Re: [NGC4LIB] Cataloging Matters Podcast #12

Posting to NGC4LIB

On 11/08/2011 18:23, Ross Singer wrote:

> On Thu, Aug 11, 2011 at 11:53 AM, Janet Hill wrote:

As I write this, I can hear the voice of Ben Tucker (Principal Descriptive Cataloger at the Library of Congress when I worked there) in my mind, saying in his gentle Carolina accent … “The catalog is not an encyclopedia, and it is not a dictionary. It’s a catalog.” It can lead you to the encyclopedia or the dictionary (or biographies, films, works of fantasy, maps, etc.), where you may find the answers to your questions, but it’s not there to answer those all of life’s questions itself.

This is an interesting point, but it raises two other questions:

* If a catalog doesn’t do those things, but that’s want our users actually want or need, does the catalog make sense?
-and (and these are not necessarily related to each other)-
* If the catalog does a good job at linking to encylopedias, dictionaries, biographies maps, etc. (which it doesn’t — at least not in a machine-readable way) / why doesn’t it just become a component in a larger discovery system that *can* utilize these things?

These are the type of highly provocative and vital questions that I wish had been asked all along. Maybe by now we would have had some answers. Eventually, these sorts of questions will be asked and they will have to be answered by someone. I think there is still another question that should be taken into consideration, and it seems that different people are assuming different things.

There are catalogs, and there are bibliographies. Catalogs normally relate to the complete holdings of specific libraries and collections, including all topics, while bibliographies normally relate to “what is available” on specific topics, no matter where the resources happen to be. For patrons, when everything was physical, catalogs of specific collections were the most important, but today where information is readily available everywhere, it seems as if bibliography is going into the ascendant and the catalogs of specific collections are less important.

Has the public wanted catalogs or bibliographies? From my research, and also from my experience of what patrons want, including myself, I would hazard a guess that in the vast majority of cases, they want bibliographies because very few people who are interested in the text and criticism of Huckleberry Finn want to see records for completely different topics, e.g. Arabic calligraphy or tomes on the war of the Spanish Succession. In a catalog, you will see these records that are irrelevant to your needs, especially in a keyword-type environment, while in a “Bibliography of the texts and criticism of Twain’s Huckleberry Finn” you will not. In catalogs, it is almost inevitable that you will see all kinds of works you do not want, while in a focused bibliography, everything should be at least relevant, even though you may decide you do not want them.

One thing I have considered is that we should perhaps refocus what we provide to the patrons (not to ourselves, which is an entirely different task) more in the sense of giving them “bibliographies” instead of “catalogs”. That could be done by providing canned searches, using complex call numbers and/or subject searches (that our users would never know how to do and shouldn’t be expected to) that they could then further refine. I think people would really like them, *and* if correctly done, could be included in all kinds of services created by others. Group annotated bibliographies come to mind.

In this attempt, the “catalog record” would not have to change much, if at all; the task would be coming up with some very good, very pointed queries. Something that is probably beyond the abilities of any single person, but would need subject experts, catalogers and systems people.

So, perhaps what will happen will be a decline in traditional, institutional-focused catalogs, but a simultaneous rise of bibliographies–all different kinds of them. I know I would like some really great bibliographies on my topics and I am sure that others would, too.