Monday, April 25, 2011

Re: Abbreviations (was: Display space

Posting to Autocat

On 04/24/2011 11:55 PM, donna Bair-Mundy wrote:
<snip>
Aloha,
I liked what Dr. Hill said about the overuse of abbreviations. Having taught graduate students for over a decade has thoroughly disabused me of any notion that even educated adults are familiar with the abbreviations we use. Our students do not come to us with a knowledge of Latin or Greek. The abbreviations s.l. and s.n. mean absolutely nothing to them.

It's not that they are uneducated. It is that the knowledge set of the current generation is vastly different from that of previous generations. For example, our younger students are far more technologically sophisticated than the students of ten years ago.

Our abbreviations often reflect the assumptions of an earlier era. And yes, I'm from the pre-space flight, pre-personal computer, pre-ATM era myself.
</snip>
We should be viewing the "problem" of the public understanding cataloging abbreviations from some different points of view. First, cataloging and catalogers are facing a huge number of highly serious problems right now that many think, are far more important than abbreviations. Some of those problems threaten the very existence of catalogs and cataloging. Yet, I shall grant that some of the abbreviations catalogers use can be difficult for the public, but the public has lots of problems using the catalog. Is the "problem" of abbreviations so difficult that it should come before solving the other problems, such as the public understanding of what bibliographic records are, what the headings are and how they work, or the need for catalogers to increase productivity? These are all far more serious than the rather meaningless "problem" of abbreviations. But OK: let's assume that abbreviations do merit attention ahead of the many other problems.

Then comes the second consideration: there are lots and lots of abbreviations people see in the catalog, not only cataloger's abbreviations, but these abbreviations are used by the authors: abbreviations for drugs, for political parties, for all kinds of things. If we are going to say that abbreviations are a problem for our public, and that it is such a serious problem that we must put it ahead of the many other problems facing us, then why are we also ignoring all of the abbreviations used in corporate names and in the rest of the records?

Are we saying that it is only our cataloging abbreviations that people have trouble with?

Third, and most important, what about all of the millions of other records in the catalog that use the abbreviations? I have heard of no plans to convert those records (I certainly hope we don't since that would be a ridiculous waste of our resources) so if we don't update them, the public will continue to see those abbreviations in *every search* they do, and the public will have to deal with them forever.

Everyone simply must admit that changing a rule from one day to the next *will not* keep the public from seeing the abbreviations that catalogers have been using for such a long time. They will *always* have to see them.

Are there real solutions to this kind of problem? I believe automated solutions exist and at any rate should be tried. For instance, it should be child's play to write the display program so that if a string [s.l.] exists in a 300$a field, it can display as "No place of publication" in any language we want. This could be done for every abbreviation in every field since there are so few of them. As far as solving the problem of abbreviations in the rest of the record, a possible solution would be implementing something such as abbreviations.com which has an API, and could work by letting you run your mouse over a an abbreviation and it would show you some of the possible meanings.

These would be real, 21st century solutions to the problem. We should not delude ourselves that by simply changing a couple of rules and ignoring everything that came before, records that our patrons will be seeing *every day* in *every search*, is any kind of a solution at all.

The problems will still be there for everyone to see and deal with. Once we recognize this reality, we can decide upon the importance of abbreviations and try to do what is best for the public and for ourselves.

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