Friday, March 6, 2009

Feeding the "quality vs. quantity" fire

One of the big topics of discussion this week (and maybe last week as well) on the AUTOCAT listserv has been quality vs. quantity when it comes to cataloging. A few catalogers admit to grudgingly accepting the "quantity is more important than quality" side of the argument, but most believe that quantity actually suffers because of many libraries' lack of concentration on the quality of the records they produce. If the cataloger who originally creates a record concentrates on quality, all later catalogers who use the record for copy cataloging benefit, because they won't have to edit the record as much. It's an idea I agree with - I'll also add that there are some errors that won't necessarily be caught by copy catalogers. If those errors (such as incorrect call numbers) are caught after the item has been processed and shelved, then there is the additional time and expense of fixing the mistake.

I think the thing that started this whole debate was OCLC's Expert Community Experiment. Some catalogers fear it, because not everyone who can take part in the experiment is truly an expert. I may be very comfortable cataloging books, but even with those I don't have as much experience as some. If I felt like it, I could edit the master records for item types I'm not as familiar with, like music or maps - unless it's an obvious typo, I probably wouldn't, but the point is that I could.

I understand this fear, since I kind of share it, but, overall, I think the experiment is a good thing. It's nice to be able to immediately edit a master record and make it better for everyone, not just for me and the Dick Smith Library. When it's not possible for me to make an obviously necessary edit, it's annoying - an example would be a book I worked on today that most on AUTOCAT agreed matched a record with an error in the subtitle. However, that particular record was protected from the experiment, so I had to submit the error to OCLC. The WorldCat record may or may not get edited. In the meantime, I used that record and did all the necessary edits locally. It works for our library, but the record in WorldCat is still wrong.

I didn't mean for it to happen, but the question I put out on AUTOCAT about this particular book just seemed to fuel the quantity vs. quality fire. Some people may find cataloging boring, but catalogers feel very strongly about cataloging - it's been a heated discussion at times.

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