I think. I’m not going to pick a side.
The argument that cataloging should cease to exist is a very bold and also views cataloging in a very narrow way. Or maybe it’s that the very narrow way catalogers see themselves should cease to exist. Regardless of the rise and fall of social categorization, history of similar movements shows that the embracing and then rejecting of “authority” and “control” has been happening since the dawn of time. It just keeps circling. And lets not forget that it is this very pattern that allows for evolution of thoughts and ideas into action in every field. It helps to challenge what we do so that it becomes the best it can be. Isn’t that what we want?
Of course cataloging should not continue on unchanged! To do so would assume that we had found the very best way to organize information and provide access to it. Would any of us agree that we have been working within the realm of the perfect? Seriously? Anyone who frequents the AUTOCAT listserv knows that the ambiguity we’ve been working in, and the attempts to fit new materials and new methods into AACRII rules is often the worst kind of shoehorning. In a lot of ways, especially with new media, we’re just guessing as we go. Trying to achieve visual consistency is not the same as good knowledge representation (although they do go together very nicely when done well!)
So the general public thinks it can do better than librarians and information professionals at large at describing and providing access to information. Well, in some ways they probably can. The most innovative and brilliant people in our field will take what we’ve been doing right and combine it with what the most innovative and brilliant people not in our field have been doing and make something incredible. And it will be better and we can’t even conceive of it yet, even though we’re seeing the rough edges form. But even this system will not perfect, and once the glamour has worn off and we’ve worked with it for a long time, discontent will arise and the process starts again.
This is the natural way. I for one am really excited to be watching it happen, and hopefully someday soon I’ll feel bold enough to contribute something to the evolution. It’s exciting people, get psyched!