Fall Blog Post 1: Ethics in Cataloging

If you’d asked me two weeks ago about ethics in cataloging, I don’t think I even would have been able to give a comprehensive definition of what cataloging¬†was, let alone why an ethical approach is so important. But through working with Katie and Hsianghui, as well as some interesting reading, I feel as if I now have a solid understanding of why ethical cataloging is important to strive for, even if the goal ends up being a moving target as the world changes. Because I don’t think the average library goer has a solid idea of the role of a cataloger, that makes being self-aware even more critical. In the article “Records, Responsibility, and Power: An Overview of Cataloging Ethics”, Jennifer M. Martin particularly focuses on the role of supposed “neutrality” in cataloging, questioning whether true neutrality is possible or if it even should be the goal of catalogers. I think it’s easy to hide behind the guise of neutrality to avoid having to face hard questions about one’s ingrained beliefs. The “Cataloging Code of Ethics” additionally helped show me some of the relevant issues for catalogers today; similarly, that includes statements about how bias on the part of the cataloger is unavoidable, but that that fact only makes striving for equitable, inclusive, and evolving cataloging standards even more crucial. The documentary “Change the Subject” helped illuminate what happens when cataloging terms aren’t up to date or respectful; while it was saddening to see so much effort put in that so far has not amounted to an official change, I was heartened to realize just how many catalogers across the country did feel strongly about the issue.

Another issue raised by multiple articles was that of efficiency for the cataloger versus usability for the library patron. Just introducing that question was a good reminder that ultimately, cataloging is as much about the patron/reader as any other library job that involves working directly with patrons. Yesterday morning, Hsianghui showed me an OCLC sticker with the slogan “Cataloging is a public service”. Even though my experience feels like cracking open a door into a world I’m only just learning about, that feels accurate to me.