Saturday, December 5, 2009

[NGC4LIB] Open Reply to Thomas Mann

This was a message sent to me privately, so I have removed the name.

> <snip>
> I think there are solutions, and these solutions need the skills of librarians and especially catalogers. But I don't know if doing things the same, old way (making full-level MARC21/LCSH/LCC/LCNAF records) is a genuine, sustainable solution. I also don't know if we need a single database to search, or more of a federated one, such as at the European Library: http://search.theeuropeanlibrary.org/portal/en/index.html or even something different like a torrent engine, or something I don't know about.

> James Weinheimer
> </snip>
> ==========================
> Why don't you go with something you don't know about to satisfy user needs you can't imagine? Maybe you don't realize it but that's what you keep saying you want to do. Meanwhile, I'll continue cataloging and actually providing access for real people here in the real world.
>

I guess you don't care for my ideas. That's all right, I keep on cataloging, too. But I do think it's fair to ask if what we are doing is the best thing. For example, *if* things are going like I believe they are (and I certainly have lots of distinguished company who share my belief), doesn't it seem to make sense to rethink things?

Have you worked with an undergraduate to show them how to find information in the library? For me, Google is still new and weird, but they grew up with Google, so it's been a close part of their life. It's their trusted friend.

Part of my job is reference work and to do the information literacy sessions, and we get study-abroad students from all over the US here. I haven't met a single one yet who has understood how a library catalog works. A huge percentage have *never* even looked at a library catalog, even in their home schools! And they are shocked when I tell them that if they want to use a library, they absolutely *must* use the library's catalog whether they like it or not.

Students use the catalog like Google: they just throw some keywords at it and see what comes out. They might click on a heading occasionally, but they don't understand authority control, certainly nothing about the syndetic structure (the real power of the catalog) or anything at all, and they really don't want to learn something that they suspect is obsolete and even smacks of doing a little work. A very few pick up how the catalog works and see that it's powerful, but I can count them on one hand.

So my question is: when you are cataloging things today, are you *really* giving access to them? Sure, you are putting a full-level record in your catalog, and putting the book on the shelf somewhere, if the records go to Worldcat, a "huge" .02% of people on the web actually use it, but that must be a tremendous improvement over how many use the local catalog. But even then, are your patrons using your catalog? Do they just take the list of books from their instructors and use them as entry points to browse the shelves? I think that's what a *lot* of people do and probably have done for a long time. And they see nothing strange about this and think they are really good at using the library.

I want to provide access for real people in the real world too, and if we are now making the equivalent of stone axes, that hurts me to hear since I have made an entire career out of cataloging, but if it is true, then *that* is the real world and I must accept it. And then deal with it using the skills and experience I have built up over the years. Sure, I could just keep on making my stone axes and telling myself that people need these things, but if people are moving on to steel ball-peen hammers and mechanized tools, or even lasers or newer tools, I need to know about it and re-think matters. I think traditional library tools *can be* powerful but they must be retooled in major ways to make them relevant to the ways our patrons live and work today.

I think it's exciting!

Regards,
Jim

No comments:

Post a Comment