Thursday, September 2, 2010

RE: Time and effort

Posting to RDA-L
Miksa, Shawne wrote:
<snip>
Jim unbelievable wrote: "But it must be accepted that catalogers are *most definitely NOT* the people to know what people need from information. That can only come from reference librarians and the public, the researchers, scholars, and students, themselves."
With all due respect---what planet are you on, Jim? Come back to this one. Where do you get this stuff? Let me welcome you to the 21st century where catalogers are user-centric, born and bred. We start from the point of the user--what are their needs, how do we organize it to help them meet those needs; how do the choices we make as organizers affect their ability to find, identify, select, obtain, navigate.....and so on. Let's call it functionality, shall we?
Only a reference librarian, and not a cataloging librarian, can know what people need from information? Bulldada. If there is an instance of this then it occurs when a cataloger gets so wrapped up in the 'brilliance' of their own cataloging skills that they can't see the forest for the trees.
Done. Outta here. Buh-bye.
</snip>
I will state that in order to find out what the different needs are of different people, you must actually work with those people. A cataloger, whose work is necessarily done away from the public, *cannot do this*, unless he or she also works in reference, but then that is the reference-librarian-half of the multi-tasking librarian doing the work. (And I will state that it is highly difficult to be very good on both duties--one of the reasons why I have suggested that perhaps the current AACR2 cataloging standards may already be too high)

Before OPACs, a cataloger may have had practically no contact with the users. Today, the most a *cataloger* can do is read and analyse log files, those lists of searches done, and then try to *logically divine* what people really want and if those searches are correctly done or not. Of course, such conclusions may be far off the mark. Working with the patrons (i.e. reference) is the only reliable way of discovering what they may want.

When you say that 21st century catalogers (a group to which I, apparently, do not belong) are user-centric, born and bred, I personally haven't seen it. In fact, the cataloging community's declaration that what people want from information is to find/identify/select/obtain etc. is the most convincing evidence that I can supply. This is *ABSOLUTELY NOT* what people want when searching for information.

How in the world can I state that so blatantly? Just by watching people and talking with them, something catalogers cannot do unless they also work as reference librarians. People prefer Google searching to searching library catalogs, I think there can be little dispute on that. And they say that they get better results. People *cannot* do the FRBR-type of searching or retrieval there, since there isn't even an option of searching by author, title, or subject searching, much less WEMI retrieval possibilities. Yet, people like it better and say they get better results. There is an obvious contradiction here, and makes the cataloging community look very backward, indeed.

Instead of explaining away all of these contradictions or ignoring them, we need to understand what is going on and figure out new possibilities that will make a genuine difference to our patrons, and thereby to our own work.

If catalogers insist that they know it all, woe be to everyone!

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