Cataloging as Value-Added Library Service

cataloging headerI have been working on automating a library at a private school in the mountains.  They are SO excited that their students can not only find everything in the library now, they can get items from other libraries as well.  The major portion of this project is the cataloging.  The non-library folks helping out are amazed at the process of creating metadata for each item and coding it so that it is searchable and therefore findable.

I have always understood and preached the gospel of cataloging however this reminded me how truly important GOOD cataloging is!

The first thing people often see of a library is its webpage.  One of the major portions of that webpage is the catalog of books, DVDs, ebooks, etc.  The coding in each record is used to make virtual displays, bestseller lists, and promotions.  Without proper cataloging the web interface would be like a library with locked doors.  You know there are things inside you just can’t get to them.

Everyone on staff uses the results of cataloging, and even cataloging itself, to assist customers.  Every piece of descriptive metadata added about the informational item is one more lock opened in searching for that item.  The more you understand subjects, authors, editors, form, and titles the better you are at finding and “selling” your product (information).

In this age of budget cuts we often think of the frontline as the most important and last cut.  That’s what the public sees.  We can outsource the rest.  True.  I am an advocate of outsourcing cataloging, especially for smaller libraries that lack the expertise and staff.  However, someone must always understand how cataloging works at your library.  Someone must determine how they are to be classified for YOUR library.  Someone must understand cataloging so they catch the errors and communicate with the catalogers you are working with.  Someone must understand cataloging to catalog donations and correct problems in the ILS.  You MUST have a cataloger on staff to ensure you are getting what you are paying for either from a vendor or from the items you purchase.  They are key to a successful and “open” library.

I haven’t even mentioned all the work happening with linked data, the semantic web, and bibliographic framework.  Things are changing fast in the cataloging tech world.  Don’t get left behind.

Without GOOD cataloging you can offer all the wonderful information you like and be open numerous hours but it will all be trapped behind locked doors. Don’t frustrate staff and customers.

Cataloging IS customer service.