Now that the retrospective cataloging project I’ve been working on full-time for the last three years has come to an end (yay!), I think some pieces of advice that have accumulated over time are worth sharing. Selection and workflow for recon projects depend on the context of each individual library, but there are some general guidelines too.
- Outsource, bring in external catalogers or make do with the staff time you have, or a combination of these options? Progress, quality, costs, timeframe?
- In case the project is fixed-term, what parts of the collection are most important and should absolutely be cataloged within the timeframe?
- If possible, weed before starting the recon project, because there will be less to catalog and some old material may not be needed anymore anyway.
- Do you want descriptive cataloging only or also subject cataloging? If thorough subject analysis and adding subject headings is too time-consuming, consider having the recon catalogers apply a (simple) classification scheme.
- Should the catalogers work from cards only or should they examine every book? Assess the quality of your cards; you might want to remove added entries beforehand to speed the cataloging when only working with main entries. Consider the benefits of the “examine every book” approach – it could serve as a revision of the collection, items whose condition is bad could be restored, duplicate call numbers or other errors could be removed, too many spare items could be discarded etc. Also think about transportation – can catalogers fetch the books from the stacks themselves or is there remote storage (even if that only means stacks in the basement)?
- What quality level do you expect? Is it okay to provide access level cataloging and upgrade when occasion arises? What will be given priority – cataloging effectively or efficiently (see slide 4 in a presentation of the same title by Rick Newell)?
- The same is true for serials – is holdings information enough and can individual items be barcoded as needed? Take into account “just in case” and “just in time” scenarios.
- What kind of quality control mechanisms do you aim to implement? Checking samples is probably the only feasible way given the amount of data created during most projects.
- Also think about little details such as: what range of inventory numbers are the retrospectively cataloged resources going to get – their own (with a prefix such as “retro-…”) or just plain sequential numbers so that they are not distinguishable from the rest of the collection?
- What local information do you need to have recorded?
- Consider making use of batch loading (every record gets a “recon marker” and subsequently all records with the marker are loaded and items are generated with the appropriate indication of status and location).
- It is crucial to document guidelines for the project as well as decisions made for individual cases.
- Follow-up on whether “the old stuff” gets asked for and used more after being visible and findable in the online catalog.
- What about the physical paper cards? What do you intend to do with them – get rid of them straight away or keep them as a kind of “backup”? Should there be a revision (e.g. creation of lists of what has been cataloged and comparison with the cards)?
This was a period of intense cataloging for me, including serials, books published before 1900 and grey literature. Now on to new tasks!