May 29th will mark the last day of Rosalyn Raeford’s forty-three-year career at the Duke University Libraries (DUL). Ros is the Head of the Resource Description Department. The department is responsible for creating and stewarding the metadata that make discovery of library resources possible, as well as shelf preparation of physical materials. When Ros joined the Duke library staff in the late 1970s automation of library cataloging existed, but it was deep in the background. Its tangible output was the card catalog, local access points were added manually in aid of user discovery and access. As time and Ros’s career went on, the interplay between the technological and the manual trended more and more toward automation. Yet, a lot of manual work was still involved in cataloging, as catalogers worked on printouts that were then converted to computer format through data input. During these years of change, Ros was there not only to witness, but to shape the trajectory of DUL’s approach to resource description.
Ros began her career as a clerk-typist responsible for typing local access points, such as call numbers, on printed cards. This regularly entailed typing unique access points per title on multiple cards. Though critical to the user experience, it was not the most enlivening work. Ros always found ways to make it fun, for herself and her colleagues.
Next for Ros was working with the Demand Cataloging team. This group managed a huge backlog of books by boxing them for storage, creating a paper trail on boxes and on catalog cards, and retrieving titles for cataloging when library users requested (or demanded) a title. Think a very low-tech Library Service Center. Ros really began enjoying her job when she became a copy cataloger, working directly with materials to assign call numbers, and then moving onto subject heading work. Ros remembers that the more complicated an item was, the more she enjoyed it.
About eight years after Ros joined the library staff, at around the time computers first became part of cataloging, Ros became the supervisor of the Pre-Cataloging team. It was in supervisory work that she found her “true love.” This true love encompassed both people and process, and that is where the magic happened. Ros saw opportunities for workflow efficiencies that leveraged both available technology and the skills of her colleagues. An early efficiency that Ros envisioned and worked with colleagues to realize was automation of call number creation for copy cataloging. Cataloging work was done exclusively in a DOS environment with command prompts. Another efficiency that Ros conceived of was cataloging in a Windows environment. She and a colleague designed a Windows-based system that a third colleague programmed. Thus, the Cat Editor was born.
Automation, efficiency, and process saved time and created an environment that freed up resources to tackle bigger things. Remember that the more complicated something was, the more Ros enjoyed it? Ros has led many large projects over the years, but the project to reclass DUL’s collection from the Dewey Decimal Classification system to the Library of Congress (LC) Classification system stands out because it enabled efficiency on a massive scale. Until late 2004, DUL was one of a very small number of large academic libraries that used Dewey. At various times over the years, the library had looked at switching to LC Classification. Arguments for the benefits of switching were never compelling enough to effect the change. Switching to LC was always deemed too expensive, too undoable. Ros made it happen! She analyzed and synthesized in-house cataloging statistics to show that upwards of 85% of catalog records had LC class numbers. Ros showed that by using LC classification, it would be possible to move the bulk of materials more quickly through the cataloging workflow and into the hands of library users.
The LC Reclass Project was a multi-year project that began in 2004 and transformed DUL’s collection and how we catalog. Once LC classification was in place, Ros was able to lead further process changes, namely shelf-ready processing of new monograph titles and working with vendors to provide cataloging when it was not feasible to do in house. A philosophical change also ensued that led the Resource Description Department to its current approach toward cataloging: follow national standards and avoid local practices. Certainly, elements of this approach were already there prior to LC reclass, but the project pushed us further in that direction.
Now cataloging is on the brink of a fundamental shift in the creation and use of metadata to linked data. Ros will not be here to lead us through this sea-change, but her approach to people and process will continue to inform how we embrace and manage it. We will thrive, and library users will benefit as a result. Ros said that in her first days at Duke, she felt smarter just being here. Well, DUL and Duke are smarter, too, because Ros was here. (Recommended reading: Dennis Christman’s January 31, 2020 post titled A Linked Data Primer.)
Now for a parting gift from Ros, here are some of thoughts in her own words.
On joining the library and what stood out to her at the time:
“The first few days that I was there I remember walking out on campus and just being awestruck. I remember just this really warm feeling of just being on Duke’s campus. … I felt smarter just being there.”
On being a manager:
“Being a manager was like the best thing that could have happened to me. And, being a manager in a process-oriented environment. It’s my ideal thing because it was a breeding ground for creativity. There was no limit to what you could do.”
On automation and its opportunities:
I was fascinated about how to make things more efficient and what could be automated. … We were automating and most people hadn’t even thought about it.”
On having fun at work:
“I love planning and problem-solving. And I think that for me that was what the LC reclass project was. The fact that so many people had looked at doing it and it got abandoned at least four times. … I don’t know how you describe it. It was almost like a competition. Like when I played basketball; it was like sports. I’m competitive. I was like, ‘okay this can be done.’”
On linked data and the future of cataloging:
“Something major is about to happen. Another major shift in how we think about metadata, another major shift in how we think about discovery.”
“If you can give catalogers something else to embrace that taps into their intellectual value, that taps into their skill set regardless of how those skills play out, I think they will embrace it.”