ASSOCIATES (2005, July, v. 12, no. 1) -

*Copy Catalogers By Any Other Name*


Janet Swan Hill
Professor, Associate Director for Technical Services
University of Colorado Libraries, Boulder

From time to time, those in libraries despair that the job titles we have are quaint, mysterious, archaic, confusing, and in some cases, demeaning. We consider whether we need job titles that are different from our position classifications. We wonder whether a change in job title could improve our image (or our self image) or lessen confusion about what it is that we do.

One type of position that is significantly prey to varied terminology is the “copy cataloger.” The term itself derives from the work performed: cataloging materials with the assistance of pre-existing bibliographic copy. Unfortunately, with the passage of time, many people have forgotten (and many have never learned) that the word “copy” refers to bibliographic copy/text/records, and they believe instead that the word indicates that the work is an exercise in “mere copying”.

In the interest of determining whether there exists a term other than copy cataloging that is widely used, adequately descriptive and not susceptible to unfortunate interpretation, I recently posted a message to an online cataloging discussion group (AUTOCAT), asking what terminology libraries are using to describe copy cataloging and copy catalogers. As always, the subscribers to AUTOCAT were eager to help, and I received many responses, which are summarized below.

In a number of libraries, job titles are merely position classification titles (such as “Library Assistant II) so that the term "copy cataloger" or its equivalent appears only in the text of the position description, even though "copy cataloging" may be used in the name of an administrative unit. Where job titles do use descriptive terminology, descriptors used include: fast cataloging, copy cataloging, LC cataloging, adaptive cataloging, derivative cataloging, derived cataloging, shared cataloging, record editor/ing, and cataloging on receipt.

In some libraries, the simplest cataloging with copy is called copy cataloging, while more complex work is called record editing. In others, just the opposite applies. In some libraries "copy cataloging" means mark-and-park, and everything that requires record modification is called "original cataloging". "Cataloging on receipt" consists of accepting records virtually as is - perhaps in Acquisitions -- and sending material directly to marking (or to the shelves if they come pre-marked).

In some libraries everyone who does any sort of cataloging is called "cataloger" and the position descriptions and job classifications provide whatever distinction is necessary between/among jobs (e.g. staff cataloger, paraprofessional cataloger, paralibrarian cataloger, cataloging clerk, cataloging specialist, library assistant cataloger, catalog librarian, faculty cataloger). In one library, in contravention to the English language convention that the real/original thing is unmodified (e.g. hockey, skiing, cola), while the derivative/related thing gets the modifier (e.g. field hockey, water skiing, diet cola), the distinction between positions is made by using "cataloger" for those who catalog with the assistance of copy, and "original cataloger" for those who may catalog from scratch.

Most respondents commented that copy catalogers at their institution are doing jobs that are much more complex than accepting copy with little or no editing. Many levels/types of copy cataloging are recognized (simple, complex, advanced, problem, DLC, contributed, matching, variant, etc.). Many copy catalogers do authority work at various levels. Many individuals who are classified as library support staff do original cataloging of some materials, and original catalogers often handle copy. Some libraries don't have copy catalogers at all - they just have catalogers that handle whatever comes their way.

One respondent reported a recent change to "adaptive cataloging/ers" for the express purpose of enhancing the perception of the work by people outside technical services. Another reported that "derived cataloging/ers" was used for similar reasons. One might assume that in these libraries, the word “copy” was thought to refer to the verb (the act of copying) rather than to the noun (copy/text/records). Several respondents commented on the mistaken connection between the term "copy cataloging" and low-level work, and one observed that even the term "cataloger" has connotations of clerical work, or simple work requiring little judgment.

Whatever job titles are used, there does appear to be consensus regarding the meaning of copy cataloging (cataloging materials with the use and assistance of pre-existing bibliographic copy) and original cataloging (cataloging materials for which pre-existing bibliographic copy is not available or not used).

Based on this response, I felt that my original question had been answered: There is no term for copy cataloging that is widely used, adequately descriptive and not susceptible to unfortunate interpretation. Nevertheless, the term “copy cataloging” seems more likely to be understood from one library to another than other potential names for the work, so that an individual who lists a position on a resume as “Copy Cataloger” is more likely to have that understood than one who gives one of the alternate job titles such as “Derivative Cataloger”.

The status and importance of catalogers and copy catalogers is not going to be improved by changing their job titles. The work they do is not going to be better appreciated because of choice of terminology. We and our work must speak for ourselves.

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