Tuesday, February 2, 2010

[RDA-L] Systems v Cataloging was: RDA and granularity

Daniel CannCasciato wrote:

Karen Coyle wrote in part:

" all of the needs are user needs . . . "


Pardons, but this is not correct. If we are to manage the collection (whatever "the collection" happens to be), we will need tools, and some of these tools will be designed for library use and not for the users.

There's nothing strange about this: for example, there are many things on an automobile that the general public does not need to understand in order to drive the car safely and correctly. Still, just because I do not understand them, I do not conclude that they are unnecessary. Some of the things may be there for no other reason than to make it easier (and cheaper) for the mechanics to do maintenance. Good! If I insist on knowing what all of these strange things are, I can learn what they are there for, but it is highly presumptuous to conclude that they are unnecessary.

For this reason, something like the number of pages is useful and vital primarily for librarians to manage a collection. What do I mean by this? If a selector is deciding whether to buy a copy of a certain text, e.g. yet another copy of Romeo and Juliet, he or she first needs to know if there is already a copy in the collection. The paging must describe the item well enough so that the selector does not have to march into the stacks to check how many pages the item *really* has. If the selector ends up buying an additional copy of something already in the collection, everybody gets mad because of the waste of money, staff time, and shelf space. But very few patrons, i.e. only the extreme specialists of our general reading public, really care much about how many pages something has.

There are many other areas of the record like this: the publishing/copyright/printing date(s), statement of responsibility, series statement, arguably the series tracing, many of the notes, and so on.

The traditional catalog serves many functions for many people, and one of the primary functions is as an inventory tool. It remains to be seen whether e.g. the incredibly complex system of subject headings are there for users, or more for librarians to ensure reliable retrieval.

In today's mashup world, where all kinds of metadata will be thrown together in ways we cannot predict, it is our task to figure our some way to have all of this make sense. See for example, the current thread in the NGC4LIB list about CERN making their bibliographic data open, which is non-ISBD. I am sure that other libraries will follow and Anglo-American libraries eventually will be forced to do the same. Sooner or later, our metadata, based on different standards, will *HAVE* to interoperate with CERN's metadata, and many other standards.

But let's face it: this is what is happening in our catalogs right now, since they contain various bibliographic standards other than the current flavor of AACR2. Our catalogs have always managed to contain AACR2, AACR1, non-ISBD, Cutter rules, Dewey rules, ALA rules, and on and on. If RDA is implemented, there is yet another standard.

Looked at in this way, the new environment may not be all that much different from what we have today.

Again, I think these are the directions we should take instead of coming up with yet another new set of rules that few metadata creators will follow.


  1. When Karen Coyle wrote that all of the needs are user needs, perhaps she was suggesting that even librarians who are responsible for collection development are "users?" I'm a cataloger, and I sit in a separate building from the public services, reference services, and youth services workers in our public library. I think I'm providing a service to those users as well as to the patrons. That being said, I really appreciate your comments about users not needing to understand everything about how a car works in order to be able to drive a car. Most library workers have no idea how I do my work, but I think most of them do have an appreciation for all of the information in a bibliographic record. Your comments about pagination remind me of the teachers who work in the school district where our library is located. They are constantly sending their students to the library to find books about a certain subject that have at least 125 pages. Since we have a fairly sophisticated ILS, we can create a list of books that fill the requirements for those teachers. Good thing we include the paging in the bibliographic record. Yes?

  2. Thanks for your comment. I believe that while we are all users, not all have the same needs. Reference librarians, catalogers and selectors all have different, but very specific needs and not all of them are the same as users.

    You may be interested in part of a followup message in the RDA list at http://www.mail-archive.com/rda-l@listserv.lac-bac.gc.ca/msg03122.html

    "[As an aside, I want to emphasize that this would definitely *NOT* be good enough for library uses, which requires all kinds of inventory controls, but in deference to the person who said that "user needs" include those librarians who need inventory controls, I cannot agree. Librarians have different needs from the public who use our catalogs. They do not need many of our tools. Today, we no longer have to use the same tool, but can provide a simplified version for them and enter the Semantic Web at the same time.]"

    We don't have to think in terms of "one size fits all" anymore.