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September 12, 2012 / playforth

The value of cataloguing: CILIP Cataloguing and Indexing Group conference 2012

As I return to reality after two days of conference-land, the main thing that sticks in my head about CIG 2012 is cake. Really, really good cake. And philosophy. And philosophy/cake puns. And tiny men riding on terriers. But apart from all that there was also a really friendly, respectful, yet dynamic atmosphere, and it was brilliant to meet Twitter contacts and cataloguing heroes (yes, I have them)  in real life.

The conference was organised into four themes (although there were definitely more than four types of cake, oh yes):

1. Working with new standards

2. Working co-operatively

3. New challenges for cataloguers

4. Developing working practices

Working with new standards

This strand was very much dominated by the spectre (or perhaps ‘prospect’ would be a more neutral word…) of RDA, the new set of cataloguing rules (based on FRBR) that will be officially adopted by the Library of Congress and the British Library on 31st March 2013  (and therefore, by most other libraries in due course). Attitudes seem to have shifted from ‘oh FFS a new thing to deal with, poor me, can’t I pretend it will go away?’ (where the acronym actually stands for Retirement Date Approaching) to ‘right this is happening, how can I implement it and how can we help each other?’ It was therefore incredibly helpful to hear Celine Carty’s dispatches from the ALA Annual Conference in the States, where great strides have already been made in developing implementation plans, training materials etc. Stuart Hunt also gave a really practical paper about implementation which focused on the questions we all need to ask and the real nitty gritty of what needs to change.

The broad scope of the networked universe we’re now dealing with was brilliantly covered by Simon Barron, while Lucy Bell and Michael Embly discussed specific metadata projects and challenges within this universe. There were also papers (from Anne Welsh and Katharine Whaite) which stressed the importance of learning from history and from each other, and which made us see that changes to cataloguing standards and practices have always been more about evolution than revolution.

Working cooperatively

Although this was a strand in itself it was also a recurring theme throughout the conference. I felt it was shown to be one of our greatest strengths as cataloguers and the best hope of survival and innovation in the future. Debbie Lee set the hopeful, enthusiastic tone with her talk about the proposed UK NACO funnel (a way of allowing more libraries to feed into LoC name authorities through cascaded training and shared responsibility). We were also reminded of the great work being done by eagle-eyed and community-minded cataloguers through listserv error notification email lists.

New challenges for cataloguers

I found this to be the most exciting session (and not just because I was speaking as part of it; that was terrifying rather than exciting…) We began with a no holds barred – and potentially depressing – analysis of the current landscape for cataloguers from Heather Jardine, which struck a chord with almost everyone. We’re living in really tough times, so it was inspiring to hear about what people were doing to keep themselves and their teams relevant, and how it’s possible to turn challenges into opportunities even in the least promising of circumstances. I was especially interested in how Helen Williams has turned her bibliographic services team into some kind of indispensable repository metadata ninja unit! Plus this strand included the best paper title of the conference (or maybe ever) from Gary Green: The Incredible Shrinking Cataloguer Meets the Spaghetti Junction Automation Robot. My own slides from the short paper I gave can be found here: Trigger’s Cataloguer: Professional Development by Default.

Developing working practices

I’ll admit that I was flagging somewhat by the final afternoon, so it was great that the fourth session featured really lively speakers like Elly Cope, Daphne Kouretas and Christina Claridge. It can be hard to convey the detail of specific practices, projects and workflows without being incomprehensible or boring, but I really did come away with a good understanding of how things like reclassification and shelf-ready trials can be managed. The surprise treat of the conference was also part of this final theme – a talk from Neil Robinson about how he has transformed the library of the Marylebone Cricket Club into a functioning specialist research collection. Great photos, fascinating history (even for non cricket fans), and some evocative phrases like ‘the Corridor of Uncertainty’ to describe a store of uncatalogued books…

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