Sunday, April 29, 2012

Re: [ACAT] Modern library cataloging does not see the forest because of the trees; WAS: Various other threads

Posting to Autocat

On 27/04/2012 22:28, Brenndorfer, Thomas wrote:
<snip>
300 $a1 score (232 pages)

and something like this (I made this up at the spur of the moment. People can differ on the terms, but changing the terms would not change the basic computer functionality)
 
<extent>
     <formatExtent type="score">
       1
     </formatExtent>
     <physicalExtent type="numberOfPages">
       232     
</physicalExtent>  
</extent>

Yes, computers would just love something like this but that is almost beside the point. It's not that hard to understand. The overriding question however, should not be focused on the machines but rather: is this useful for the *patrons*? I think this shows the difference between theory and practice pretty clearly. The second example definitely requires more work from the cataloger and added complexity.
Should be less complex. A good data entry form, with drop down menus or type-ahead features for the values, will make dealing with data elements much easier than learning the comparable amount of MARC coding PLUS punctuation which fills in semantic gaps, and then having little of that data open for validation or instant translation through registered vocabulary or applicable to machine-processing (which can benefit users directly or indirectly). Did you ever hear about the libraries who thought they could drop MARC subfield delimiters because they saw no user benefit to them? What do you think happened?
</snip>
Of course, we are not discussing dropping any fields or subfields, but actually adding coding that will definitely take more time and be more complex, including increased training, and will make our current records obsolete to boot. All this during a period of sharply decreasing resources. Did you see this article about Harvard? http://io9.com/5904601/the-wealthiest-university-on-earth-cant-afford-its-academic-journal-subscriptions

This is an incredibly serious step. Make no mistake about it. The fact is, nobody knows, absolutely *nobody*, if these additional levels of coding will benefit users either directly or indirectly. Nobody has ever done any study on that--at least, that I know of. Therefore, it is only a hope, or a faith, or a superstition, that such a level of coding will benefit the public, but it could just as easily be completely useless. Nobody knows.

I guess I need to put it more bluntly: is this an example of "perfecting the irrelevant"? Is it the equivalent of making a better typewriter? I have no doubt whatsoever that very clever and creative people could figure out new methods to make substantially better feather pens, or forge better horse shoes than any made by our forebears. Yet, those "improvements" would be completely wasted and have no impact on society at all. In cataloging, the above areas are the simplest parts and can be handled in a variety of ways, that is, if studies would show that these are problems that need resources devoted to them. And yet, I suspect that this represents something that could very easily fall into the category of "perfecting the irrelevant". Lacking any study, I guess that people are just supposed to smile politely and hope that all will turn out the best. Sooner or later however, theory must give way to practical concerns.

I can only wish that people had been putting the same effort into making the subject headings work again, and to get the syndetic structures of the authority files to function. That actually *could* make a difference since if done correctly, it could provide the public with tools found nowhere else on the web. But of course, the problem with all of that is not coding, it's display and functionality.

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