RE: Why we need authority control

Posting to Autocat
On Mon, 6 Sep 2010 08:28:07 +1000, Hal Cain wrote:

>But to be driven away from Amazon one has to go to the trouble of
>closing one’s account (or at least changing one’s email); I daresay
>few will bother. I don’t. Perhaps once in ten offers I see something
>that may be of interest (and unless very attracted I’ll look for it in
>a library near me…).

I also think Suzanne described the differences between the commercial world and the library world very well, but I think this is one area where we see the FRBR user task of “find” as changing, or if it is not actually changing, we begin to see how it is limited in many ways.

Whenever someone picks up a newspaper or magazine, he or she is expecting to run across some kind of information that may be useful, but along the way, you will see much more that is not useful. It is difficult to consider this as “finding” in the FRBR sense. I can’t imagine that anyone who purchases the telephone-book sized Sunday NY Times will actually read the whole of it. There will be entire sections of no interest to individuals: the society section, or the business section, or the sports section, etc. will be discarded by different people. On weekdays, when there were many fewer sections, and (I think I remember correctly!) I would browse the entire thing, sometimes finding something along the way in sections I ignored in the Sunday paper, but mostly not.

This shows the difference between the FRBR user task of “find” and another task–just as important–of maintaining current awareness. It is nothing new, and has been around from a long time back. One requires work: the FRBR user task assumes that someone will perform the task of “finding” works/expressions/manifestations/items by their authors/titles/subjects, and thus we have the often-heard saying that “only librarians like to search, everyone else likes to find.”

As I have mentioned before, the only way to “find” without “searching” is either if you simply run across something by sheer luck, such as finding a five dollar bill on the sidewalk, or if someone else has done the searching (and therefore, done the work) for you. When you browse current issues of newspapers and magazines, you are doing this second task, where the “expert” authors and editors have done the searching and arranging for you, and you can pick what interests you. This world is changing tremendously as people now have access to incredible choices that never existed before. For example, I just clicked on Google News; the first story is about heavy rains in Guatemala, and I have a choice of 956 articles, each one available with a click! This means that I have an incredible choice of “keeping current awareness” from all over the world. Newspapers and magazines are not nearly so happy that people have such choices available but nevertheless, they themselves have no choice but to adapt to the new situation.

Formerly in libraries, “current awareness” was done by maintaining current accessions lists (the best full-text example I can find at the moment is here: Today, there are many ways of achieving this same task, but most popular is probably use of the RSS feeds to keep up with new developments. (As an example, I made a tool at, which has turned out to be indispensable to me, and I have created similar tools for other topics)

So, the library world has not been so involved in the current awareness aspect of information retrieval, other than putting current serial issues where they are handy. I suspect these ideas of FRBR “find” (a specific task involving work) vs. “maintaining current awareness” (something much more vague and less demanding), are merging in the public’s mind in the new environment, since the new tools are bringing them together, e.g. Google News can be searched by keyword. I think libraries will have to adapt to this in some way.