Posting to RDA-L
On 07/06/2012 12:12, Heidrun Wiesenmüller wrote:
I’m sorry if I’ve got carried away a bit… But I’ve so often seen the look of shock and disbelief in the eyes of my students when I demonstrate a keyword search for e.g. the odes of Horace in the LC catalog, using a variant name like the Latin “Horatius”. This inevitably leads to zero hits and the funny notice “Please note: The Library of Congress does not keep a copy of every title ever published.” The students, of course, are used of getting the same number of hits, regardless of whether they use the preferred or a variant name in a keyword search, as it is standard in German catalogs.
As somebody who hasn’t grown up with the Anglo-American way of cataloguing, when I look at it from the outside I am both awed and dismayed. I am awed because you take so much more effort, and include so much more information in your cataloguing data than we do. To take just one example: According to the German cataloguing code only the first editor gets an access point, whereas it’s up to three in AACR2. So, I am very favourably impressed by the richness of Anglo-American cataloguing data, and I often wish we had the same attitude towards cataloguing here.
On the other hand, I am sometimes a bit dismayed when I look at the way this great data is stored, handled and processed. Compared with conventions and practices here, to me it often seems rather inefficient and not really suited to this day and age. Collocation via text strings is only one example. Another would be authority maintenance, where – if I understand correctly – our customs are quite different: We’re used to automatic updating processes. Whenever a heading is changed or a variant name added, this only has to be done once, in the national authority file. It will then be automatically copied to the correspondent authority files in the regional networks, and from there, the changed data will be delivered to the local library systems, again automatically. Due to this system and the links between authority records and title records, there is no need for any locally done cleanup. And then, of course, there is the MARC format. When I teach MARC to students, who are already familiar with another input format (the PICA format used in the Southwestern German Library Network), they find it very hard to understand why suddenly they have to input ISBD punctuation and must type in a parallel title twice (in 245 $b and 246). “Isn’t this superfluous?”, they ask. “Why doesn’t the machine do it for me?”.
The only way I have been able to get people to understand American library catalogs is to explain how card catalogs used to work. *IF*–and that is a very big IF–people kept listening, they could understand some of the basics of how to search the library catalog. I have tended to have the best success with people of a historical bent, because I can show them scanned catalogs online, both book and cards, and some have gotten genuinely interested seeing these old tools. But not many. The old catalogs had a logic that is missing in the full-text search engines today.
In the earliest online catalogs, before browsers, everything was text based and I think everything may have worked better, but once keyword was added and the web interfaces, nothing was ever really rethought. And after Google and Facebook and Twitter, and so on and so on, we are faced with completely different user expectations.
In the field of “information architecture”, one of the key assumptions is that if someone takes an information resource in one format and simply transfers it into another format, the final product will normally be inferior to the original. That is because the resource was originally designed for another environment. Still, it may be almost impossible for the people who were experts in the previous format even to be aware of the deficiencies in the new format. The result for someone who knows nothing is sheer incomprehension of this resource. As one example, we saw this in the early days of the web, where the information on many sites was arranged according to internal bureaucratic hierarchies and someone who had no idea about the internal workings of the organization could not even know where to begin. Thus we see the need for the “information architect”.
The library catalog has never been “re-architected” (how is that for a word?). It is still a card catalog transformed into MARC21 with keyword capability. The RDA/FRBR project shows me that in the future, we will have a card catalog in RDF with keyword and semantic web capability (whatever that will really mean).