D. Marcum Letter May 5 2006

May 5, 2006

Dear Colleagues,

The Cataloging staff of the Alkek Library at Texas State University-San Marcos has drafted a petition to the Library of Congress and the U.S. Congress Joint Committee on the Library calling for a reversal of our recently announced decision to cease creating series authority records. The petition includes a demand that LC open a dialogue with the broader library community about new directions in cataloging and requests that the Joint Committee provide funding to replace retiring staff in the Acquisitions and Bibliographic Access directorate.

I write to place these issues in context and to provide additional information. When I spoke to the Association of Research Libraries shortly after I was appointed Associate Librarian for Library Services in 2003, I spoke of the necessity of re-thinking our bibliographic infrastructure. I charged all of the directors with redesigning our services and products with the needs of the end-user—the individual researcher—in mind. I also charged the Acquisitions and Bibliographic Access Directorate (formed through the consolidation of the acquisitions and cataloging divisions) with streamlining their processes to make information held by the Library of Congress more conveniently and more quickly accessible to our users.

Even before I arrived, the catalogers at the Library of Congress had begun to re-conceptualize their role for the 21st century. During the Bicentennial celebration of the Library in 2000, the cataloging managers convened an international symposium to describe the bibliographic changes that will be necessary in the coming years to meet users' needs. Some of the most thoughtful and expansive speakers on this subject were invited to speak at the symposium and to offer recommendations to the Library of Congress about its future direction. Since then, the Acquisitions and Bibliographic Access staff have been developing a new strategic plan and laying the groundwork for some of the changes that will inevitably be made.

Despite the call from petitioners for restoration of funds to replace retiring staff, our decision to stop creating series authority records was not a cost consideration. We, like all of you, are looking for ways to invest more of our inelastic funds in services that add value for researchers, students, and the general public. We are using the opportunity that comes with retirements to reconsider the areas in which to invest our staff resources. We have millions of items among our special collections that are not available to the public because they do not have even cursory bibliographic description. We know that increasingly our users go first to Google and other Internet search engines to find information they are seeking. We have made it a priority to increase access to content rather than to continue bibliographic practices that, though helpful to other libraries, do not add immediate value for the user.

We take seriously the charge that we did not communicate effectively with the library community, and we seek to partially remedy that by postponing the implementation of the policy until June 1 to give libraries an opportunity to adjust their local practices. We have been involved in deep discussions with many of the leaders in the library and cataloging communities, but we will work to improve our communication with those who do not feel included.

Big changes are on the way. The series authority records are but the first step in refocusing the Library of Congress to take advantage of the promises of technology, to focus on actual needs of information seekers, and to build a 21st century library that is as effective in the digital age as the traditional library has been in the world of print.

I shall be happy to hear your thoughts.

Best wishes,

Deanna B. Marcum
Associate Librarian for Library Services
ARL Directors
c/o Mr. Duane E. Webster
Executive Director
Association of Research Libraries
21 Dupont Circle, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20036