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White Paper

Living the Future:

Supporting User Services through Cataloging

at the University of Florida

April 2006


        As libraries rethink assumptions about their role in a changing information environment, so too do the functional areas within libraries.  Each must face pivotal questions about its contribution to the library enterprise and the extent to which its activities, staffing, and workflow aid or hinder the library in accomplishing its goals.  For this reason, it is critical that library leadership clearly articulates a collective vision based on user needs, focuses financial and staff resources, and empowers the organization to move in a direction that is consistent with its mission.  Otherwise, these functional areas risk operating in isolation without an adequate understanding of and respect for each other's processes and, as a result, will lack the critical knowledge to make necessary assessments and decisions.  Efforts to set the course and bridge these gaps improve user services by providing the justification for shifting priorities to new information delivery models.


        Cataloging has undergone myriad changes over the years in response to evolving needs.  From the days when librarians labored over catalog cards to now, there is a deeply held conviction that, at its heart, Cataloging is a public service.  While it may come as a surprise to some, catalogers do consider users central to their purpose and go to great lengths to provide access to the library's collections in a thorough and timely manner.  Our fault, if any, has possibly been to overemphasize the needs of highly specialized user groups.  Our resistance to "dumbing down" description and access has been based to a great degree on concern about the loss of scholarly access to library material, but, according to many leaders in the profession, this has brought our catalogs, and us by extension, to the verge of marginalization because it is not realistic in today's economic environment. [1]   Our processes are built on an outdated structure, which is too bureaucratic and too expensive. 

        The challenge before us - one CatMet constantly strives to address - is to strike the right balance between "good enough" and perfect, quality and quantity, tradition and change.  Our local Cataloging Priorities document, on which CatMet sought input from other segments of the library, helps by providing a framework for decision-making.  It acknowledges the growing importance of electronic resources for users as well as the need to improve access to the library's unique collections.  The department's annual reports and goals reflect these priorities as well.  In many ways, CatMet has not only anticipated its changing role, it has taken significant steps toward that end:

        Much hard work - and at a more fundamental level - remains, however.  Library 2.0, a trendy way of referring to library services that engage users on their own playing field, can be extrapolated to other layers of library infrastructure.[2]  Is there a Cataloging 2.0?  If so, what are its characteristics?  Is it only about the catalog or is it something more?  How do 2.0 catalogers differ from other catalogers?  And what does all this mean for users?

        The answers to those questions are wrapped up in our ability to recognize the practices and technologies worth pursuing or keeping and those that should be dropped.  Janes puts it this way, “When is the right time to adopt or embrace a new technology or format?  How long do we wait, and what’s the right balance of benefit and opportunity cost in making that decision? … “The other side of the coin is that with limited resources we can’t do everything.  Deciding when to jump in is one thing; deciding when to jump out is another.” [3]  Not easy to do considering the pace of change being experienced today and the difficulties in discerning the fads from long-lasting innovations.  Best explains, "… our culture features a bedrock receptiveness to change, a willingness to entertain claims that innovations can fix our problems. … Serious people don't want to enlist in some silly new fad; they want to be part of important, paradigm-shifting changes.  Thus, novelties are packaged as transformative, as breakthroughs, as the newly arrived future."  He goes on to say that "institutional fads carry real costs.  Adopting an innovation often requires that people spend time, energy, and other resources on making the change.  The novelty's proponents insist that the benefits will be well worth the price, that these are investments in a better future." [4]   Such cautionary words should guide us as we move forward, but not blind us to the advantages of exploring new territory.  Catalogers are caught in the middle.  On the one hand, there is pressure to completely reinvent Cataloging in light of a transformed information landscape. [5]  On the other, there are compelling arguments for carefully weighing the pros and cons of such fundamental change in light of the real needs of the scholarly research community. [6]

        Cataloging takes pride in its history of innovation, most notably the scale with which it has fostered cooperation through shared cataloging.  However, we have been slow to realize the full benefits of record sharing by continuing to maintain individual OPACs (or institutional records within OPACs), which necessitate much duplicative work, under the guise that the added value we bring locally serves needs that are unique to our institutions and our users.  For a great percentage of the material in our collections, it is not the case that special local treatment is warranted.  While we need a mechanism for drilling down to specific item information, it is becoming hard to rationalize the time spent massaging individual indexing structures and OPAC interfaces when aggregated presentations, such as Endeca's search platform (soon to be implemented by FCLA), WorldCat, and RLG's RedLightGreen, could conceivably serve as substitutes. [7] 

        The catalog long ago lost its place as the primary discovery mechanism for library collections.  Even in its glory years, abstracting and indexing services provided access to the serial literature separate from the catalog.  Today, online e-resource and database lists, finding aids, and subject guides, among other add-ons, are part of the mix making the library Web portal unmanageable for users.  The desire for one-stop shopping lives on – witness the recent growth of metasearch engines - and Google Scholar, which encompasses OCLC’s Open WorldCat resource base, is built on the premise that the world’s academic capital can be easily accessed through one portal.  But for that to even come close to happening, all of an institution’s collection data, in whatever format, must be 1) accurate 2) comprehensive 3) navigable and 4) harvestable.  Cataloging’s future depends on how successfully it collaborates across functional areas to assure its library's collection data meet these criteria. 


