The Changing Nature of the Catalog : A Response to Calhoun, Mann, and Yee

The Changing Nature of the Catalog – A Response to Calhoun, Mann, and Yee (PDF)

The central premise of Calhoun’s report is that technology has “created an era of discontinuous change in research libraries—a time when the cumulated assets of the past do not guarantee future success” (2006, p. 5).  Calhoun’s perspective is that this notion applies directly to traditional library cataloging.  Yee argues that traditional cataloging is fundamental to the value of libraries (2007).  Mann makes the case that research libraries’ primary mission is to serve the specific needs of serious scholarship (2006).  Each is right in their own way.  Mann and Yee, though, fail to recognize the changes that the coming of the Information Age has wrought on the world outside libraries.  Far too much valuable information is outside the reach of traditional catalogs.  Libraries must embrace technology to extend the grasp of catalogs beyond local holdings.

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Martha M. Yee: Will The Response Of The Library Profession To The Internet Be Self-Immolation?

Yee, M. M. (n.d.). Will The Response Of The Library Profession To The Internet Be Self-Immolation? Special Libraries Cataloguing, Inc.

All this because some research studies show that undergraduates prefer to use Amazon.com and Google rather than libraries and their catalogs. … The excuse used, the preference on the part of undergraduates for quick answers, is nothing new. Undergraduates have always tended to over-use ready reference sources

Yee seems to think that belittling a position is the same as rebutting it.  It is a profound mistake to minimize the internet by simply categorizing it as “ready reference.”  The net is an unparalleled source of quick information, of course, but it’s also a far, far more vast domain than Yee’s dismissive sentence would imply.  The internet runs the full gamut, from “ready reference” to online periodicals to serious scholarship to raw data.

I could be wrong, but I suspect that the preference for “Amazon.com and Google” and the like over catalogs is not so much split between undergrads and more advanced scholar, per se, but between younger people and their elders.  As internet-native generations become scholars and older generations depart, which way will the trend go?  Will libraries stay ahead of the curve?

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