Democratizing cataloging

In the age of vendor-supplied metadata and subscription databases (the electronic content is basically the same for each library because it is licensed and retrieved from the vendor’s server), making special collections available is where libraries can still make a real difference. The things people can’t get from GoogleBooks, JSTOR or LexisNexis but only from your institution are worth focusing on. At the recent THATCamp Performing Arts at CUNY Graduate Center several sessions discussed the role of librarians, archivists and catalogers in making findable and providing access to underrepresented special material.

The session “Digital Documentation of the Creative Process” (notes) suggested a collaboration between performers and librarians for creating metadata together. This approach is also reflected in the name of a talk Vickie O’Riordan gave at this year’s ARLIS/NA annual conference, “The Creator as Cataloger: Shared Shelf and Faculty Collections”. Both users and the creators of the material themselves are more and more encouraged to contribute data to the cataloging process, thus harnessing their familiarity with the subject matter.

Amy Ballner and Siân Evans did research on art resources that don’t appear in mainstream databases or indexes (see their article “Alternative Access Models: Enhancing the Discoverability of Small Press and Avant-Garde Art Journals” published in Art Documentation v.3 2 no 1 Spring 2013, p. 20 – 32). They also stress the political dimension of cataloging: “Although often invisible to the average library user, metadata dictates the ways in which one searches for, finds, and accesses resource materials.” Notes on the session “Collaborative Cataloging in the Performing Arts” with links to relevant projects are here.

Partnerships between librarians and users as well as scholars, artists and performers whose works they manage and preserve have to be fostered in order to highlight the expertise of librarians and enhance the visibility of unique collections. Cataloging may be at the crossroads between merely managing licenses and really being involved in scholarship. By going beyond traditional resource description and discovery, the canon is challenged and the history of theatre, dance or art can be told from a more inclusive point of view that draws on more information than that represented in the usual indices or publications.

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