Tuesday, January 11, 2011

RE: Helping the Searchers of the Catalog (Was: subject heading or subdivision for food aging?)

Posting to Autocat

Vosmek, John J. wrote:
<snip>
James Weinheimer wrote: "Of course catalogers need to continue to provide all kinds of controls over our data, including authority control--I don't question that..."

To the contrary, that's exactly what you are doing, i.e., questioning the utility of controlled vocabularies. This discussion ("Why is there no term for this?" "Should there be a term for this?" etc.) is fundamental to the process of creating and maintaining controlled vocabularies, which are never complete and will always need tweaking. If you see this conversation as an indication of what's wrong with our catalogs, then you must see controlled vocabularies as a flaw.
Unless, of course, you are saying that the ability to keyword search full text would be a great additional option to our catalogs for the times when controlled vocabulary searching doesn't return the results that we know are there. Would anybody disagree with this?
</snip>
No, this is not at all what I am saying. There are crucial differences among 1) conceptual grouping materials for consistent retrieval, 2) matching someone's real-life queries to the groupings, 3) actually finding those groupings. In the instance we have been discussing, I posited that someone wanted the concept "the aging of food". How is that translated into finding the related groups?

The conceptual groups suggested were: Food spoilage; Cooking (Meat); Food--Preservation; Game and game birds, Dressing of; Slaughter and slaughter houses; Fermented foods; Fermentation. How in the world can an untrained person come up with any of that? But they need to.

This problem is not new at all. In the card catalogs, it was even worse because the person first had to pull out the correct drawer to get into the correct alphabetical arrangement and then browse to the heading and any subgroups. That was why the red books and more importantly, the reference librarian, were absolutely essential. Since the catalog today has not changed in any essential way since that time, except for adding keyword, people are confronted with what is, in essence, the same problem, and the traditional "solution" of the reference librarian no longer holds since the users are asking many fewer questions from reference than before, especially the remote users.

Yet, the conceptual groupings we make are there and still being maintained, arranged by expert catalogers who (I hope) take their jobs seriously. I am saying that just laying it all on the users and reference librarians ("If you have problems, ask a reference librarian") does *not* work at all today. We must accept that. The catalog (or whatever library system our patrons will use to access our collections) must work for *them* and not just for *us*; otherwise, they'll just go someplace else.

How do we solve this problem? One thing that is absolutely necessary is to make the cross-references actually useful in our catalogs by incorporating them into full-text searches in a coherent manner, and adding about a zillion more UFs, based probably on logfile analysis and with lots of input from the reference department. Doing something like this in a cooperative fashion would be a lot more useful than retyping all of those abbreviations, of that I am sure!

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