Re: [ACAT] NOW he dies!

Posting to Autocat

On 06/07/2012 22:22, Daniel CannCasciato wrote:

Exactly! And, for projects (for example when we were playing catch-up and finally adding death dates) there are student-employees (at least in many academic libraries) who can do the work and that helps minimize the costs. It’s doable and useful.

Allen Mullen made a good point about how patrons request what they’re searching for, and James Weinheimer gave the good example of how just the use of dates can be, well, unhelpful:

Johnson, Barbara 
Johnson, Barbara, 1738-1825 
Johnson, Barbara, 1943- 

However, I think it’s still worthwhile for a couple of reasons. While patrons don’t ask for persons under the headings we use, those headings still work nicely for collocation once you do locate the correct person. We’ve got to use something for a heading. Also, I have had a couple of patron interactions where having a date showing a life span did help eliminate a couple of headings from what the patron was searching for.

And for browsing, the list James gave is pretty so-so at best, but depending on the ILS you use, that’s generally not *all* that we give patrons (or help desk staff). Just being able to expand the results to show what titles are linked to each of those headings works out fairly okay – – sometimes it is laborious though. That might just be inherent to common names. Research can require some work. I think adding death dates at least assists, for now, in making it somewhat better.

There are many ways that catalog displays should be improved for the public. Adding death dates assists for aesthetic reasons, but for the moment let’s imagine we are just patrons. Which would we prefer: that someone is paid to add death dates to the records, or to add links to materials that are online so that when I see something in the catalog, I can become aware that I can download it? I know what I would choose!

I don’t think that preferences of the public can be decided by catalogers. There must be some research of the patrons themselves. As an example, Ian mentioned in a posting that a heading does not equal a person, it equals a “bibliographic identity” (at least with AACR2). When I have tried to explain this idea of “bibliographic identity” to people, and they discover that they have to look up Mark Twain under a variety of headings they do not know, none has liked it. Too bad, I reply: it’s how the catalog works. When I show them the authority record that brings all forms together (something they have never seen before), people seem to resign themselves to it, but I am sure they could never do again what I have shown them on their own. At least the people I have demonstrated this have seen it as a huge hassle. (They are NOT going to search out something in a separate authority file)

This is a great example of why I keep saying that it is vital for catalogers to look at the catalog and its records from the viewpoint of the public. It is not easy to do because it is not easy for an expert to imagine that someone knows absolutely nothing at all. The catalog has powers found *nowhere else* and libraries should capitalize on them. There are two basic problems with achieving this however: 1) although searching concepts was normal for the vast majority of history, just in the last 20 or so years with the rise of keyword search results and relevance ranking, searching concepts has turned into a very strange idea for people and they must come to appreciate it again; 2) the basic way to find the concepts is based on a completely outmoded technology. Catalogers understand this technology and take far too much for granted–this is why I say that catalogers probably cannot determine what the public needs. Catalogers know very clearly how a catalog should be searched, but not so much how they are searched and what are the problems that people have with the catalog.

Teaching people how to search the catalog won’t work–experience has shown how people forget what they learned in their information literacy classes. How many on this list remember their algebra? This is how students and others relate to it. The catalog must be adapted to them and that means we need to find out what they want, then to prioritize and finally make a case for each.

Death dates are important? Important in relation to what? That only makes the catalogers themselves feel better since they can pretend they are doing something that will make a real difference to the public. It’s just like adopting RDA: it will make no difference at all to the public. The report says as much. But everyone can pretend.

There are many more things catalogers should be doing if they really and truly want to make a difference.