Monday, December 12, 2011

RE : Old School Search Engines

Posting to Autocat

On 11/12/2011 19:39, Beartooth wrote:
<snip>
    Among full-time scholars there was, and likely still is, another strategy, conditioned only I think in part by the fact that many of them had carrels, seminar rooms, and/or other footholds far from the card catalog.

    By hook or crook or wandering around, one might find a tier of shelves with some apparent if marginal relevance to what one wanted. At that point one could scan bindings for promising titles (or names, if one knew any); pull one off, open it, and look for a bibliography.

    At that point today, I would pull out a netbook and try the online catalog for two or three items; go to the shelf where they belonged; and iterate the process.

    Back in the Biblio-Carboniferous, of course, I'd've hoofed it down to the card catalog as a last resort, but would first have made a couple stabs at navigating by the seat of my pants to that second shelf.

    In a nutshell, this approach depends entirely on a faith in the library's subject cataloging being reasonably true to Jefferson's original principle of keeping things together that were likely to be used together (rather than, say, trying to emulate peter Mark Roget).

    The reality was, and I hope still is, that it works fairly well -- and, like browsing in the bookstore sense, is a lot more fun than the methods that catalogers a/o reference librarians mostly advocate. It would be interesting to know whether the current generation does something comparable with its electronic engines.
</snip>
Yes. Browsing the shelves has always been the most popular, and pleasurable, way to find information in the library. Unfortunately, many people use this as a replacement for using the catalog, and the consequence is that these people assume (or simply hope?) that all of the materials they need are miraculously on these shelves. (I personally imagine to myself a scene from the library in the Harry Potter movies, where all the "important and relevant" books on the topic I want fly magically from wherever they are in the collection to the shelves I happen to be browsing)

Any cataloger will know that the materials on a topic can be spread all over the library for all kinds of reasons: materials in special locations or special locations, in an annex, journal articles, other formats (e.g. microforms), plus we all know that whenever a topic gets semi-complex, any book could legitimately go into several places in the classification scheme. This has been the situation since at least the library of Alexandria, but still, a huge number of the public relies on browsing the shelves as a main method of finding their information. (I too, was one of their numbers before I got into library school) One of the most common reference questions is: where are your books on [fill in the blank]? They want to hear a physical location consisting of several shelves instead of being told the best ways to search the catalog.

Today, we have to add electronic resources into the mix of what is missed when you browse the shelves, but I have thought of an additional wrinkle here. It seems to me that the public considers a full-text search to be the same as browsing the shelves. The short "metadata record" they see in the Google result, with the title of the resource they can click on, followed by a short description, is almost the same as browsing the spine titles of the books on the shelves. When they look at the actual resource, it's the same as taking the book off of the shelf and leafing through the pages. That's the way I feel about it.

Since this is the most pleasant part of working with a physical collection, it only stands to reason that it is also the most pleasant part of working with a virtual collection. In both cases, the searchers are hoping (incorrectly) that they are working with the materials on their topic, or at least the most important, "relevant" ones. Still, it is in many people's interests to maintain the fiction that they really *are* looking that the most important, relevant materials on their topic.

If the system and metadata worked correctly, a virtual book could go onto many different virtual "shelves", and the Harry Potter scene could become a reality.

1 comment:

  1. The biggest challenge in making "virtual shelves" happen is indexing content. If and when this happens though, all written content can be made available digitally. It's safe to say this is the dream of all SEO companies: for everyone and everything to have an online presence.

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