Cataloging Discussion Group
18 December 2000
Museum of Modern Art

The ARLIS/NY Cataloging Discussion Group met on Mon. Dec. 18th, 2000 at the Museum of Modern Art.

23 attended.

Danny Fermon opened the meeting by offering a summary of the employee strike at MoMA in which members of the Professional and Administrative Staff Association/Local 2110 /UAW/AFL-CIO walked off the job Apr. 28th and ratified a contract on Sept. 9th 2000 after a difficult 135 day struggle. He characterized the settlement as an especially sweet victory because all the union's demands were met including the implementation of an agency shop, which the museum said it would never give, and because the union became strengthened even though it had to endure a barrage of "textbook" union busting actions launched by the museum before and during the strike. He pointed out that the success in any strike is tempered by the stresses suffered, the tear in the fabric of the institution, the loss of friends to other institutions (four members of the library staff moved on to other endeavors after the strike ended), and the problems of coming back to departments where strikers are victims of retaliation or generally ungracious, unwelcoming behavior.

The topic of discussion: the use of temporary and part-time work in library cataloging. Fermon cited his experiences as a non-professional, remembering when filing cards in the catalog was strictly a professional activity until the advent of automation when library assistants were finally allowed to participate in filing cards. Given increasingly advanced responsibilities over the years, the assistants were trained in cataloging some material at minimal level. He pointed out how it stimulated his own move towards becoming a librarian, suggesting that "seeding" the profession is a happy collateral consequence of moving tasks down the hierarchical scale.

Daniel Starr (MoMA) asked how many in the room were currently using temp./part-time labor in their libraries and how many had ever used temp./part-time labor. Most either were using them or had before. He noted problems and difficulties such as the lack of motivation of employees who work after hours and who are not fully invested in the life and welfare of the institution. Others observed that temps often don't fully interact with the staff in daily operations. Carol Rusk (Whitney Museum of American Art) said that given those limitations, selection criteria were difficult to formulate, and Janet Rozene (Fashion Institute of Technology) felt that the underlying reason for resorting to temporary or part-time work was budgetary--most institutions were not willing to pay for full time positions with benefits.

Emily Roth (Uris Library/Metropolitan Museum of Art) related how part-time cataloging jobs came in handy at a particular juncture in her career and, that although not perfect for everyone, temporary/part-time work could be a useful employment niche for some.

Vicky Bohm (Watson Library/Metropolitan Museum of Art) observed that her experience at the Watson was somewhat opposite of Danny Fermon's at MoMA. The professionals used to be the sole custodians of the "higher" cataloging functions and the para- and non- professionals did the typing, filing, editing, and, ultimately working with MARC copy from RLIN.

When giving responsibilities to temps, Sherman Clarke (NYU) reminded that you needed to find work that didn't require frequent consulting or confirmation, because the job often took place off hours when staff was not around.

Given the off hours and the lack of attachment to the institution, Liz O'Keefe (Pierpont Morgan Library) felt that a pressing issue for her was security. Emily and Carol concurred.

The issue of money came up again. When Carol related that she had to use an intern for a particular project because there was no money for a full time staff member, Janet said this underscored her earlier observation that institutions are opting for "cheap" solutions instead of committing to full-time staff needs. She added that there were unseen costs in repeatedly hiring and training new temps. Liz asked if Janet's experience with full-timers wasn't the same; do full timers stay any longer than part-timers? Janet concurred that, indeed, some full-timers don't stay for the long haul.

Liz brought up the issue of OCLC service vs. RLIN's. RLIN does not support weekend inputting/updating, a limitation for week-end part time cataloging.

Daniel Starr identified a number of threads in the otherwise desultory direction of the discussion: security, recruiting, funding, project based jobs, and he added work station and space issues. This focused the discussion to more practical concerns.

Steven Cohen (Pratt Institute) wondered what the job market was like for our group.

During the discussion Vicky cited the Watson's use temps from an outsourcing agency and Sherman mentioned OCLC's TechPRO's job contracting service as an option.

Daniel Starr asked if we couldn't explore a "service" within our group. How about using the ARLIS/NY website for posting jobs?

Janet mentioned that if ARLIS/NY wouldn't work, the AUTOCAT listserv was as a good choice because it's an active list with a wide distribution.

Carol said that the ARLIS/NY website was not well known, which lead to discussions of how to "improve" the site or make it more available. Is the site registered? What are the costs? Do key words like "employment opportunities" need to be added? To Danny Fermon's suggestion of posting to the ARLIS/NA website came the answer that there's a fee for posting. Erin Elliott (Pratt Institute student [working part-time at the Morgan]) said she used the Jobline at Pratt. [Since the meeting, the ARLIS/NY website has moved to http://arlisny.org.]

Heidi recommended sending postings to area library schools. Mark Bresnan (Frick Art Reference Library) wondered if library school students were up to the task. Heidi said it depended on the project; most cataloging being learned on the job anyway. Rodica Preda (Frick) suggested that one cataloging course in library school was not enough. Someone mentioned that the interviewing process could help identify the better employees.

But for Maria Oldal (Pierpont Morgan Library) interviewing wasn't even enough for vetting prospective full-time catalogers. The Morgan has sometimes asked applicants to bring examples of their work (i.e., MARC printouts).

The issue of training came up. Heidi has used the Library of Congress' Cataloging Concepts: Descriptive Cataloging (1993).

Daniel Starr observed that training manuals were difficult to develop because changes took place too fast to keep the manual current.

This lead to a discussion of quality control. At the Morgan, mutual checking of work is part of the routine. Liz felt it's a way to keep up with rule changes and Maria said that this resulted in enriched quality of work.

For Daniel Starr, spot checking was more than enough, especially as, after a point, corrections are a matter of opinion or personal "style." Maria did agree that each cataloger had a recognizable style. Liz warned, however, that without checking, incorrect practices might go unnoticed. Mark agreed; sometimes catalogers' works are laws unto themselves.

Vicky related that it was the paraprofessionals at the Watson who often did the editing and correcting. Danny Fermon said that the issue of whether to spot check or probe deeper was the same situation confronting any editor: does one change the work so much that the original is no longer recognizable or is good editing one where individuality is left alone. Wasn't a "second pair of eyes" all that mattered? At MoMA, he has two reliable, well-trained volunteers check each others' work.

The next meeting will be Feb. 5th or 26th. The venue has not been decided, but Vicky Bohm will be negotiating with Danny Fermon and he will announce the decision at a later date.

Daniel Fermon
Museum of Modern Art Library
danny_fermon@moma.org