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Program for Cooperative Cataloging

The Library of Congress > Cataloging, Acquisitions > PCC > CONSER > SCCTP > SCCTP and Distance Learning

Prepared by Jean Hirons
Submitted to Maureen Landry, Chief, Serial Record Division
October 2003


Distance learning courses are now being widely offered by universities and graduate library schools for university students. The use of distance learning courses for training library staff is really just beginning; however, many institutions, including LC, make use of the Web for supplying in-house procedures, instructional manuals, etc. Perhaps most widely known are the courses developed by OCLC, both free and for a fee, that range from system-specific courses, to more general courses, such as cataloging electronic resources and understanding MARC. CDS has also recently developed its own Web-based course on using the Catalogers’ Desktop. And while there is some resistance to distance learning, its use is sure to grow as younger people come into the job market. Results of a survey conducted by Outsell for OCLC showed that 51% of respondents were using distance learning, while 65% planned to in the future, citing its convenience and affordability.

The development of distance learning as part of SCCTP has been a goal from the inception of the program. However, it was clear from the initial needs analysis that face-to-face training workshops were preferred, with Web-based training as a second choice. Now that SCCTP has five workshops, covering all of the basics of serials cataloging, the time may be right to consider the development of some form of distance learning.

The following report is based on a number of resources:

  • Responses to an SCCTP trainee/supervisor survey taken in spring 2003
  • Discussions at ALA Annual, Toronto, 2003 at a special meeting on continuing education and at the Committee to Study Serials Cataloging
  • Conversations with Laura Kimberley (AMIGOS), Diane Baden (NELINET), Linda Geisler (SRD/TPAIO), Les Hawkins (LC), Steve Shadle (U. Washington), and Kathryn Mendenhall (CDS)
  • Outsell/OCLC Market Needs Assessment Study. 2002.
  • Cataloging for the 21st Century: a proposal for continuing education for cataloging professionals. Prepared by Carol Hixson and the ALCTS Continuing Education Task Force for the Library of Congress.

Goals and assumptions

Distance learning, if developed as part of the SCCTP Program, should be:

  • Informative and clear
  • Based on CONSER standards
  • Web-based
  • Affordable
  • Professionally-designed
  • Fun to use!


Synchronous vs. asynchronous

Distance learning possibilities include both synchronous and asynchronous types of courses. In synchronous courses, the student must sign on for a specific time frame, joining a teacher and other students online using chat rooms and other means of communicating. Asynchronous courses may be taken at any time, are self-paced, and do not necessarily involve interaction with others. Given the nature of SCCTP and its management, asynchronous courses are the only type that seem feasible. Certainly, synchronous courses could work nicely; however, the registration and administration of such courses is not something that the CONSER office or CDS could handle.

Success factors of SCCTP

In considering distance learning development, we should consider the reasons why SCCTP has been such a successful program. First, the program focuses on serials, an area where there are few other training opportunities. Secondly, it draws on experienced professionals to provide the training and share their day-to-day experiences. Thirdly, it is affordable. Workshops have been held in many venues and often for modest fees. Thus, trainees have received high-level training at an affordable price and they feel that have received their money’s worth. They often sign up for other courses as a result.

Distance learning could embrace factors one and three, but would probably fall short on factor two.


  1. In the course of discussing distance learning over the years, and in the recent survey of SCCTP trainees and their supervisors, three possible scenarios come to mind.
  2. Convert one or more SCCTP courses, or portions of these courses to a distance learning format for catalogers.

    Course conversion would require a total redesign. Courses designed for an in-person workshop are not suitable to distance learning. Having such courses available would be a benefit to those in remote places, and new staff as they come on the job. One supervisor respondent to the SCCTP survey noted that her entire staff had received training, and that Web-based courses would be helpful as she hired new staff.

    Such course-work could also take advantage of personal interaction. While the courses would be asynchronous, it might be possible to build in a personal component using an online white board or chat room. With the large team of SCCTP trainers now on board, it would be possible for each to serve for one-two weeks to monitor questions.

  3. Provide Web-based adjuncts to existing courses for those who have taken the workshops. Some of the ideas suggested in the spring 2003 survey from respondents are: additional exercises, examples of various problems, full record examples, an online chat room that trainees could sign on to, an online reference service for trainees manned by SCCTP trainers.
  4. Develop courses for entry-level staff that meet basic skills needs regarding serials. Such courses could include: What is a serial? How to record serial titles. What is a title change? Understanding and recording textual holdings. What is a series? Courses would be clear and avoid “cataloguese” and would be relatively short (no more than 2 hours) to allow ease of use. Such courses could be licensed by CDS to allow libraries to integrate and customize them. They could easily fit in with other basic skills courses, such as OCLC’s course on MARC 21.


If there is sufficient interest to pursue, I recommend the following:

  1. Pursue some aspect of online help for SCCTP trainees, as noted in #2 above.
  2. Perform a needs analysis to determine the market for basic skills courses. Such a survey should help determine: perceived need, desired content, length, reasonable price, audience, and format.
    1. If the survey is positive, discuss with CDS to obtain funds for development.
    2. If money is available, establish a team, including SRD staff and SCCTP trainers (for outside perspective) to work with a designer.
    3. In designing the course, consider other courses being offered by PCC and/or CDS to maintain a similar look and feel.
  3. Do not convert entire SCCTP courses to a Web-based format at this time.


Based on discussions with various catalogers at ALA, I don’t believe that developing full-blown Web-based distance learning courses at this point would be very successful. People really like the contact with not only the trainers, but also their colleagues. It is also much easier to learn in an environment separate from the workplace in time set aside for this purpose. (Respondents to the Outsell/OCLC survey reported lack of time as the biggest drawback to distance learning courses.)

However, the large number of responses to the recent SCCTP trainee survey citing the need for follow-up suggests that we can do even better with the current model. By creating a chat room, or a monitored reference service, we can keep trainees involved and feeling like they are still in touch with the program and its trainers. I believe that we can do this with a minimum of effort, but careful thought must be brought to the task.

I am excited about the possibilities of developing Web-based courses for a different audience—those who need basic skills in serials. Such courses would have wide applicability in LC, as well as in the greater library community. Staff in acquisitions, check-in, copyright, and potentially monograph catalogers could benefit. Such courses could also find a wide audience in other countries. Modules from some of the SCCTP courses could be selected to be redesigned and developed as “learning objects.” A team within Serial Record could work with a professional instructional designer, under contract with CDS. We now have a number of very talented staff in the division, including Linda Geisler, who has experience with Web-based design and SCCTP. We should look to CDS’s Desktop course as an example to see how this form of training is being received.

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