The Future of Cataloguing Investigated at World Café Event

Will Peaden (Aston University)

The Metadata Group reflects on a successful, and engaging first regional event, questioning where next for cataloguing and indexing specialists.

The Mercian Metadata Special Interest Group (MMG) held its inaugural meeting at Aston University (20 Aug 2019), which was well attended with 22 attendees and 4 facilitators. Thurstan Young, Collection Metadata Analyst at the British Library delivered the keynote talk on the BL’s metadata strategy for 2019-2023. This was followed by 4 World café workshops centred on the future of cataloguing. The topics were:

  1. The future of authority control, identifiers, linked data, subject analysis and controlled vocabularies – facilitated by Will Peaden (Aston University)
  2. The future of content standards (& data models) and encoding models/formats – facilitated by Thurstan Young (British Library)
  3. The future of cataloguing practice: what will the cataloguer or metadata manager look like? – facilitated by Richard Birley (Birmingham City University)
  4. The future of the LMS/catalogue: will they exist? What form will they take? And what about the future of data supply? – facilitated by Ed Kirkland (Warwick University)

The day concluded with a summary of the main points talked about at each the tables delivered by the facilitators and an open floor discussion.

The theme of the day centred on the following question:

  • What opportunities do you see for a more integrated, collaborative approach to metadata creation and maintenance within the collaboration or outside of it?

As the day progressed the conversations became more focused on what we as metadata practitioners can achieve in collaboration as well as our aspirations for influencing and changing the current metadata environment.

The point of the day was not necessarily to draw any hard and fast conclusions but to open up the conversations around the future of our community of practice within and outside the Collaboration. However, there was a good deal discussed and agreed upon. Around the topic of subject analysis and identity management there was a consensus that this was a valuable and vital part of future of cataloguing. However, concerns around the outsourcing of this work were also raised. Can we trust vendor records and shelf ready records and the headings they provide? Are Library of Congress Subject Headings and name authorities reliable or too American centric? What kind of identifiers can we use and trust? Many participants discussed the kinds of headings they frequently remove in a systematic way, including FAST headings, Thema headings, foreign language headings and other publisher headings. There was strong feeling and consensus that FAST headings were of no use in the current cataloguing environment and no clear case for their use in the future either. There was board agreement that subject analysis and particularly identity management was a valuable and necessary part of cataloguing and metadata practice. The practical applications of this are still unclear and need to be better understood by the community.

On the topic of the future of cataloguing practice and the LMS it was felt that these had a secure future but that there would be considerable evolution.  For example, cataloguers will need new skills focused around metadata management and enhancing discoverability but also skills around advocacy and marketing. It is also likely that cataloguers will work more closely with acquisitions teams and tendering processes. In light of the number of records we will deal with we will need to shift to improving sets of records rather than cataloguing individual items. The LMS is another area where an evolutionary shift will take place as systems will need to be integrated more closely. It is possible that cataloguers will need to develop database and systems skills in the future.

Finally, on the future of standards and encoding a lot was said. There is some scepticism around the newly developed RDA standard, owing to the complexity of the toolkit and the new language used. One problem is the requirement to know why we might record a particular element as well as what we need to record. In the future, we might become detached from our cataloguing standard and focus on community standards generated at collaboration or national level as the new RDA toolkit becomes much less human-user friendly. There are unanswered questions around the future of MARC and Bibframe. Currently, no system supports Bibframe but it is being pushed by the Library of Congress. In addition, Bibframe is somewhat incompatible with RDA, given this and our agreement that we need RDA why would we adopt another standard that isn’t easily compatible? On the other hand, MARC is more or less at its limits and has never really reflected the power of RDA. One agreement amongst the group is the need for more clarity locally, nationally and internationally around content standards.

This workshop was not held in isolation from the rest of the cataloguing community of practice. A similar event was held in Edinburgh in June and another event will be held in London towards the end of the year. These events address similar questions and are bringing together a national voice around the future of the cataloguing profession. The CILIP CIG/MDG (Cataloguing and Indexing Group, now called Metadata and Discovery Group) hope to work with all the national and regional players to forge a new strategy around metadata creation and build the support needed by the profession. MMG aims to work closely with the CIG/MDG to ensure our regional voice is heard in these national conversations. For the more immediate practical future, this workshop will act as a good starting point for the MMG to begin planning collaborative work. We have some excellent feedback from members about the direction we should take the group in terms of events and training. It also positions us within the national context as voice for the changes we would like see. Over the next year or so we aim to contribute towards the national effort in shaping the future of our profession and developing our practice and skills for the benefit of the Collaboration.


The MMG notes its thanks to the Steering Group for fiscal support in hosting this event, and the British Library for their input to the day's discussions.