Last week I attended my first CILIP Cataloguing and Index Group (CIG) conference. Over a hundred cataloguers gathered at the University of Sheffield for 2 days chock full of interesting papers and lightning round talks, with plenty of opportunities for networking. Apart from all the useful ideas and projects that I heard about, it was just such a pleasure to be able to talk to others who are wrestling with the same problems as myself and who don’t glaze over if I mention MARC or Dewey!
Several themes stood out for me from the conference. Unsurprisingly, RDA was one of the most prominent and the one that I suspect drew a lot of the audience to the conference. There’s a lot to be said for the support that you can gain from hearing what your peers are up to, especially when your peers are pretty much in the same position as yourself – ie in a holding pattern while the major players make their final decisions about implementation. However, I did get the feeling that quite a lot of institutions had started planning for RDA, even if that plan was only a piece of paper with a series of questions on it, and this is something I definitely need to turn my attention to now I’m back at work. I was really grateful for the presentation from Celine Carty from Cambridge University Library who brought us up to date on the developments in RDA, gleaned from her attendance at the ALA conference this year. This talk, and the excellent handout, will be top of my list for attention over next couple of months.
Another useful presentation on RDA was given by Stuart Hunt from Warwick who spoke about preparing your library management system to work with RDA records. I now have an excellent checklist of questions that I need to ask of our e-services manager and system vendor to make sure that we’re ready for when a larger number of RDA records start appearing in our catalogue.
As you might expect, the theme of standards raised its head throughout most of the conference, and many of the case studies that were shared confirmed to me the importance of sticking to international standards rather than working with idiosyncratic in-house rules. Several speakers mentioned the expediency of using batch editing processes to work with the large record sets supplied as part of shelf ready services or e-book bundles, but stressed that this was most efficient when local policies required little or no amendment to the standard records. A couple of the presentations focused on shelf ready projects, but what really took me by surprise were the problems of poor quality that they both encountered, with MARC records, classification, processing and item records all needing careful checking. At the end of her talk, Christina Claridge of Warwick asked what constituted an acceptable error rate for shelf ready services – a question that I suspect more and more institutions will be asking as shelf ready services become more prevalent.
Another common thread was that of changing roles and the adaptability of cataloguing skills, not just in metadata creation and information management, but in systems management, acquisitions, advocacy and income generation. Heather Jardine from the City of London libraries brought us all back to reality with her talk about the impact of budget cuts on her cataloguing department, but it really showed just how resourceful cataloguers are and how many of our skills can be used in a variety of roles. This was echoed in the presentation from Helen Williams from LSE who talked about how her cataloguing team have taken on the creation of metadata for the institutional repository and how these new skills are now being used in other projects.
Collaborative working was another theme I picked up on. Michael Emly from Leeds spoke about a project within COPAC to allow contributing institutions to note which resources they intend to retain long term so that others can make informed retention or disposal decisions, and Deborah Lee from the Courtauld discussed plans to organise a NACO funnel in the UK. We also had an interesting presentation from Ian Fairclough from George Washington University in the US who had started several electronic discussions lists to report errors in LC records that others may have missed in their incoming records. I have to confess that I never knew that the Typo of the Day posting on Autocat had a serious purpose!
A few of the presentations considered more theoretical questions, such as Simon Barron’s discussion about the organisation of knowledge and how the model should be presented as a never-ending network of nodes and connections rather than a hierarchical structure that subdivides a unity of knowledge. Anne Welsh and Katharine Whaite from UCL reminded us about the importance of focusing on the principles of cataloguing rather than blindly sticking to the rules. This was especially helpful to me as a relatively new cataloguer who sometimes gets rather bogged down in rules and getting it “right”, and their talk has made me want to go back and re-read Cutter’s theories and the Paris Principles. In the future I shall try and take a step backwards to gain a more critical view of cataloguing standards and rules in order to work out what is right for our users.
There were lots of other interesting talks that I haven’t time to go into here, but I will just mention Dave Pattern’s keynote address about the University of Huddersfield’s participation in the JISC Library Impact Data Project, set up to investigate the link between library usage and academic outcomes. While not directly connected to my work as a cataloguer, it was good to hear about this project and the ways in which library data can be used in a wider context. The project found a correlation between the number of items borrowed or e-resources accessed and the final grade outcomes for students – not necessarily a causal effect, but a link nonetheless. There was also a link between low library resource usage and early dropout rates, suggesting that library usage data could be used as an early warning flag for students that might need extra support. From my point of view, it would be really interesting to know if the same correlations would apply in a specialist arts university and I shall certainly be raising this with my library management team.
On a personal level, one of the things I am taking away from this conference is a bit more confidence in what I do. I had previously assumed that everyone else knows exactly what they are doing but have found that in reality that isn’t always the case. It has been really good to hear that other cataloguers are struggling with the same issues as myself and that there is often no right way of dealing with these problems – there are just different ways. I shall try very hard to remember that in the future.
Now I’ve got back to work, I need to focus on what I am actually going to put into practice, using the What? – So What? – Now What? routine that I picked up from the 23 Things project I’ve been taking part in. I’ll try and keep this blog updated with some of the progress that I make.