Thursday, December 9, 2010

RE: Abbreviations in RDA records

Posting to RDA-L

This thread has turned out to be very revealing in many ways. I feel compelled to point out that our cataloging rules are *supposed* to be centered on the user (or the patrons, or the public, or the readers, or however someone prefers to label them). In fact, in the past I have had to endure some rather scathing remarks concerning just this topic.

In an earlier message, I pointed out that if an "abbreviation problem" actually exists, then there should be some sort of focus on the users and the real problems that *they* encounter. I will "stick my neck out" and declare definitively that when a user looks at our records, they will discover a multiplicity of abbreviations they will not, and cannot possibly, know. These abbreviations are found in titles, in notes, and in many other areas. These abbreviations are probably not the ones such as "p." or "etc." or "et al." but abbreviations such as "ILO" "WTO" "TSO" "MAB" and many others. From the user's point of view, it doesn't matter if these are abbreviations or acronyms or what: they don't understand the vast majority of them.

Therefore, if we conclude that there is an "abbreviation problem", and further, if we maintain that our cataloging rules are to be "user centered", then we must not ignore the totality of abbreviations the users see in the catalog, preferring to concentrate our efforts only on the relative paucity of those that come from the controlled lists based on our cataloging rules.

If cataloging rules are to be "user centered" as many so fervently declare--and I agree--then we should take that sentiment seriously. We should focus on *their* experience, not just ours. It's fair to predict, and I hope, that library catalogs will expand their scope to include articles from open archives and records from all kinds of other bibliographic agencies, therefore it is logical to assume that such an expansion will make matters far more complex for our users than ever before, including the area of abbreviations. Our considerations should be: Is there really a problem with users understanding abbreviations? How important is it? And if it is important enough, how do we really and seriously help our users deal with the abbreviations (i.e. all of them) that they see in a catalog?

I think there are methods to deal with this kind of problem, as I mentioned before, with APIs, plugins and so on, but typing (re-typing) the relatively few abbreviations under our control, and in the process upsetting the consistency we currently have, should not be considered a serious solution for our users and the problems they really face, nor should such an obsolete method be seriously entertained in the 21st century.

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