In his article “The Future of Cooperative Cataloging: Curve, Fork, or Impasse?” Schuitema attempts a historic overview of cooperative cataloging, with a focus on major milestones. Problems arise when costs become too high, and the demand is greater than production attempts.
In 1850, Charles Jewett proposed organizing libraries around the Smithsonian’s cataloging methods, kicking off the idea of cooperative cataloging. Jewett also pushed for official cataloging rules. The Smithsonian did not fund the project, despite its popularity among professionals, so catalogers continued doing seemingly redundant work, cataloging the same works at individual libraries.
Another solutions to the redundancy of cataloging the same book at multiple individual libraries was to ask publishers to provide bibliographic records with the works purchased. Library Journal provided these for a short time, calling “Title-Slip Registry” or “full ALA titles” for records following ALA rules. These records came with the journal subscription at first, then they offered it separately, which ended up not being able to financially hold itself up.
Several other attempts to catalog cooperatively were tried. Reasons for failure:
- Process held up printing
- Process added cost to the book price
- Information published in the record differed from the book due to publishers changing data before publishing
A centralized cataloging agency was needed after the work was published so these failure reasons could be overcome. Individual libraries began creating catalog records on a printed 3”x5” card to sell to other libraries. These became so popular that catalogers feared for their jobs. The Library of Congress began printing cards in 1901, and though were revered for decades as the go-to cooperative cataloging system for libraries throughout the land, the job soon became overwhelming for LOC. In the 1930s, back orders for the cards piled up, not only from libraries seeking cards, but of LOC’s own internal book cataloging needs.
The LOC started other cooperative cataloging projects to alieve the burden. Problems with each project arose:
- Start-up costs prohibitive
- Costs for staff to maintain efforts prohibitive
- Growth of titles outpaced cataloging efforts
- Difficulty in recouping costs
- Need better uniformity between catalogers
- Catalogers reluctant to change to follow national standard
- Catalogers became nonproductive when their copy was edited by another cataloger
- Lack of affordable technology for true cooperation (production or card catalog physical items)
- Success is questioned so searches begin for other approaches
These same problems are still faced today. Though the physical card catalog is no longer in production due to online cataloging, electronic platforms offer their own issues to add to the list.
- Publishing works in new and multiple formats
- Works dues as data sets and blogs, which are challenging for bibliographic description
- Librarian work of the past being outsourced, stressing currently librarians about their jobs
- Rapid growth of cataloging rules, standards, and software that must be learned (i.e. RDA, non-MARC standards)
- User seeking behaviors changing over time
- Metadata electronically created by non-librarians and machines, eroding control mechanisms of cataloging
All these issues paint an unclear picture for cataloging in the future. There are changes currently happening though: the Program for Cooperative Cataloging (PCC) is expanding, the complexity of some of the standards used is reducing (e.g., Cooperative Online Serials (CONSER) and Bibliographic Record Cooperative Program (BIBCO) standard records), and the possibility of contributing Metadata Object Description Schema (MODS) or Dublin Core records through BIBCO and/or CONSER is being investigated.
Work that was once valued in librarians is no longer as valuable, which is why I am grateful that I am in school in a time of change such as this. Current cooperative cataloging will not meet the discovery needs of users in today’s digital environment. I look forward to being a part of this change in time for cataloging methods, and reviewing or even being a part of research production on ideas for cooperative cataloging that assist today’s and tomorrow’s users.