Meeting library patrons’ expectations (Was: Death dates)

Posting to Autocat

On Tue, 22 Jun 2010 11:10:12 -0600, john g marr wrote:

The rule stating that we are *not* supposed to change “b.” dates to full date ranges when death dates become available thus seems entirely counterintuitive if the purpose of cataloging is to meet library patrons’ expectations. So, I suggest we boycott the use of “b.” and use “open dates” in all such cases, so that death dates can “legally” be applied when available.

Concerning the open death dates, I wonder how much it has to do with card practice, which more often that not, when setting up a name, went with fullest form, so cards often left a lot of space after an initial in a heading (see: ). So, when a cataloger discovered later that this person’s name was actually “Coot Johnson”, they wouldn’t have to go through a lot of work to update his name. On a humorous note, I have seen this practice carried into retrospective conversion projects, where the people inputting the card obviously didn’t understand and left lots of spaces in the headings! But the practice of leaving an open death date on the card may be related to this old practice.

But I would like to ask whether or not it is true that “the purpose of cataloging is to meet library patrons’ expectations.” Also, from the information expert’s point of view, we should ask whether specific parts of a patron’s expectation of a catalog are justified or not. For example, should a birth or death date found in a bibliographic heading be considered authoritative, even if a patron expects it to be? 99% of the time, the cataloger just copied what he or she found in the book and did no further research. In this same direction, should a copyright/printing/whatever date be considered valid for legal purposes? Again, the cataloger just copied down what he or she saw, ignoring some dates and printing statements. Speaking personally, I wouldn’t want to be held legally responsible for a copyright date.

Patron’s expectations are changing constantly, and *if* the FRBR user tasks (almost copied verbatim from Cutter’s rules) were correct and valid when they were written, they certainly are not any longer because people expect a lot more. As one example, I find the Wikipedia disambiguation page to be much superior to our traditional library methods for diffentiating concepts. But, the *function* of our headings is of course much clearer than what is
in Wikipedia.

My point is: trying to live up to patrons’ expectations is a completely fruitless task: there are just so many different kinds of patrons who expect far too much, that I wouldn’t even try. We should also be aware of trying to impose anachronisms on our patrons: the example of getting names to file “correctly” (open date vs. b.) is a non-starter since browsing name headings in that way is a function of the card catalog that has disappeared almost entirely.

We should be focussing on finding out how people are accessing and using information and concentrating on making ourselves relevant in that way. People expect something entirely different. To get an idea of some of these new problems and tasks, take a look at for a great discussion of the possibilities, and the pros and cons, of the Semantic Web. These are the directions where we should be focusing our efforts. I know there is a very important place for us in that new world.



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