Thanx go to James Agenbroad for flagging the new LRTS Martha Yee article about the history and development of LC’s role in providing cataloging.  I’ve been chewing for awhile on how decisions made at the turn of the 20th century are being reconsidered at the turn of the 21st.

As we may hear LC hint, “Hey, being cataloger for the nation is not itemized in our budget!”  In a way, it all goes back to then LC chief Herbert Putnam’s decision (around 1905) to distribute cards at cost plus 10%.  In the intervening century, the rest of us have developed an addiction to cheap cataloging.  In the main, bibliographic records used by almost all the nation’s libraries are given away by LC and a relative few largish academic libraries.

And, in fact, many of those littler libraries don’t even know that’s where cataloging comes from!  They think their library materials vendor does it because that’s who they buy it from!

Okay, yes, everybody catalogs a little but for most libraries, well over 95% of what they add to their catalogs was originally crafted by someone else.  Ah, that unique definition of sharing we have in cataloging land: I share your cataloging.  And they pay the provider who redistributes that cataloging to them but no one goes back and pays for the actual cataloging.

So, let’s consider LC’s dilemma in light of all this.  If LC decides that for purposes of its own bibliographic retrieval that they don’t need everything the rest of us have come to expect in our bibliographic records, where is the mandate that makes them behave and give us what we want?  It isn’t a line item in their budget.

If you haven’t read Martha Yee’s article in the April LRTS, do so as soon as you can get your hands on it.  As of yesterday, a silly 14 day embargo was keeping it hidden in Wilson and Gale sources but I found it via Ebsco.  So hunt around to see who your institution gets it through if you are not a current ALCTS member.

Thanx, Martha!!  You’ve articulated beautifully how this all ties together.

Citation: Martha Yee.  “‘Wholly Visionary:’ The American Library Association, The Library of Congress, and the Card Distribution Program.”  Library Resources & Technical Services 53, iss. 2 (April 2009): 68-78.