Cataloging in the Digital Order

I was interested in Levy’s article, and thought he put it aptly that the task of cataloging creates a set of “systematically organized surrogates”. It makes sense from a computer science perspective that organization creates something new. The “documents” or “things” produced by cataloging are the first objects that the user comes in contact with when they are trying to find out that something exists, and where that “thing” is located. This labor is somewhat invisible, because like a lot of library labor, it seems to disappear into the naturalized “information landscape”. Woman have, historically, often undertaken this task, and it has been regarded as unskilled busy work, like making xeroxes or answering the phone. This is a highly skilled and interpretive task, however– in the language of a computer scientist, the input that is a book or other item is not something with easily interpreted natural properties. It is only through the cataloger’s decoding that the output seems so self-evident.

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One thought on “Cataloging in the Digital Order

  1. Jacky, this is an absolutely brilliant post. I believe the frustration that many computer users encounter is that without some – at least basic – understanding of how data/objects are cataloged – one can just waste many unfruitful hours searching for things. And we can all laugh as we try to imagine what would happen if librarians just tossed the books – helter-skelter – up on the shelves and said to the library patrons, “Good luck!”

    Michele

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