Re: Cataloging Matters Podcast #12

Posting to NGC4LIB

On 10/08/2011 15:42, Todd Puccio wrote:

My point is that the catalog presents information that is useful to all patrons. If there is information (such as the publication date) which is not needed for one patron, then they are free to ignore that extra information. If there is information that they want that isn’t provided in the catalog, then they are free to consult other resources to get that information. Cutter’s principles are not “sacred”, but they are still valid. That information is there for the “patrons” that need it to help in the selection of materials.


This highlights a few truths –
1 – Patrons don’t always know exactly what they need/want
2 – Patrons think they are asking simple questions – when indeed the answers are not that simple
3 – Patrons need to be educated about their choices. This is true in any service sector
4 – We will still need librarians to conduct a good reference interview to help the user identify their true needs
Which brings us to our shared goals here
— We can try to design catalog user interfaces that better help a variety of patrons find materials in a variety of ways.

I agree with much of this, except for “My point is that the catalog presents information that is useful to all patrons.” As I tried to demonstrate, a lot of patrons don’t find much of the information in a catalog useful. People have been complaining at least since Panizzi’s time, by the way. For instance, do you care if something was published by Random or by Verso? Will you choose one over another? I might prefer a book published in 2009 to one published in 1958 if it’s a book on the political situation of Italy (and perhaps not, depending on my interests), but if it’s just another version of Huck Finn, I probably don’t care. And as librarians, we should silently accept these feelings from the patrons and not insist that they need to be educated to actually care about these details, because they don’t–just as we don’t when we are being patrons.

As librarians, who are responsible for managing the collection and not wasting library resources by adding a bunch of duplicates, then that information becomes important. If I am a selector, I need publication information for each item. Just having authors and titles is not enough to make a decision to buy a new copy of, e.g. Huck Finn, because it may already be in the collection. Therefore, I as the selector, do not want to have to run down into the stacks each and every time I am thinking about buying a new version of Huck Finn. One copy is enough and if I buy a second copy, somebody will yell at me for wasting the library’s budget. I go into this in much more detail in my chapter of “Conversations with catalogers in the 21st century” (available for free at

Continuing on, while I agree that people searching for information have a lot to learn, it has proven to be very difficult to get them to want to learn, or even being open to learn, especially with the younger generations who are in love with Google. And this concerns reference. I agree that people need reference help, but patrons will respond that they neither t have nor need reference help with Google. They just figure it out themselves to discover what they need and Google does the rest. Yes, this is very naive but you can’t say so. Therefore, I have discovered that you must be *very gentle* saying anything bad about their beloved Google because people are very quick to jump to its defense, or worse: they just tune you out.

People need help searching for reliable information, contextualizing it, and understanding it coherently–I completely agree. But placing a reference librarian at the desk is no longer the solution, if it ever was. Placing a link in the catalog with a direct line to a reference librarian is also not a solution since few people click on those things.

Somehow this must be integrated into the entire scheme of things. I keep thinking that we need to build the “killer library app”, but even assuming we could build it, what would it do?