Cataloging = Training Wheels????

Yesterday, Dorothea Salo wrote a post Training-wheels culture over on her blog, Caveat Lector. Salo is tired of “. . . having to stand over a grown professional’s shoulder teaching her to use a set of essentially self-explanatory web forms because she cannot be bothered to learn by doing.” I believe that Salo’s training-wheels culture is a culture where people prefer to ask for help repeatedly rather than learn something for themselves. Now, I can’t argue that this culture exists. As a technophile, my life is filled with people who would prefer for me to show them something rather than take the time or make the effort to figure it out. This isn’t just a work thing either. It is actually much more prevalent in my personal life. Human beings are an interesting lot – and there are many, many of us who don’t feel the need to learn how to do something because we have someone close to us who knows how.

Now, I see some issues with Salo’s attitude. I will admit that I have spent a great deal of time being frustrated by technology users and their inability to grasp simple concepts. Part of what I have learned from this entire “The User is Not Broken” thing is that we need to afford the same courtesy to library employees that we afford to our patrons. Technology permeates almost everything that we do in libraries. It is essential that people who work in libraries understand a great deal about technology, understand that things will continue to change rapidly – and they need to have a basic confidence in their own knowledge of technology. This isn’t the case for so many people, and to me, it means that we are not giving people the skills they need to be successful in the library environment. Do people need to step up and take responsibility for their own skill set? No doubt about it. But, we have to work together because there is a real divide in the technological skill set. Why do people continually ask for help with something that the technology experts believe they should be able to figure out themselves? Why? We need to be looking at this rather than just getting frustrated.

Now beyond that, Dorothea Salo includes a rant about the value of cataloging. Salo read through the responses to Nicole Engard’s survey about LIS requirements and was seemingly astonished by the number of people who wrote that they believe they need additional training in cataloging. Whether you believe that MARC is dead, or should should be dead, it currently is THE foundation of our library systems. Should it be? I’m not getting into that debate. I’m not necessarily a fan of MARC, but we are a long way from saying goodbye to it. We have to deal with it. If you are going to work in a library today, you need to understand it – as well as the reasons why people believe it to be inadequate. Additionally, people can’t truly understand its weaknesses unless they first understand it. I also believe that it will be those people who understand MARC and AACR2 best who will be able to move library cataloging forward. I wasn’t surprised by how many people mentioned a need for additional training or advanced classes in cataloging. I thought it was a good thing.

Dorothea Salo’s frustration with the training-wheels culture is more than evident in this post. I’m with Salo in that we need to find a way to get people to be able to do more with technology on their own. However, I don’t think that screencasts and/or tutorials and the like are going to get us there. Nor do I think that convincing LIS students that they don’t need more training in cataloging is going to help either.

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4 Responses to Cataloging = Training Wheels????

  1. sharon says:

    I run up against that every week–people asking me to do something to their computer that I think they should have figured out on their own, or figured out after I showed them once. Additionally I find that several people know how to do the things they need to do, but they do them by rote, and when confronted with a new pc, or a new desktop configuration, or a new Windows app, they get thrown for a loop. I wish I could spend some time on one-to-one training, but I’m only on the job 20 hours a week as it is. (And that’s effectively going to be reduced when I get put into the Saturday circ desk rotation.) So I suggested to the director that she needs to give the staff permission to spend 15-20 minutes a day getting more familiar with Windows, with MS Office, and with anything else they think would help them. WebJunction has some very good introductory tutorials on many tech subjects, and they’re all free. That will help a few people who are willing. What I don’t know how to break through or overcome is the fear and even antipathy towards technology that still exists among some staff members–folks who got their MLS in the 70s and 80s, or who have worked in the same library for 20+ years without an MLS. They come from a whole different world than I do.

  2. One of the reasons for a lack of cataloging classes is a lack of people to teach them. They just dropped the cataloging requirement in our program, but my teachers all encourage us to take it anyway. We don’t even have the option to take advanced cataloging anymore.

  3. Aaron says:

    As Nicole pointed out, a great deal of the respondents to her survey were either current or very recently graduated MLS students. I’m one of those, and I can tell you precisely why people are clamoring for cataloguing — despite being told almost from the moment we entered the program that “we don’t teach skills like that here because they can be learned on the job.” In fact, I’d be perfectly happy to learn to catalogue on the job. And I’d be pretty good at it, too. But a good share of the library job postings I’ve seen, if they don’t require 3-5 years of management experience (something recent graduates are not likely to possess), want — guess what? — CATALOGUING SKILLS. And these aren’t straight-up, 40-hours-a-week-in-front-of-the-terminal cataloguing gigs, but rather the kind that expect you to do a little of everything, or at least most things. In other words, entry-level professional jobs. How would one prove these skills to a prospective employer? That’s right — coursework.

    So I’d like to float a slightly different thesis here. I suspect that the problem isn’t with librarians (or librarian-hopefuls) that need training wheels, though I’m sure they are out there. I believe the bigger problem is employers who not only don’t want to provide training wheels, but who will only hire entry-level Lance Armstrongs. Honestly, what kind of response could I expect if in a cover letter or interview for one of these positions I were to say, “I’ve never written a complete MARC record before in my life — but I’d be happy to sit down and figure it out on my own!” Which cash-strapped, over-burdened library is going to take the chance that I actually will learn, and without wasting too many productivity hours? So, in the case of job-seekers, the choice is either a) take the cataloguing course if it’s offered or b) eliminate the majority of your job prospects because you have never been a library manager or cataloguer.

  4. Kristen says:

    I’m a cataloger who also did reference shifts until a couple months ago, and I have to admit I really don’t understand why non-catalogers feel they need to understand MARC. When I’m setting up a record, my goal is to make it clear enough that the user (be it a reference librarian or a patron) doesn’t need to think about the structure or rules behind it. And when I was at the reference desk, the only time my cataloging knowledge came in handy was in terms of understanding the controlled vocabulary. (Granted, that was a huge help.) But MARC/AACR2 really doesn’t seem to matter to non-catalogers.

    What am I not seeing?

    (I’m very sympathetic to the folks who actually want to be catalogers and can’t get the experience, however. I had to move from a major metro area to the Dakotas to get the experience. And for very little money. I feel your pain.)

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