Categories of surrender

INN533 – Information Organisation

WEEK SIX: Reflections on cataloguing and vanishing ethics.

Looking at AACR2 and ISBD rules for cataloguing information made me wonder earnestly about the purpose behind such maddeningly bureaucratic prescriptions.  Zaana Howard’s (2013) reminder that prescriptive standards can help us avoid crashing spacecraft into Mars is well taken; there should be some standards underpinning the cataloguing of information items, particularly in public collections.  However, the object here is not as complex as spaceflight, and it is the object that deserves greater attention.  What is the purpose of AARC2 and ISBD?  Coming to that question as a lay observer, it becomes quickly apparent that these rule-sets are about stratifying a professional skill-set by obfuscating rather than simplifying language and descriptions.  This, in turn, leads to the conclusion that neither standard has lay users of information resources in mind, instead actively working to alienate non-expert users from what is described according to those standards.  Hider & Harvey, in quoting Michael Gorman, make it quite plain that a significant number of librarians see themselves as a necessary intermediary between library users and information resources (2008, p.6), with AACR2 interposed as the deliberately fabricated mechanism for making such intermediation necessary.  In Australia an adherence to standards avoiding natural language and hiding information in a fetish of abbreviations and punctuation almost certainly makes information access more difficult for even educated users, let alone the 40 per cent of people the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates have difficulty with functional literacy (2008).

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