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"We are approaching the end of an era"

So begins Robert Wolvern’s recent article, In Search of a New Model. Wolvern is Associate University Librarian for Bibliographic Services and Collection Development at Columbia University Libraries and the article was commissioned by PCC.

He talks about the difficulties inherent in the consensus driven environment in which we have traditionally worked and the ‘one size fits all’ approach to our cataloguing rules.

“… the kind of consensus we have demanded drives us toward complexity. Our libraries acquire a vast and wildly diverse set of resources, yet we insist on treating all of them by the same rules. We prize consistency over practicality. If some works, in some contexts, benefit from a precise transcription of statements of responsibility, or from detailed recording of pagination and illustrations, we apply those same principles to all. We apply the same level of subject analysis to the 20-page pamphlet and the 1000-page treatise. We do this not out of obduracy or short-sightedness, but because it’s the only way we have found to build trust among what is, after all, a very large and diverse group.”

He places the emphasis on principles and judgment.

“… within our libraries we need to develop a culture that really is based on principles and judgment rather than comprehensive rules and that is more accepting of difference in the results than now. We already accept many records into our catalogs that we wouldn’t accept from our own catalogers … We have to understand why, and when, those principles matter and be prepared to apply them judiciously—and, even harder, we must trust each other to do so.”

And he concludes that the PCC is situated well and could ‘facilitate the process’ leading toward a new model.

It’s a thoughtful piece and provides an interesting overview of the current issues facing the bibliographic community.

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