Cataloging: November 2011 Archives
When Dennis Meissner of the Minnesota Historical Society spoke to some 150 attendees at the Good Practices for Great Outcomes: Cataloging Efficiencies that Make a Difference event hosted with DePaul University Libraries he did so as a relative outsider: as an archivist who focuses on making archival collections available, speaking to a room focused primarily on cataloging traditionally published materials.
Asis often the case, however, his outside perspective provided spot-on insights into cataloging efficiencies and the future of cataloging workflows. Dennis' insights revolve around a practice he began (in an article for American Archivist) called "More Process Less Product" (MPLP). MPLP addresses a fundamental problem in the archival world: collection growth is outpacing processing, resulting in increasing backlogs and preventing the public from seeing many treasures. The problem also exists in traditional libraries although in a different manifestation when collections have also grown, it's been largely through large sets of electronic content.
The solutions Dennis invokes apply to both communities:
- User access is paramount. We need to be audience driven.
- Risk is unavoidable. We need to determine the minimal acceptable level of cataloging and make that the benchmark.
We need to go from artisan-level cataloging to production level cataloging. Dennis refers to this as meaningful scale. In Dennis' archival world, where he has many items that are part of distinct collections, a key aspect to his strategy is in focusing on the collection rather than the individual items. He bundles multiple items into a collection (in practice, often a single PDF) and focuses on metadata at the collection-level. His goal is to use his minimal acceptable benchmarks to push the material into user discovery as quickly as possible.
While the possibilities for cataloging and processing archival materials are different than for traditional library materials, his principle of using minimal acceptable benchmarks to push the material into user discovery as quickly as possible can be applied. For instance, we can quickly catalog large sets of electronic content by using sets of cataloging records (such as those available via WorldCat Collection Sets). And we can employ minimum-level benchmarks to traditional copy cataloging, by abandoning most or all local practices to edit or improve a single copy catalog record in the local system, and instead, rely on services such as Bibliographic Record Notification and WorldCat Cataloging Partners to catalog at a collection-scale and push the records into discovery at quickly as possible.
More Product, Less Process. It's catchy, and can be applied to any technical services workflow to achieve cataloging efficiencies that make a difference.