Thursday, December 3, 2009

Inspiration for the future?

So, I am prepping my intro to KO class for next semester -- and I just re-read Fran Miksa's review [LQ, 79(1): 131-143] of Lois Mai Chan's [Cataloging and Classification: An Introduction. 3rd ed. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2007] and Arlene Taylor's [Introduction to Cataloging and Classification. 10th ed. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2006] textbooks on cataloging and classification... it is a splendid historical critique of textbooks (and education) in the area of cataloging and classification and their relation (or lack thereof) to practice in libraries, esp. in small, medium, public, and special libraries. Miksa finds that much of today's textbooks in the area focuses almost exclusively on the technical procedures of cataloging and classification and doesn't include anything that would inspire the reader to view cataloging and classification as "worthwhile, even inspiring, endeavors". He ends his review by saying:

"Finally, there is the matter of creating a unified rationale for cataloging and classification that would not simply recognize the past and the present but also offer reasonable inspiration for the future. Mention has already been made of the reality that no present text offers such a rationale. In this respect, the Chan and Taylor texts, despite all of their strengths, seem “tired” when it comes to eliciting such a vision. That they are is not so much a fault of the authors, however, as much as it reflects the contemporary climate of thought in library cataloging and classification. At some point between Mann’s text [i.e. Introduction to Cataloging and the Classification of Books. Chicago: ALA, 1930] and the appearance of new texts since the 1960s, cataloging and classification had already started down the road of being thought of only or merely as access mechanisms without the complications and implications that arise from their relationship to the origin, character, and organization of humankind’s knowledge. The latter is, to say the least, a striking social phenomenon in its own right, and given its extraordinary nature I cannot help but think how grand a change would occur in texts on cataloging and classification were they to capture at least some of that extraordinary character in their vision."

Is the tail wagging the dog? It does seem to me that the lack of imagination, the staleness of cataloging and classification, and the downward interest among students in this area in the age of the participatory social web, is our own fault. Many seem more keen on preserving what we have had instead of offering "reasonable inspiration for the future". We need to start by developing syllabi and curriculum that is inspiring and offer paths for the "future of the catalog"...

Speaking of "future of the catalog", I also re-read Nancy Williamson's paper from '81, "Is there a catalog in your future" [reprinted in CCQ 48(1): 10-25) - in '81, she said: "We have perfected the catalog which has existed for more than one hundred years without significantly improving the kinds of bibliographic and subject access that the catalog might provide. Nor have we experimented sufficiently with possible new approaches to subject retrieval of bibliographic items which modern technology could support" - and then she goes on to predict what the catalog would look like 25 years later, in 2006. My sense is that it is quite appropriate to reprint Williamson's paper... and then we can hope that we can accomplish in the next 25 years what wasn't possible to even touch in the past 25 years.

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