Re: [ACAT] Priorities

Posting to Autocat

On 08/07/2012 22:53, Laurence S. Creider wrote:

What do you mean by patrons? A seven year old? A teenager? A harried parent? A retired professor? Someone who wants three citations for a paper on drug use? Someone who needs to find the repair manual for a 1950 Chevy? Someone who wants to know how the date of Easter was calculated in the 8th century? I’ve been asked all of these when at a general reference desk. The problem with user studies is that I have never seen one that really covers all patrons. Most of them seem to have trouble sampling even their own local patrons. This is insulting to catalogers as professionals. Doctors do not ask patients what they want, not do teachers or professors ask students what they want to learn, let alone how. Catalogers are not nearly so ignorant of what patrons want as you seem to think, not least because most of us have been and remain patrons of some sort or another.

So, we are to believe that catalogers understand what patrons want? Why? Is it because catalogers work so closely with the public? That they work continually with seven year olds, with teenagers, with harried parents, with retired professors, with people who want three citations for a paper on drug use, with people who need to find the repair manual for a 1950 Chevy, with people who want to know how the date of Easter was calculated in the 8th century?

Of course, this is the work of public services (i.e. librarians who work with the public). Sometimes catalogers may double up in their roles as public services and technical services, and it is important to understand that these are two “hats” that the cataloger/reference-librarian is wearing. In order to work closely with the public, the cataloger must be working as a reference librarian, as you apparently have done. That is good, but not every cataloger does so. Even when they do, except in the smallest collections, some staff tend to spend the majority of their time on cataloging (the catalogers), and other staff spend the majority of their time on public services ( the reference librarians).

One of the fundamental problems of FRBR is that it posits generic “user tasks”. As you point out yourself, there are many different kinds of users. In my own opinion, it is ludicrous to believe that all “users” want the same “tasks” as defined by FRBR and it thereby works to make the whole of FRBR suspicious. This is an assertion of FRBR that has never really been demonstrated. Please correct me if I am wrong. Once again, the so-called FRBR user tasks are not the “tasks that users want and need”, rather it describes how the traditional library catalog was designed to work. Those are quite different.

The very act of questioning a status quo means that many will find it insulting. This has been the case since time immemorial. Nevertheless I state clearly that I am certainly as much a patron as anyone else, and I want many materials that are definitely not found in library catalogs, although in my professional opinion, many of these materials are just as vital and important to the public as anything found in library catalogs.  As a result, I am forced, and I mean FORCED, to NOT use library catalogs to find many of the materials I want and need. Although I can find many of these materials, I am a so-called “information expert”. I know how a library catalog works, what it can and cannot do. I have spent years learning about the powers of full-text searching, especially in Google but it wasn’t until I found out that talk I mentioned here,, I discovered tons of powers of Google I never suspected! I know that not everyone has that expertise. Also, I am sure there are many additional resources I am completely unaware of.

I am asking: what is the library profession to do in such a situation? What is the purpose of the catalog today, especially the local catalog? I maintain that the library catalog must include many of these materials that currently are excluded. What do people want? We cannot know without research.