More more better faster cheaper…those guys at Cornell

September 15, 2006 at 5:13 pm | Posted in conference presentations, Cornell, future of libraries, more better faster cheaper, RLG | Leave a comment

Again with the RLG Members Forum presentations. Jim LeBlanc, head of database management services at Cornell University, presents “More, Faster, Cheaper: Pragmatism and Paradox in the Quest for Better Bibliographic Access.” I guess that “better” is present in the latter half of the title, but it took me a while to notice it, and I thought it was telling that at first glance the emphasis is just on more, faster, cheaper, not better.

It’s an interesting presentation but he sure likes a good hysterical and self-congratulatory analogy now and then (cataloging a backlog is like emergency military field medicine! Uh, yeah). I have mixed feelings about the efforts at Cornell. On the one hand, eliminating backlogs IS important. It doesn’t do researchers any good to have things hidden away in tech services. And maybe their backlog was so big, they had no choice but to cut corners.

On the other hand, there are questions….of course there is the issue of “any access may be better than no access, but is just any access actually good access?” which I think others have addressed. What I also take away from his talk is that Cornell achieved what it did partly through backing away from being a full participant in the shared cataloging community (and I think LC is doing the same thing these days). You saved time by not examining, correcting, and replacing OCLC copy cataloging, or by inputting minimal-level records. Good for you. But bad for any other library who now has to pick up the slack and correct that erroneous or minimal-level record itself.

My guess is that many cataloging departments at smaller institutions cut back on staff as LC and other big players were able to share their high-quality records (and other services, such as contributions to the authority file, LCSH, etc.) more easily in the modern shared cataloging environment. (Are there any stats out there for this?) And maybe it’s not fair for LC and Cornell and other big guys to have to shoulder more of that responsibility–but, on the other hand, they have bigger staffs, budgets, etc. than smaller libraries. So what happens as the “big guys” drop their own contribution to the greater good (of shared datasets like WorldCat or LCSH) and say, “Screw you, these records are good enough for us, if you want to see them enhanced you’ll have to wait for someone else to do it”? When do you run out of “someone else”? How many libraries without enhance capabilities, or the ability to submit NACO headings, will be left hanging because a) the big guys aren’t doing it and b) the barriers to becoming one of the big guys are too high?

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