RE: Elementary errors (Was: Rule of three–gone??)

Posting to Autocat

Brenndorfer, Thomas wrote:

I don’t agree. While many library users prefer the system to be transparent, the complexities hidden, and the correct results to come first in the simplest way, that doesn’t mean that their actual needs correspond to such preferences. A good old-fashioned reference interview often reveals very complex needs, and the question then becomes: does the catalog serve those actual needs?

I’ve found the Statement of International Cataloguing Principles to offer the simplest language of the bare minimum of what a catalog’s purpose is:

Of course, this was all cribbed from Cutter’s rules from the 1870s, who cribbed it from Panizzi in the 1840s, who cribbed it, probably from somebody else. The catalog has had several traditional purposes, and while I think that these purposes still mostly apply, they certainly are no longer the primary purposes of the catalog for today’s patrons. I believe it is absolutely vital that librarians, and especially catalogers, reconsider these traditional purposes because otherwise, we risk being blacksmiths in the age of automobiles.

The numbers of reference questions are going down; there are no equivalents of the reference librarians watching the users at the card catalog and stepping in when they see people with problems. As a result, people are using our catalogs unmediated more and more. They search them completely differently, just like they search Google and get results they consider to be inferior to Google. Patrons have completely different expectations of the results they do get. Somehow, the catalog we create *must* deal with this, otherwise our patrons will experience more and more frustration whenever they use our tools. Once the zillions of scanned materials in Google Books become available, I am concerned we will see a tremendous drop in the use of the catalog, and its only use will be perhaps to get a call number of the book to retrieve if from the shelf, if it is readily available. If it’s not readily available, they may not even use it for that.

Trying to explain how to search a traditional catalog to a young person is very difficult and borders on the impossible. I have had only intermittent successes, and I have found that even some of the older scholars are forgetting how to do it. On the other hand, I have found that while it is extremely difficult for people to understand the concept of “controlled vocabulary”, once they do understand, they tend to like it and want something similar to work in Google. That, in my own mind, offers some opportunities for us. Still, catalogers cannot be the people who determine what the needs of the users are, since they are not in a position to know. I certainly do not know what people want. Right now, the information world is in a state of flux and nobody knows, but lots of information research is going on.

Bringing this back to the topic, the only thing I do know is that anything we make must be “high-quality,” which means conforming to some kind of standards, and why the rise in the number of elementary errors (at least from my own anecdotal evidence) concerns me so much.