Cataloging as a Public Service?

The essence of public service is discoverability, the ability for patrons to discover an item. Catalogers and technical services staff are the ones who make this happen. There are many questions associated with these two statements. Does your organization value your work as a cataloger in terms of making items discoverable? Do your public service colleagues see these statements as true?

Today we are in a period of rapid change in cataloging. There are many pressures on cataloging units, including outsourcing, decreasing resources, increasing costs, and changes to the very foundations of the work we do. With the implementation of RDA, the expansion of discovery services, and the changing needs of library patrons, it is time for us to take a look at how cataloging as public service is changing to make use of new tools and meet the needs of new, or, changing users.
In this e-forum, we want to discuss the changes we are seeing in how cataloging acts as a public service, what future trends are developing, and share the way we are using new tools and services to better serve our patrons.
Some of the questions that may be included are:

  • How does cataloging support public services (reference) and the goals of discoverability and accessibility of information?
  • What is the value of having catalogers serve as reference librarians and/or liaison librarians?
  • Have discovery systems reduced the need for thorough cataloging of records from a public services (findability) view point?
  • How do current rules detract from user needs?
  • Is there tension between national standards and local needs? How might these be overcome?

Find a summary of the discussion in the ALCTS News.


John Sandstrom started his career in libraries as a copy-cataloger at the University of Tulsa while working on his MLIS at the University Oklahoma. Since graduating in the late 1980s, he has bounced around the country working in technical services, public services, collection development and acquisitions, and library management. He is currently managing the Acquisitions Unit at New Mexico State University, teaching cataloging in the Library Science Associates Degree program at Dona Ana Community College, and working on a doctorate in educational leadership and development. When not working or going to school, he weaves, spins, and is an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA).

Beth Thomsett-Scott is Interim Head of the Discovery Park Library at the University of North Texas (UNT) in Denton, Texas. She is currently serving as liaison to the College of the Engineering, and has had responsibilities for the physical and life sciences departments as well during her twelve-year tenure with UNT. Beth's professional passions include high-quality customer service, web site usability, user satisfaction, and emerging technologies. When not working, Beth enjoys crime dramas, action and horror movies, and spending time with her daughter, cats, and dog.


How to Register

You must register your email address to subscribe to or access an electronic discussion list on ALA's Mailing List Service. Find instructions for subscribing online.

Once you have registered for one e-forum, you do not need to register again, unless you choose to leave the list. Find instructions for unsubscribing.

Tech Requirements

Internet connection with email address. You can manage your subscription to this list following the online instructions.


If you have trouble subscribing to the discussion list or have questions, please contact the e-Forum Coordinator at