Book Review: Cataloging and Organizing Digital Resources
Cataloging and Organizing Digital Resources: A How-to-do-it Manual for Librarians. By Anne M. Mitchell and Brian E. Surratt, Facet, 2005, ISBN 978-1856045568, 236 pages.
The title of this book will be bewitching for any library struggling with integrating the myriad of digital resources, to which they provide access, into its organisational and cataloguing workflows. However, the manual has a very narrow focus and gives an unscalable solution, which fails to address the problems faced by hybrid libraries, with a wide range of complex digital resources requiring lifecycle control.
As a simple manual the book will be very helpful for libraries which are starting to provide access to licensed online resources for the first time. The first two chapters explain in good detail the problems encountered with selection and acquisition, user access through authorisation, and how to establish a cataloguing workflow. Chapter 3 looks at the pros and cons of providing additional access points to users through Web lists, context-sensitive linking and federated searching. This includes a very good explanation of why libraries need to bother in the Google age.
After a brief look at bibliographic control, the next five chapters of the book are given over to detailed instructions for cataloguing the resources using Anglo American Cataloguing Rules, edition 2 (AACR2) and Machine Readable Cataloguing 21 Standard (MARC 21). The chapters contain a large number of fully coded examples which will exhaustively aid any cataloguer wanting to use AACR2 and MARC to integrate online resources into the catalogue.
Therein lies the problem. The book has a very narrow view of the types of digital resources a library may wish to deliver, and what constitutes cataloguing. It is not really about digital resources in the wider sense, but licensed online resources, a definition which is not made explicit until page 96. It does not define what it means by cataloguing, but it is implicit that really the only methodology under consideration is AACR2 / MARC.
The book starts promisingly with discussion of the wider concept of a digital library. Chapter 1 shows that the authors are obviously aware of the hybrid nature of a digital library and the problems associated with the delivery of complex digital objects. They discuss developments such as institutional repositories and specialised digital collections which describe and deliver different formats of material such as images and multimedia. They also seem to be aware that AACR2 and MARC are not the only established metadata standards for cataloguing. They include short sections on descriptive, administrative and technical metadata and discuss a number of options for these, along with a brief explanation of Dublin Core. They also discuss the possibilities of describing the relationships between objects through the use of Extensible Mark-up Language (XML) standards such as Metadata Transmission Encoding Standard (METS) and Encoded Archival Description (EAD). Cataloguing to aid digital preservation also gets a passing mention. Chapter 4 does consider the possibility of dealing with digital resources separately from the main library catalogue and discusses some drawbacks.
However, these early glimpses of the complex needs of a fully integrated digital library are a side issue to the main premise of the book: that integration into the library's established catalogue, using established methodologies and workflows, is the best way of dealing with online resources. Add-ons such as Web lists or federated searching can be nice, but these are messy and may require some unexpected, and possibly unwelcome, development work.
'Libraries have long since established what standards will be followed and who is responsible for new input, database maintenance, technical upkeep and development decisions with respect to their online catalogs, but they are starting from scratch with their Web lists' p63
The book gives scant information on the problems associated with managing the licences to online resources, providing only one short paragraph (p15). It does not address the sustainability of business models associated with aggregator databases, or the likely loss of material to a library if licences are discontinued.
The final chapter gives some indications of trends to watch. This seems both limited and dated with open access institutional repositories - now well established services for many libraries - and Functional Requirements for Bibliograhic Records (FRBR) the only issues addressed. There is no mention of a large number of problems of organisation and cataloguing currently being addressed by the library community - learning objects, e-learning resources, digital curation and preservation, open source delivery solutions, the use of XML and the possibilities afforded by the Resources Description Framework (RDF) - to name a few.
If a library needs a simple model, as a starting point, to help organise and catalogue licensed online resources into the established library catalogue using established workflows, then this book is ideal. However, it would seem to have been published too late for many institutions, which will have already solved the problems it addresses, and are now seeking to deal with a wider variety of digital resources through creative solutions. Institutions in such a position will find this book both frustrating and disappointing.