Quality vs. Quantity

Our office is preparing for a move to new premises that are about 20 kilometers from where we are now.  Never has the quality vs. quantity debate been more prevalent in our minds.

We must try to get all of the backlog addressed (catalogued and out of the building) before our move which is scheduled for mid-February.  But our mandate has always been to catalogue with care, maintain authorities, and to produce quality bibliographic records.

Melodie Frances recently posted this question on the Radical Cataloging listserv: There is a tension in cataloging between getting things cataloged fast, and cataloging things well (which takes more time). Cataloging things fast means that they will be in the catalog speedily, cataloging things well (checking to make sure names and subjects etc. are accurate) takes longer.

Depending on the type of material and the type of library the speed can vary. Cataloguing as thoroughly and correctly as possible for a public library is paramount.  More and more of our patrons use the catalogue remotely.  That means that with no inter-personal contact with library staff they must rely solely on the accuracy and thoroughness of the catalogue’s  information.  Patrons can’t have both FAST and THOROUGH.  If asked, patrons would probably just say they want the material fast.  However, over time they would come to realize that there is a price to be paid for getting things quickly.  Access is reduced (due to poor authority control, spelling errors/typos, misclassification,  multiple records for the same item etc.) and access has always been one of the main priorities of any good cataloguing department.  If library material has the wrong spine label due to an incorrect classification it is essentially LOST.

A few years ago we had someone on staff who was more concerned with FAST over thorough.  We are still paying the price for that person’s decision.  We continue to address issues that come up because of the degree of quality of those records and that takes time away from our daily cataloguing practice.

Quality cataloguing is efficient for the searcher and takes a bit more time (thus is more expensive).  Fast cataloguing is inefficient and  cheaper.  When efficiency decreases the users will notice! There will be more complaints. Complaints eventually trickle down to fewer users over time.  Is this what we want?

For further thoughts on this topic see the blog entry of  The Cataloguing Librarian.

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