As a Reference Librarian, I’ve been thinking about cataloging a lot lately. My biggest fear was confirmed while having lunch with a friend, who is wrapping up her MLIS degree with my alma mater, Florida State University.
She joined one of our library’s catalogers and I for lunch to discuss her internship at my library, where she will be learning cataloging under his direction. While we were in the middle of disucssing the challenges of cramming the whole scope of cataloging into five months, I brought up RDA.
She had never heard of it. I asked about her understanding of FRBR. “What’s that?”
I knew for a fact that she had taken an introductory class on the organization of information, as well as a class on indexing and abstracting. So I guess somewhere in there, I expected her to learn about these emerging standards.
Imagine the look of horror that spread across her face when we explained what they were. “But what if I had gone into a job interview and someone had asked about RDA or FRBR?” Exactly.
MLIS programs should be at the leading edge of exploring emerging trends in our field. They should be preparing their students for the rapid change that we experience in libraries, and equipping them to evaluate and make tough decisions regarding formats, standards, and techniques of description
I’m not picking on FSU alone here. In my time at VSU, I’ve served on and/or chaired several search committees. The number one reason that candidates aren’t selected is that they lack experience, or reveal their ignorance in an interview. It is my opinion that since librarianship is a practical science, it should be practiced by its students, at least in the form of a mandatory internship.
And no, I’m not talking about folksonomies and tagging here. Although they are fun and very useful, they are no replacement for standards-based high-quality metadata. I would never want my library’s catalog to look like my personal photo collection–with spotty tagging and organization at best! Reference librarians, library staff, other catalogers and users all make use of high-quality cataloging metadata for locating the specific items that they need. All it takes is a single mistake in a cataloging record to ensure that an item is lost to its user forever. Catalogers: take it from a Reference Librarian–what you do is important.
So, my plea is this:
If you teach in an MLIS program, stay in touch with librarians to know what your students should be learning to be prepared for the real world. Look at the entry-level job ads that are being posted, and ask if the average graduate of your program will leave with the skills necessary to do that job. Look at the advanced-level job ads that are being posted, and ask if your students are being instilled with the intellectual curiosity and passion that will lead them in that direction. Make internships required for all your students, so they can at least get a taste of what librarianship is really like.
If you are a cataloger, constantly strive to improve what you do, and stay in touch with the cataloging community. Think about the long-term effects of your description choices–after we’re long gone, our bib records will remain, either informing or misleading the next generation. And please pass along your skills and passion to the next generation by offering mentorships and internships.
If you do it for no one else, then do it for our users. After all, they are the ones who truly suffer if tomorrow’s catalogers are unskilled, and that perfect resource can’t be found.