“Is Cataloging Worth It?”

I just went through NACO training and at the end of the initial three-day seminar one of my colleagues who is not a cataloger approached me about the training.

With no disrespect in his voice he asked me flat out if I felt that the investment in time and money was worth the returns. We ended up having a ten-minute conversation on why we should spend so much money on cataloging. This is a tough subject for me. On the one hand I know that what I do really can make a difference for our patrons, but on the other hand I frustrate myself because I also know that some of the MARC fields I populate are just plain useless (at least our ILS can’t use them). I love cataloging, but it is hard to defend some of the things we do to other colleagues who really have a good point. My friend asked some other legitimate questions that went something like this: Is it better to put more money into describing an item a little better, or to take that money and instead just buy another book? Do we really get back a return worth the investment (A.K.A. does the patron usage justify the cost)?

Fortunately I was able to confidently state that NACO training really is worth the investment. But I don’t think I could be as confident about some of the other rules we follow as catalogers–not that they are less important, just that they may not be as utilized by patrons as name authorities.

RDA, MARC, and AACR2 aside, what do you say when people wonder if cataloging is worth the expense and relevant in today’s world?

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