ALA urges more deliberation, library involvement in Library of Congress' cataloging changes

Contact: Larra Clark

ALA Media Relations

For Immediate Release

May 16, 2006

ALA urges more deliberation, library involvement in Library of Congress’ cataloging changes

(CHICAGO) The American Library Association (ALA) Executive Board adopted the following statement May 12, 2006, concerning bibliographic/cataloging services at the Library of Congress:

On April 20, 2006 the Library of Congress (LC) announced that as of May 1, 2006, it would cease performing series authority work for the bibliographic records it creates. The announcement was greeted with dismay in the library community, particularly among catalogers, in part because of the substance of the decision; in part because of the shortness of notice given; and in part because the decision was reached without sufficient consultation with the library community.

As a result of this response and to enable libraries to plan their operational response to LC’s new practice, the Library of Congress delayed implementation of the change until June 1, 2006. Although an avenue for comment was provided in the announcement of the delay, it appeared that there was no intent to consider modification of the decision based on comments received.

While the delay is welcome, 40 days still allows far too little time for libraries to understand the full implications of the decision, to assess their options, and to make adequate plans for how or whether they will continue to provide authority control for any or all series in their own catalogs. Controlled access to series information is one of the important ways by which libraries and library users discover information or make it available to others. Keyword search is not an adequate substitute for authority-controlled series access, especially over time as variants and name changes proliferate, and as errors enter even the best databases.

At the same time as the policy regarding series authority control was being prepared, announced, and discussed, officials at the Library of Congress were indicating publicly that the Library is actively considering alteration of other cataloging practices, such as abandonment or radical alteration of application of the Library of Congress Subject Headings. These changes would also have a significant negative financial impact on the nation’s libraries and their users. They have been greeted with concern not only from the library community, but also by library users.

The Library of Congress has occupied a leadership position in the development of standards of practice for bibliographic access to library materials for more than a century. Library of Congress cataloging is the largest single body of bibliographic records that is shared by libraries across the nation. These records provide the means by which any library - whether it be a public library, school library, college or university library, museum library, or any other library -- is able to provide adequate access to its collections to its users. The Library is funded by Congress to perform these, among other, functions on behalf of the nation’s libraries.

The cataloging performed by the Library of Congress and made available to the nation’s libraries is one of the most critical national functions of the Library of Congress. Any diminution of the quality or quantity of cataloging provided by the Library of Congress has an enormous financial impact on all of the nation’s libraries, as the work that the Library of Congress had previously performed must either be taken up by individual libraries, often doing work in duplicate, or it must be abandoned altogether. Any diminution of the quality or quantity of cataloging provided by the Library of Congress also has an enormous impact on the users of the nation’s libraries - from the youngest child to the oldest man or woman, from the recreational reader to the most serious researcher - in terms of lessened ability to locate and identify desired information.

On behalf of its more than 66,000 members, the American Library Association expresses its dismay at the impact that Library of Congress action in the area of bibliographic control will have on all of its members, and on the public they serve. Accordingly, ALA urges the Library of Congress to delay further implementation of its decision regarding providing series authority control for bibliographic records for sufficient time to enable informed response from the library community, including from organizations central to bibliographic control such as the American Library Association, the Program for Cooperative Cataloging, and OCLC. Further, ALA urges the Library of Congress to consider substantive modification of its series control proposal in accordance with recommendations and suggestions from the above bodies and others.

The American Library Association is also concerned at the manner in which the series authority decision was reached and announced, without sufficient opportunity for the library and cataloging community to discuss the impact of the decision, or to suggest modifications to it that would lessen its negative impact. Accordingly, the ALA urges the Library of Congress to consult broadly with the library community, including organizations central to bibliographic control, regarding any future decisions to substantively modify the content of bibliographic records, and to take potential financial impact on all types of libraries, and the impact on access to library materials by all types of library users into account in reaching its decisions. It appears that the importance of Library of Congress cataloging to the nation’s libraries and to the development of an educated and informed populace is not sufficiently appreciated by the Library’s senior administration. Broad consultation of the sort described would provide a means for the Library to understand better both the costs and benefits to others of the service they provide, so that these matters can be adequately considered in its decision making processes.

In addition, the American Library Association thinks it imperative that there be a meeting of representatives of the Library of Congress, the ALA, and other interested bodies such as the Program for Cooperative Cataloging, OCLC, the Association of Research Libraries, the National Libraries of Agriculture and Medicine, and the Government Printing Office, for the purpose of discussions of the future shared responsibilities and roles of these bodies in leadership and standards development for bibliographic control and intellectual access, and in the creation and provision of quality bibliographic records.