Cataloguer-at-large: impressions of ALA Midwinter

In the second of two posts committee member Deborah Lee reflects on her experiences of attending the ALA Midwinter conference in Boston:

(Part 2 of a trip to ALISE and ALA Midwinter 2016, supported by a conference bursary from the John Campbell Trust)

Size matters.  While the ALA website and various colleagues had informed me of the size of the ALA conferences, it was only when I was actually there I could appreciate the sheer scale of ALA Midwinter.  Suddenly my pre-conference jokes about being in a room of 15 000 librarians were, well, almost true.  (Actually, ALA Midwinter is the baby sister: as many delegates gleefully told me, the main ALA conference held each summer is so large that there are only a limited number of conference centres in the U.S. which are large enough to host it.)  However, while the conference exhibition is indeed an extremely large room – more about the exhibition later – most of the other sessions I attended were for far smaller number of attendees.  So, even though the conference itself was on a massive scale, I still found it extremely friendly and had an opportunity to meet many librarians.

My main objective for attending ALA was to learn more about the emerging trends and changes happening to cataloguing, which I aimed to achieve by attending a selection of open committee meetings, cataloguing-related interest groups, and similar.   One of the major changes discussed was the creation of the new FRBR model, FRBR LRM (FRBR Library Reference Model).  While this model was mentioned at numerous sessions that I attended, I found Gordon Dunsire’s presentation at one of the ALCTS* CC:DA [Association for Library Collections and Technical Services. Committee on Cataloguing: Description and Access] meetings especially useful.  FRBR LRM introduces entities not seen in the original FRBR model such as thema and nomen, as well as creating some hierarchy within the entity universe; for instance, the new (super-)entity of “agent” consists of “group” (which includes what was formerly covered separately under family and corporate body) and “person” – for more information, see the draft of FRBR LRM, which has recently been disseminated.  (Not everything is changing: WEMI will still be more-or-less the same, which is probably a relief to those of us involved with cataloguing teaching and training!)  I was excited to hear how the model would include more clarification about aggregates – a major topic of discussion for art cataloguers working with RDA – and the possibility of considering those responsible for certain expressions, such as editors, as types of creators.  The ALCTS CC:DA meeting emphasized how the introduction of FRBR LRM would affect the development of RDA, as all future proposals and changes to RDA would need to be based on the new FRBR model.

Unsurprisingly, developments to RDA featured highly within the discussions. For example, the moratorium for suggesting new relationship designators, related to the current and upcoming discussions about relationships within RDA, was of particular interest to my work and interests.  The plans to update and restructure the RDA Toolkit were also of importance, and I expect we will be hearing a lot more about this in due course.  I found an update about the RDA Toolkit especially fascinating in terms of the Toolkit’s international usage and language coverage.

As well as more formal meetings, it was fascinating to attend interest groups about matters relating to cataloguing.  These usually consisted of three or four papers followed by discussion.  For instance, I attended sessions related to FAST [Faceted Application of Subject Terminology], authority control, and cataloguing and classification research.   Nurhak Tuncer (City Colleges of Chicago, Malcolm X College) and Reed David’s (University of Alaska Anchorage) paper about cataloguing self-published items was very timely, demonstrating the value of cataloguing research and helping to analyse a significant cataloguing “sticking point”.  There were also presentations about particular cataloguing projects: for instance, I was fascinated by a project to catalogue the Rovi Collection, which consists of nearly a million CDs, DVDs and video games at Michigan State University Libraries (Lucas Mak, Autumn Faulkner, Joshua Barton, Michigan State University).  As well as talking through some of the issues with cataloguing this quantity of audio visual materials en masse, this presentation showed how a cataloguing project can almost be too successful: once catalogued, the patrons were so enthusiastic about using the catalogued materials, that eventually requests had to be capped as the library could not fetch this many items!

Finally, not everything in my trip was cataloguing/classification-related.  For instance, I took the opportunity to attend the conference exhibition.  As well as being a fascinating keyhole through which to view the wider library world – for instance, I loved having the opportunity to see stands for children’s books and talk to some of those promoting educational materials for children, which is far outside my normal work remit – it was also an opportunity to talk to those closer to my regular work, such as potential suppliers.  Then there were the samples/incentives.  For instance, exhibitors from publishers often had samples of some of their key titles (usually novels) to give to those attending, while other stands had various methods to entice attendees to take a further look, and most of these enticements were in the form of chocolate! I also decided before I went that I would aim to go to one or two sessions which were not directly related to my work or research.  So, I heard the physicist Stephon Alexander talk about how music helps us to understand the physics of the universe and, at the end of seven days straight of conference attendance, the last session I attended was a keynote session by Chelsea Clinton.  This was really a perfect end to an intense, thought-provoking and inspiring seven days.  Thank you so much to the John Campbell Trust for making this trip possible.

*Apparently, ALCTS is pronounced “A-le-kts”, very similar to the name “Alex”.


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