        Maintaining accurate, authoritative data is a bedrock, back-to-the-basics, activity for Cataloging.  Our Three R’s are Revisit, Review, and Revise.  Through programming, macros, and other automated means, we have been able to extend manual correction in order to insure that access isn't compromised due to faulty or missing data only to find that our individual OPACs bury collections through inadequate and convoluted search interfaces. 

        Authority control, which in its current form is considered to be the most costly cataloging activity, underpins OPAC browsing functionality.  Yet more and more anecdotal and quantified information purports that keyword searching is the primary means of user access.  While the principles of collocation are valid, the economics and lack of scalability, especially to digital projects, are forcing us to make compromises.  Authority control has been a "hard sell" to administrators for a long time.  Without a significant change in current methodology, it will be abandoned, as we've witnessed with the recent decision by the Library of Congress to curtail series authority work.  It is possible that ever-improving datamining techniques will allow for "next generation" authority control systems that support discovery in more cost-effective, less labor-intensive ways.  Like many other universities, we have actively supported the Program for Cooperative Cataloging (PCC) authority programs.  We must now commit to seeking new forms of authority control and promote this within PCC.  CatMet's Digital Projects Metadata Librarian position was designed with this in mind, but it will take a communal effort to investigate and implement new processes.  


        Many library and university resources, here and elsewhere, are not known to users nor easily accessible.  In 2003 ARL's Exposing Hidden Collections Conference spearheaded efforts to process and catalog the vast store of special library collections "hidden" because of competing priorities and limited staffing.  The digitization of these collections, when possible, further enlarges the library's reach and value to the research community.  In  recent years CatMet has increased the level of detail documented in its Uncataloged Inventory (found in the "CatMet-Inventory" Outlook Public Folder), expressed a desire to participate in EAD creation (which should begin to happen soon), and increased the cataloging of special collection materials. 

        The Institutional Repository is another initiative to expose "hidden" resources.  CatMet is working with a library team to develop an ingest process to capture needed data.  As the IR is fully implemented, CatMet expects to play a role in reviewing and revising the ingested data to make it easily accessible for users.

        Assuring that all electronic resources are discoverable is the motivating force behind loading thousands of e-book, e-journal, and ETD records into the catalog, deriving/creating cataloging for databases, and offering to catalog subject guides.  As metasearch tools evolve, the catalog may not need to serve as the "container" for this data.  CatMet will participate in decisions to find the most effective means for alerting users that these resources are available.


        Helping users navigate library collections is as much a cataloging activity as it is a public service task.  Catalogers understand the catalog's existing data structure (e.g., linking fields) and are aware of ways it might be manipulated to expose collections.  FRBR, a conceptual model for clustering collection data, is an outgrowth of efforts within the cataloging community to improve the presentation of data for users.  It has led to more user-friendly interfaces such as RLG's RedLightGreen.  CatMet would welcome the opportunity to play a more active role in deciding how to improve the public interface of the catalog as well as the navigability of the library portal.


        Assuring that collection data can be harvested for reuse is taking on greater importance.  Google, specialized portals, and course management systems provide new platforms for sharing library resources "just in time."  The hooks into these systems are often based on coded bibliographic data supplied through cataloging or programming.  CatMet is very interested in developing the links into these systems and currently has a number of projects underway to improve access to the library's collections through Google Scholar.


        So, yes, there is a Cataloging 2.0.  Its defining characteristic is a commitment to serve users' research needs by enhancing resource discovery through all available means, particularly those that are in the users' space (e.g., Google, course management systems) No longer can Cataloging be synonymous with the catalog.  It’s role encompasses the catalog, but also extends beyond it and requires the following: 

        Each functional area brings expertise to the table.  Working together for a common purpose, we can leverage that expertise in new ways and build a better, more user-centered, library.  




1. Carla Stoffle, Dean of the University of Arizona Libraries, gave a provocative talk at the 2006 FLA Annual Conference entitled, "Transforming Libraries to Meet Shifting Needs".  She emphasized that "Economics, not technology, is (or will be) driving the need for fundamental changes in our universities and in our libraries."

2. Talking with Talis podcasts at provide a good overview of Library 2.0.

3. Janes, Joseph, "Internet Librarian: Options for Adoption," American Libraries, April 2006, p.78.

4. Best, Joel, " From Fad to Worse," Chronicle of Higher Education, April 14, 2006, p. B6-B7.

5. Calhoun, Karen, "The Changing Nature of the Catalog and Its Integration with Other Discovery Tools," Final Report prepared for the Library of Congress, March 17, 2006. 

6. Mann, Thomas, "The Changing Nature of the Catalog and Its Integration with Other Discovery Tools.  Final Report.  March 17, 2006.  Prepared for the Library of Congress by Karen Calhoun.  A Critical Review," Prepared for AFSCME 2910, The Library of Congress Professional Guild, April 3, 2006.

7. OCLC Members Council 2/6/06 Meeting podcast “The Future of the Integrated Library System: A Response and Discussion” touches on the potential of WorldCat as OPAC.


Prepared by: Betsy Simpson


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