This is in response to adstbeebe’s post on Finding a Balance in Creative Cataloging, regarding the article Cataloging Legacies into Descriptive Metadata Creation.
The article states, “creative cataloging means doing users’ work for users, in advance.”
To which adstbeebe replies, “where exactly is the line drawn?” And I want to comment on that, because it’s really a good question on academic librarians’ work in general, especially reference librarians: When do we stop doing the work for them? One does hear the occasional complaint that “the students want me to do their research and proofread the paper afterwards” or “am I writing this professors’ articles for them, too?”
The article works to address this as well:
Therefore, metadata creators should maintain productivity to achieve departmental goals and at the same time engage in clear communication and negotiation with managers or supervisors to gain their support and understanding for a positive working environment.
The article also emphasizes the collaborative nature of creative cataloging, which I’ll get to more later. But here we go: How to know where your line is when helping users.
- Supervisor/cultural expectation. A bit of truth: Whatever your supervisor says, after a bit of possible discussion, goes. If you find yourself doing more than you think is correct for a librarian, then you may be adding lines to your résumé for the next, better job.
- Collaboration as a skill. You are not a researcher (unless you are). You are not the second author on a paper (unless you are). Know what you do well, and get input on that which you don’t do well. Big note: Never assume that “knowing what users want” is something you do well.
For example, an archival metadata project should involve researchers, historians, whoever can provide their expertise; that is, it should involve potential users. They are users, too, but at this stage, you will not be doing their work for them, in advance. Instead, you will all be working for a future group of users that they (not you) know. Your, to quote the article, “curious mind and some research work” may find a great reference work to help, but if they can determine helpful sources with their expertise and previously-done research, then let them.
- For students and faculty, provide instruction and resources, not results. You can show folks how to use your resources. You can, if that is your niche, show them how to judge and analyze their data. Unless overridden by your supervisor (see above), you don’t do the actual analysis on the actual data. Unless you get that second authorship. Public library users, on the other hand, should get all the help they want. I am now going to complete contradict this point.
- Only teach future fishermen how to fish, unless they’re being graded on their fishing. Librarians go overboard in instruction, sometimes. “They might need to know this later!” “If you teach someone to fish…” How’s this for some inspirational quotes?
- If you are a fisherman, your job is to give people fish.
- If you teach someone to fish, and they have work to do that depends on them having only a fish, and the fish are right next to you, then you’re wasting their time.
- If someone loves fish, and they want to get their own fish, they’ll ask for fishing lessons. You did, after all.
But sincerely, we do sometimes mix up “saving users later work” with “telling them everything we know about the library.”
So, there we have it. Hope this helps.