Posting to RDA-L
Of course – browse is simply a single view of data, using a single type of abstraction layer (human readable in this case) to generate that view.
I do think that browse is a bit more than that: it is the way people are *supposed* to search the system. It is the way the catalog was designed to function correctly. 99% of the control that librarians provide is based on headings. Browse searches make these headings much more comprehensible than simple keyword. For example, subject headings with their many subdivisions, make sense only in the aggregate, and are designed to be browsed alphabetically (mostly). Uniform titles are the same, along with corporate bodies. Personal names, less so, but with personal names, the variants (4xx, 5xx) are critical to browse.
The problem is, the moment keyword became the dominant way for people to search (which was about 2 minutes after it was implemented), the traditional browse became stranger and stranger. Catalogers and other librarians caught on to this change very slowly, and some never at all. The undergraduates I work with now think browses are very, very weird. As a result, our catalogs, traditionally based on browsing cards, based in turn on printed catalogs, are becoming more and more distant from our patrons. Librarians never really reconsidered the function of the catalog–they just tacked on keyword and thought they were done.
The task is not to expect everyone to use the browse search again and teach/force them to do it, since this is impossible and retrograde, but to adapt the power of our records to the new environment where traditional browsing does not occur and never will again. We must accept that those days are gone forever. At the same time, browsing the headings is very powerful and something you *cannot* do in a search engine. Tools such as Aquabrowser have tried some new methods to a point, but I don’t know if any has succeeded.
I like to think of these things in a different way: there were always big problems with browsing. It was never the greatest thing to do and it was always very complicated. How can we make it better?