Cataloging practices through an ethnographic lens: workarounds, disagreements, and manifestations of culture

Wan-Chen Lee

Abstract


Cataloging models emphasize selective aspects of cataloging and serve the purposes of conceptual debates and theoretical developments. Many complexities, uncertainties, dilemmas, challenges, and “rare” scenarios that catalogers encounter in practice are not presented in the models. To study cataloging practices, the author presents cataloging scenarios observed from an ongoing fieldwork. Through weekly participatory observations and unstructured interviews of catalogers, the work presents cases among the diverse and complex cataloging practices, and surfaces the tensions and time involved in cataloging. This paper will focus on three themes: workarounds, disagreements, and manifestations of culture in cataloging practice. The first scenario describes a non-linear cataloging process and the different workarounds applied. The workarounds highlight the tacit knowledge of experienced catalogers. The second scenario shows catalogers’ different perspectives about the authorship of stone rubbings. Disagreements, negotiation, and compromises in cataloging process are often not documented or explained. This scenario examines cataloging contexts that we cannot observe from analyzing cataloging standards or records. The third scenario describes the proposal of a Library of Congress Demographic Group Term (LCDGT): Zhiqing, and how it was approved as a LCSH: Zhiqing generation instead. The term encompasses a combination of regional, temporal, and cultural aspects of a demographic group. In the proposal process, I identified cultural manifestations in cataloging process through observing “the missing pieces” and local adaptations. This study contributes to the knowledge organization literature by presenting cataloging scenarios that require prolonged engagement to study.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7152/nasko.v7i1.15633