Cataloging & Classification Quarterly

Volume 23 Number 2 1996

EDITORIAL. By Ruth Carter

Both theory and practice are represented in the articles contained in this issue of Cataloging & Classification Quarterly. Topics range from subject references to the concept of a bibliographic unit to the impact of AACR2 on cataloging in Chinese libraries to the potential for international cooperative cataloging of Chinese language materials based on Taiwan's experience. Management of cataloging processes gains attention in an article looking at outsourcing while classification receives treatment in an examination of three classification systems for health insurance. Cataloging news completes the contents of this issue.

Three of the six articles deal with topics concerning East Asian libraries and issues. Internationalization of information is not new nor is sharing cataloging. Yet, the rapidity with which the peoples of the globe are being connected electronically is certainly dramatic. As catalogers and cataloging theorists around the world consider the implications of cataloging rules for all the languages of the world, there will be a gradual ability to use more cataloging from other countries with less modification. The day should arrive when most items can be cataloged once in the country of origin rather than cataloged many times as the works represented in the catalog records are acquired by libraries in countries across the globe. This does not mean that there will not be some local adjustment for call numbers, subject headings in different languages, or specialized enhancements for highly specialized clienteles. Yet, even foreign language materials, from many countries eventually will require less cataloging effort than at present.

When though will users be able to customize their searches based on their language of preference and their information needs? If one dream is an international master shared bibliographic database with subject headings at least in the IFLA languages (English, French, German, Russian and Spanish) plus the ability to handle non-Roman characters, how close are we to that dream? I would say we have a long way to go although some essential initial steps have been taken, for example, the CONSER database includes French and English subject headings. Another dream is in the area of archives and manuscripts. In an ideal world, all potential reference points including names and places would be searchable online. This suggests that the full text of all manuscripts and archives be converted to online. The storage and retrieval implications are enormous. In the meantime, converting traditional finding aids to electronic form, is a good step in the right direction. But some of these dreams may never become reality. Costs and time are among the factors limiting development, but we know that future generations will have access to information in ways we cannot even dream of now.

It is humbling to remember that our exciting present will in a couple hundred years seem to be a primitive past. We probably want those future generations to respect our efforts, our desire to change and develop better services including more efficient, timely, and widely available information about information resources. In thinking about how we want to be respected in the future, let's remember that those who came before us felt the same way. The Library of Congress unit card was a major advance when it was first introduced in 1901. Each library did not need to catalog the same item from scratch. Cataloging production increased; users got materials faster. OCLC and other online bibliographic utilities allowed for similar advances. That new options exist for acquiring cataloging information is to be expected. There is also not necessarily a right or a wrong way, a better or a worse way to meet a library's need for cataloging. There are many options and many possible combinations of options. Decisions like this are local and must be made in context. Rest assured that whatever is chosen for today will be different in twenty years much less two hundred. To feel dismay with some aspects of the present is not new. Ralph Waldo Emerson once observed, "The world always had the same bankrupt look to foregoing ages as to us, --as of a failed world just re-collecting its old withered forces to begin again and try to do a little business." I

Ruth C. Carter


1. Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Spiritual Laws," Essays, First Series, 1841, quoted in Gorton Carruth and Eugene Ehrlich, The Harper Book of American Quotations (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), p. 272.

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