Thursday, September 2, 2010

Re: Elementary errors (Was: Rule of three--gone??)

Posting to Autocat

On Wed, 1 Sep 2010 13:39:22 -0500, Suzanne Stauffer wrote:

> But most people do want to know what flavors of muffins you are offering, whether and what kind of nuts, chips, fruit, etc., they have in them, whether they are low-fat or low-carb or gluten-free or whole grain, and if so, which grains, what kind of and how much fat, what they are sweetened with, if anything, how many servings and how many calories per serving?

> Is that incredibly delicious pastry made with dairy products? The lactose-intolerant and vegans certainly want to know that. Vegans also want to know if it contains eggs or other animal products. Is it made with all organic ingredients?

>Some people also want to know about the business practices of the companies that produce and distribute and sell the pastries. Ben and Jerry founded an empire on their business practices.
>

>It's always dangerous to start talking about "what the vast majority of people" think or want or do, without some solid, empirical evidence behind it. And even if we are correct about the vast majority, do we only serve that majority?

Some people need this kind of information and others don't. That's why lots of this kind of information can be found on labels in tiny print that many need reading glasses to "access".

Since catalogers are focused on the catalog, they often conclude that people want the metadata *in our catalogs* as much or more than what our metadata *leads them to*, but this is incorrect. People are focused on reading Twain's "Huck Finn" and not on the catalog records as such. To put this in practical terms, people want http://www.archive.org/stream/adventureshuckl00twaigoog#page/n3/mode/1up instead of http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/5700930. This is what we are seeing very clearly in Google results, where people are led immediately to the resource and in some ways, don't even realize that the information they see in Google is metadata.

So, the library catalog record is only a *step toward* what people want, just as your example is that while some people need to know if there are nuts and eggs in this donut, while doing so, they see words that are entirely incomprehensible and so on, their focus is still on eating that pastry. For them, they would rather not have to take out their reading glasses, squint at that tiny print and sound out words. The less amount of time taken over this sort of information, the better and I think, this may go some way to explain why so many people have always had such trouble with our catalogs and why they spend the least amount of time in the catalog, preferring to browse the books as much as possible.

This is no different from any other type of product design and is described beautifully in Donald Norman's "The design of everyday things" http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/474068517, which I suggest everyone should read. As he mentions somewhere in there, when you pick up a tool you have never seen before, and it fits into your hand perfectly, and you immediately know how to work it, you probably won't even notice it, but that is evidence of extremely good design that has been deeply thought out. What we make should not get in the way of what people really want, which is the resource at the end, not what we make.

What does all of this mean for the catalog? Especially in today's information world it means something quite different from what it was in the 19th century, and what I think it is now. It will take time to discover these new needs and capabilities and then to design systems for these new and changing needs. As I wrote before, I still believe that people want the traditional information that library catalogs provide, but that we should no longer believe that people primarily want to "find/identify/select/obtain: works/expressions/manifestations/items by their authors/titles subjects". This is still useful access for many, but we really need to go beyond these traditional tasks and why I believe FRBR is already obsolete. What we make should not be perceived as a difficult barrier that must be overcome before accessing information, but the easier it is for people to use, the better.

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