CaMMS Forum: Cooperatively Conscientious Cataloging

The ALCTS Cataloging and Metadata Management Section (CaMMS) Forum took place at the 2018 ALA Midwinter Meeting on Sunday, February 11. The session, titled “Cooperatively Conscientious Cataloging,” provided a venue for attendees to share their ideas and concerns about the process now under way to develop a code of ethics for the cataloging community. Their feedback will be added to that garnered from prior CaMMS events, all of which will help determine the next steps that CaMMS takes toward the goal of developing an ethics guidelines document.

Susan Wynne, chair of the CaMMS Executive Committee, opened the forum by welcoming attendees and presenting background information that placed the current discussion of a proposed cataloging code of ethics in context. The CaMMS Forum held at the 2017 ALA Midwinter Meeting, “Working Within and Going Beyond: Approaches to Problematic Terminology or Gaps in Established Vocabularies,” featured a discussion about ethical issues inherent in assigning subject headings to information resources, as well as practical challenges that ensue for the cataloging community. The CaMMS forum that took place at the 2017 ALA Annual Conference, “Power That Is Moral: Creating a Cataloging Code of Ethics,” continued the conversation with presentations highlighting needs that might be met by a code of ethics that specifically addresses the ethical dilemmas faced by catalogers, as well as potential benefits that such a code could provide. Attendees then responded to questions about ethical issues they had faced, what they believed our values to be, whether we should have a cataloging code of ethics, and their thoughts about starting the process of developing such a code. Subsequently, an ALCTS e-Forum, also titled “Power that is Moral,” generated additional input.

Following the opening remarks, CaMMS colleagues led ten small groups of participants in discussing a set of prepared questions. All groups were asked to discuss four topics central to defining the objective and shaping the process of developing a cataloging code of ethics:

  1. What type(s) of document(s) would be most helpful to participants in making ethical cataloging decisions in their work and in justifying or explaining those decisions to others?
  2. What might the process of creating such a document look like?
  3. What concerns do you have about the creation of a code of ethics, set of best practices, or other cataloging guidelines?
  4. What steps should CaMMS take next?

Additional questions broached topics that included top ethical concerns in representing knowledge and information resources; support needed to make decisions about ethical problems; ways in which ethical guidelines might be used; training that should be available and how it should be provided; how to evaluate the ethical implications of including or excluding information in bibliographic and authority records; ways in which cataloging staff discomfort related to resource content might be handled; options for applying local or alternative practices in shared database environments; and professional responsibilities to a global environment of diverse points of view.

The Forum concluded with each group sharing the most important ideas that emerged from its discussion. Recurring themes in the comments suggest consensus on several notable points pertaining to the development process and the document:

  • Inclusivity and transparency in developing the document are of paramount importance. We must actively reach out and solicit participation from the broadest possible spectrum of communities: managers, administrators, professional and paraprofessional catalogers, colleagues in technical and public services, different types of libraries, other institutions and related professions, schools of information and library science, and the community at large. Special emphasis was placed on the importance of including marginalized groups.
  • The process should be slow and deliberate. We should continue the conversation about the meaning and implications of having a code of ethics.
  • The more options and opportunities for engagement and discussion, the better. A task force is needed to lead the process, establish a specific objective, and guide the document to completion. A blended approach that incorporates a crowdsourced document and facilitated online discussions should be used.
  • The document should establish a set of broad principles and guidelines. We also need guidance on making ethical cataloging decisions, as well as best practices illustrating how the guidelines should be implemented and how they can be applied in specific day-to-day situations. At the same time, participants emphasized that the final product should be concise.
  • The name of the document is important—the terms “guidelines” and “principles” were preferred to “code.” It must be clear that the document is a statement of our aspirations, intended to guide and encourage ethical cataloging practices rather than to enforce them.
  • We should make an effort to relate or connect the document to established codes and guidelines, including:
  • Participants noted that neutrality in cataloging and authority control is a complex issue. Being neutral depends on context and the content of what is being cataloged. Different communities perceive and define bias differently, and we must remain mindful that the document we create will have a global audience. We must be civil and respectful of others and their opinions.
  • Once finished, the document should be revisited and revised according to an established timeline.

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