Exploring the role of repertoire in library cataloging

Date09 September 2019
Publication Date09 September 2019
AuthorRachel Ivy Clarke,Brian Dobreski
SubjectLibrary & information science,Records management & preservation,Document management,Classification & cataloguing,Information behaviour & retrieval,Collection building & management,Scholarly communications/publishing,Information & knowledge management,Information management & governance,Information management,Information & communications technology,Internet
Exploring the role of repertoire
in library cataloging
Rachel Ivy Clarke
School of Information Studies,
Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, USA, and
Brian Dobreski
School of Information Sciences,
University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA
Purpose Library work is increasingly being explored from the perspective of design.Still,littleworkhas
actively explored specific aspects of design as they relate to library cataloging.The purpose of this paper is to dive
deeper into the relationship between library cataloging and design by exploring a specific aspect of design the
concept of repertoire, or the use of previous experiences and bodies of knowledge during current work.
Design/methodology/approach To examine catalogersuse of repertoire, this pa per employed a
juxtaposition of field observations of professional library catalogerswork processes with elements of
Findings The researchers identified three major types of repertory knowledge that were demonstrated by
catalogers: internally embedded repertory knowledge; externally embedded repertory knowledge; and
seeking out new knowledge using other sources. Additionally, certain trends were noted concerning which
repertory knowledge was utilized for which particular task. Determining subject and genre headings were
noted for relying quite extensively on internal repertoire such as personal knowledge and institutional
knowledge, along with external sources, such as personal notes and local examples.
Originality/value This paperadds to a growing body of work calling fordesign approaches in librariesand
related information settings,and breaks ground by applyingthe previously unexplored conceptof repertoire to
librarianship,specifically library cataloging, which offers a new perspective on catalogers judgement.
Keywords Library cataloging, Repertoire, Design, Catalogers judgement, Think-aloud, Observation
Paper type Research paper
Recent years have seen a surge of interest in the relationship of design to librarianship. For
many years,discussions of design in librarianshipfocused on architectureand space planning
(e.g. Morehart, 2015; Bradburn, 2013; Bradigan and Rodman, 2008). In addition to this
emphasis on architecture, discussions and discourse of design in library and information
science literature often reflect technology (such as web design)and printed material formats
(such as the design of book jackets) (Clarke, 2015). But design in librarianship is much more
than physical spaces and webpages.Increasingly, design approachesare being used to better
understand a rangeof work in librarianship, from teen services(Subramaniam et al.,2013a,b)
to library storytimes (Mills et al., 2016). Yet these investigations still focus on more public-
facing programs and services. What about the technical aspects of librarianship?
Library catalogingthe creation and maintenanceof metadata for informationresources
has often been considered a formalized process of rule-following. However, cataloging
involves the negotiation of complex standards and procedures in attempt to create useful
descriptionsfor a variety of materials, and thus may be considereda creative problem solving
activity that also reflects design aspects. Lambe (2015) argues that catalogers are designers,
while Snow (2017) highlights the need for design thinking in cataloging. Still, little work has
actively explored specific aspects of design as they relate to library cataloging.
This study seeks to dive deeper into the relationship between library cataloging and
design by exploringa specific aspect of design the conceptof repertoire. In design,repertoire
Journal of Documentation
Vol. 75 No. 5, 2019
pp. 1169-1189
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/JD-10-2018-0169
Received 24 October 2018
Revised 9 April 2019
Accepted 11 April 2019
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
is the name given to previous experiences and bodies of knowledge. Designers create new
knowledge by drawing on repertoire both to guide current choices and to evaluate decisions
and artifacts.Schön (1983) describes repertoireas the capacity to see unfamiliarsituations as
familiar ones, and to do in theformer as we have done in the latter, which enables us to bring
our past experiences to bear on the unique case(p. 68). Designers develop their repertoire
over time by confronting problems and attempting to integrate design components into new
solutions; the knowledge that comes from these attempts forms a repertory knowledge that
designers may draw on in future projects (Goldschmidt and Porter, 2010).
In the course of their work, catalogers create descriptions intended to solve
representation and access problems for end users, and in doing so, must be capable of
drawing on previous experiences and solutions.This suggests repertoire as a particularly
fitting design concept through which to view this area of work. This exploratory study thus
aims to answer the following research questions:
RQ1. In what ways and during which tasks or specific aspects of work do catalogers
draw on repertory knowledge?
RQ2. What is the scope and diversity of catalogersrepertory knowledge?
RQ3. In what ways, if any, do catalogers develop their repertoire?
Related literature
Cataloging as design
Although librarianship is traditionally conceptualized as a social science, recent
investigations have explored the fields parallels with design. While science and design
often function symbiotically, scholars from the 1960s through the present have articulated
the ways in which design is a distinct discipline from science (e.g. Lawson, 1990, 1994; Cross,
2011). The major distinction between science and design stems from the idea that science
concerns itself with observing and describing the existing natural world with the goal of
replicability and prediction. Design, on the other hand, centers on the artificial world: objects
created by humans to institute change and solve problems. The objectives of design are to
create things people want(Konsorski-Lang and Hampe, 2010) by addressing problems or
ideas in a situated context(Binder et al., 2011). Thus, the discipline of design is one based in
the creation of things that solve problems.
Within libraries,cataloging is a kind of knowledgeorganization work entailingthe creation
and maintenance of metadata for information resources such as books, magazines or sound
recordings. Early library catalogs were created to solve simple inventory problems before
evolving into findingtools that helped solve problems of locationwithin a library in addition
to existence withina collection (Norris, 1939;Lerner, 2009). But as librariesevolved, so too did
the problems that catalogs were intended to solve. Fons (2016) describes the evolution of
library catalogs from a focus on user convenience to a focus on library convenience though
standardization, automation and workflow efficiency. New problems arose, such as how to
develop librarycatalogs that met usersnew, internet-inspired expectationsof full-text search,
complex keyword, phrase and natural language queries, relevance ranking, and immediate
access. Contemporary cataloging practitioners have raised manymultifaceted problem-based
research questions which they would like to see addressed (Clarke, 2018a). Even Patrick
Wilson (1968) wrote that library catalogs are not faulty because of poor workmanship or
outmoded organizational schemes, but rather a deeper inherent complexity.
Such complex problems in cataloging reflect many of the characteristics of wicked
problems: unique, interconnected and ill-defined problems that cannot be definitively
described (Rittel and Webber, 1973) and are made complex in the need to serve
multiple stakeholders with conflicting values (Buchanan, 1995; Wahl and Baxter, 2008).

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