Monday, March 17, 2008

Book Review: Cataloging Without Tears

Cataloging without tears: managing knowledge in the information society by Jane M. Read. Oxford, England : Chandos Publishing, 2003. ISBN: 1843340437 (pbk)

There are lots of things I like about this book beyond its intriguing title. I like the chatty, informal tone. It’s a book that constantly reassures readers that cataloging doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, cataloging can be a lot of fun for those “who enjoy intellectual challenges for their own sake.” Even the layout of the book is reassuring and easy to read. There is lots of white space so the book reads fairly quickly.

It contains a lot of good background and good general information including a section on Dublin Core and ONIX. In fact, I had an “aha” moment since I learned the precise place for a piece of information that I was never sure how to include in a Dublin Core record. It was like finding a missing link. There is a very informative comparison and contrast of AACR2/MARC and DC, XML, ONIX.

The book is divided into two parts. All of the above are included in Part I or “The Big Picture”. Part II is called “The Nitty-Gritty” and covers just that – in a way. In discussing the specific parts of a bib records, Ms Read describes the thought process involved when choosing what to include and how. There is a very good chapter on cataloging items in different languages, something I’ve faced many times and, fortunately, survived. Another chapter covers the details of cataloging archives and rare books.

While this book is well worth reading, it has some shortcomings. The first is that the British orientation can sometimes be distracting for U.S. readers. Cataloging Without Tears is definitely not a reference book. One cannot learn much by skimming the book; an entire chapter (or the book) must be read to get any value out of it.

While Ms. Read uses a lot of humor, it is sometimes a little too cute for my taste. There are many cartoon, few of which I thought were funny. Humor can be culture specific, though, so maybe a British reader would react differently.

While Part II is entitled “The Nitty-Gritty”, no actual rules are cited. In talking about dates, Ms Read says “AACR gives rules for determining which date to use.” Examples of bib records do not use the format of Library of Congress Subject Headings which may be confusing for U.S. readers trying to learn how to catalog. Many libraries in central Massachusetts and throughout the state are a part of an automated network such as C/W MARS, yet the book assumes a standalone catalog and never addresses shared catalogs. The book was published in 2003, so is slightly out-of-date. Ms Read states that AACR3 will be published in 2005 or 2006. AACR3 was abandoned a few years ago for RDA which is (optimistically) due to arrive in the spring of 2009.

Don’t be turned off by these few negative comments. Overall, I think this book is well worth the time of a new (or newish) cataloger to gain a lot of insight into the history, background and thought process of cataloging. Even a veteran cataloger like me can – and did – learn a few things.