Thursday, June 11, 2009

Re: In praise of lazy catalogers (AUTOCAT)

On Wed, 10 Jun 2009 09:05:16 -0400, ... wrote:

>Yes, there have been many studies on researcher needs, and as you know, not everything is in a catalog, nor everything is indexed in a database either, even though we have thousands of them. Databases are not the same thing as *our collections* either, which are subscriptions usually.
>
>Humanities scholars have different needs than a biomedical engineer or neurosurgeon in terms of research. Many researchers work with original materials that are not going to be found in World Cat or Scopus or GoogleScholar.
>
>Its not so black and white with the goal of just one single search box which many have already had and used, which still does not provide comprehensive access to library collections. Also, a little search box can lead a user to only so far as well, and then there is a question of actually "access" to the item. OCLC's recent report on "What users want" addressed this as well from a general user perspective rather than researcher perspective.
While I won't argue with most of this, I think the point is rather irrelevant. While we as librarians all know that "everything" is not digitized and won't be anytime soon, most students, and most users, won't realize that. They will search Google Books and see much more than they
could ever deal with. Studies have shown, and I confess that I do the same thing, that people tend to start their researching with Google.

When the Google Books-Publishers agreement takes effect eventually in one way or another where people will be able to see 100% of the books (and this could happen in just matter of months), there will be intense pressure for libraries to buy in. At that point, the entire equation will change and I ask: why will anyone come to our catalogs? Again, you and I know that there are many things not digitized, but our users won't know. Or want to know.

And even for those few genuine researchers who have listened to what they are taught in the Information Literacy classes and realize that there is lots of materials out there that they need but are not available digitally, are they going to conclude that what they really need is a traditional library catalog? I think not.

I will take issue with one point though, that:
> Databases are not the same thing as *our collections* either, which are subscriptions usually.
Yes, they are part of our collections. They just have not been part of the normal traditional catalog since the work of indexing articles was outsourced back in the 19th century. (Originally, articles were indexed but libraries groaned under the strain and that's when Poole and his like arose). So, everybody had to look in at least two places for "complete" research of a collection: the traditional catalog and journal indexes. People have always had problems with this.

The definition of the "collection" is one of the main conceptual changes we face. And as far as I am concerned, the wonderful materials available for free on the web should be part of our "collection" as well. As only one example, see: The complete works of Caravaggio : an impossible exhibition at http://www.caravaggio.rai.it/index_en.htm. Is this a worthwhile site? Yes. Do my users need it? Yes. Is it only my users who want this? No, many others need it as well. This is part of the job of the selector. [NOTE: Naturally, this site no longer exists. Yet people still wanted that site at the time I wrote it. Today, there are many other sites, most notably, The Google Art Project--JW]

Some of today's tasks are: how do we work out meaningful, efficient, and sustainable workflows for these kinds of materials, from notification to selection to description to description and organization to access to retention/preservation?

I don't know, but the catalog should be a focal point of it all. Returning back to the laziness aspect: we need new ideas and methods, not simply hard work.

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