Monday, December 20, 2010

RE: Purpose of transcribed imprint (was: Form)

Posting to RDA-L
Erin Blake wrote:
<snip>
For my own research, and for many users I serve professionally (in an independent research library), it is vital to have both transcribed and normalized information for primary resources. I can find things published in London, England, through MARC 752 ‡a Great Britain ‡b England ‡d London. I can find engravings published by John Bowles through 700 ‡a Bowles, John, ‡d 1701-1779, ‡e publisher; but through 260‡b I can see that there are two distinct versions of the plate, each with a varying address for Bowles' firm. </snip>
This is great that you can do those things, but when we get into the larger world of metadata, there are problems with the reliability of the result. For example, you can search for 752$d for place of publication, going down to the city, plus the publisher through a 700$e search, and that is fine. But these types of access points are not on every record in every library. So, this works within the confines of the (magnificent!) Folger collection, but it ceases to function, or at least functions differently, the moment the searcher steps outside the single catalog, i.e. it may function for some other records in some other catalogs, but even then, it is so hit or miss that for anyone except the genuine expert who knows the variations in all the different cataloging practices, the existence of this information, or lack of it, must be considered random.

I have only seen a few of these records, but for example, the "Early American Imprints" series includes the 752, but it appears that when the author is also the printer, there is not a separate 700$e made for the author as publisher, e.g. in Princeton's catalog we can see where James Parker is added as a printer in only one of these books he printed, apparently because he authored one of them. http://catalog.princeton.edu/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?Search_Arg=CMT9208TS&Search_Code=GKEY^&CNT=50&HIST=1 vs. http://catalog.princeton.edu/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?Search_Arg=006430461&Search_Code=GKEY^&CNT=50&HIST=1. Therefore, if there were a separate search for "printers" limited to 700$e, when you searched for Parker, you would retrieve only one of these.

When this is translated into the world of union catalogs, the task is for the users to know what is really happening when they search a 752 field, or when they do a search for a "printer", and this becomes even more complex. For instance, see this Worldcat record which has Parker's name only in the publication information without a 752 or 700 of any kind with his heading: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/30550049. Naturally, this method is not used for (most) modern imprints.

By pointing this out, I am not finding fault with anything at all, just trying to emphasize the amount of knowledge assumed when someone would search, e.g. for someone as a printer: not only do they need to know about the history of the man or woman as printer, but also how all these different catalogs deal with this kind of information, and how each library's treatment is mashed/blended/wrung through union catalogs such as WorldCat. If researchers do not understand such intricacies, they could believe they are doing far more than they actually are when they do a search for James Parker as printer, or when they search for printers in Woodbridge, New Jersey; by definition, they are only getting subsets of the whole.

This is a fact, and it is important for searchers to realize it. This is what I mean by the reliability of the result. When it comes to matters of general intellectual input (authors, editors, translators to a lesser degree), there is a lot more standardization, but in other areas such as what you mention, there are special, local practices.

Today, I think it is becoming more and more important to always assume that our users do not understand this sort of complexity. And they won't ask questions. So, what can we do in this new environment to help users get some level of awareness of such problems and how to deal with them? I think there are many ways that the catalog can provide help, but we need to think in entirely new ways.

And let's not even contemplate what will happen when Google Books enters the fray!

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