Friday, June 29, 2012

Re: [ACAT] Currency of subject headings & Bibliographic conservatives

Posting to Autocat

On 28/06/2012 04:35, Frank Newton wrote:
<snip>
To me, the word "dump" is kind of provocative. Isn't provocative similar to manipulative?
</snip>
Although I like to consider that once in awhile my writing is not too bad, I don't think I can manipulate people with a single word! Provocative it is, but that is to get people thinking. Besides, several times I have heard and read those attitudes, perhaps--or perhaps not--with that precise word used, but giving voice to the attitude nevertheless.

But continuing with the subject headings: there are two purposes to the subject headings. First, is as a point of collection for records that display similar traits, so this consists of making sets and subsets and sub-subsets. The second purpose is what should be the labels of these subsets.

Concerning the labels of the subsets, e.g. "Future, The, in motion pictures", there will never be general agreement. In this sense, I am reminded of a passed-away old friend of mine, retired from the telephone company, with whom I would have deep conversations when I was younger. Politically, we could not have been further apart, but he had quite a mind. One thing he said was that he was convinced you could say anything, and he emphasized ANYTHING, and he believed you could find three people somewhere, who would agree with it!

My own experience has proven him right, but I add my own corollary to this: you can say anything--ANYTHING--and you can find three people somewhere, who will violently disagree with it. I am absolutely convinced that my saying "I love my mother" or "I really like apple pie" will set somebody off somewhere!

Relating this to subject headings, people will never agree on what the label of the heading should be. This is why the USE FORs are so critical for the system to work, and one of the reasons that compels me to say that our catalogs have been broken for a long time. Today there is also an international dimension that catalogs never considered in the old days. People from all over the world can see your catalog records in a variety of ways, and if we enter the "linked data" universe, there will be even more ways. So, there will never, ever be general agreement as to the form of Leo Tolstoy's name. But there will be much more agreement as to the records/items/materials that are collected inside the "set of all materials by Leo Tolstoy, Lev Tolstoi, Lev Tolstoj, [pick your favorite form]".

Today, systems allow for much more flexibility as to the form(s) of the label attached to a set of records that is displayed to the user by tools such as VIAF. So far, the sets themselves can only be made competently by humans, in fact, expert humans known as catalogers. Perhaps someday, automated means can manage it all but I remain suspicious. In the meantime however, I have a feeling that merging the automated methods with our methods would lead to something far more powerful than doing things separately. 

The problem is to get the public to understand the power and advantages of our subject analysis, and sadly, that is very difficult to do.

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