The Next-Generation Catalog listserv (ngc4lib) has been imagining and planning the catalog of the future. Lately, they’ve started bringing cataloging into the discussion, arguing that catalogs and cataloging, search and metadata, are inseparable. We can’t really overhaul the catalog without at least examining cataloging and MARC to make sure that we create fully exploitable metadata and then exploit it fully using the next generation of search systems.
The newest development in the debate between local and union catalogs is an idea to combine the best of both worlds. What if there was a core of authority controlled records (from WorldCat and others) overlaid with a wiki-like structure that would allow catalogers from all over enrich the records?
This layered service would have all the multi-faceted richness of collaboratively-produced union catalog and would increase efficiency by reducing the duplication in effort by millions of catalogers. It would also have to be filterable down to local holdings and possibly only the record enhancements needed or wanted by local catalogers.
Needless to say, this has sparked a lively discussion. Some people worry that allowing general modification to the wikified records would result in less authoritative records, while others argue just as vehemently that records would end up no worse than they are already.
As with most other discussion on this list, this particular debate is raging over a structure and service that does not yet exist. But it is fascinating to watch people negotiate their visions of the future and, in the process, uncover and define the fundamentals of good catalogs.
For those who are interested, this list is open to all, and instructions for signing up (as well as list archives) are located here. Also, the members have begun building a wiki to track the conclusions of their discussions. You can see this developing resource here.