Sunday, July 8, 2012

Re: NOW he dies!

Posting to Autocat

On 06/07/2012 17:28, McDonald, Stephen wrote:
<snip>
While you may not have heard complaints from the public about birth and death dates in the catalog, others of us have. Such complaints have even been mentioned on this list before.
</snip>

There are problems and then, there are PROBLEMS. It's much easier to concentrate on solving problems instead of solving PROBLEMS. People have been complaining about the library catalog for a long time. Here is an article from the Chronicle in 2009 http://chronicle.com/article/After-Losing-Users-in/48588/, but complaints can be found in the report of the Royal Commission at the British Museum. Even worse, there have been many other mentions of problems with information retrieval lately that don't discuss library catalogs at all. Libraries should be working on the bigger problems and save the little ones for later.

We can all pretend that adding death dates is one of the best uses of a cataloger's time as opposed to other tasks, but it remains to be shown. I have provided some examples from my papers and my own experience that shows that the *public* would like catalogers to spend time on information that is more important to them than aesthetic matters such as death dates. In addition, we can also pretend that a list such as this actually solves problems for the public:
 Johnson, Barbara
 Johnson, Barbara, 1738-1825
 Johnson, Barbara, 1943-
 Johnson, Barbara, 1945-
 Johnson, Barbara, 1946-
 Johnson, Barbara, 1947-2009
 Johnson, Barbara, 1950-
 Johnson, Barbara, 1955-
 Johnson, Barbara A.
 Johnson, Barbara A., 1936-
 Johnson, Barbara Alice
 Johnson, Barbara Alice, 1958-
 Johnson, Barbara Ann
 Johnson, Barbara--Art collections--Catalogs.
 Johnson, Barbara B.
 Johnson, Barbara (Barbara A.)
 Johnson, Barbara (Barbara E.)
...
[goes on for a *long* time! Doesn't include the Johnson, B. headings either.]

Let's assume that some more of these ladies have passed on to their rewards--should we assume that if patrons can see the death dates, it solves any of their information problems? Even if they haven't, who knows that the one they want was born in in 1945 and not 1955?

I have never questioned the need for authority control for names or subjects and this means breaking conflicts (which is what we are talking about)--but it is important to acknowledge that the public doesn't even have these concepts any longer, especially after years being made "happy" by Google-type searches that has nothing resembling authority control. As I mentioned in my paper at ALA, quoting David Weinberger, "metadata isn't what it used to be." That simple fact needs to be accepted. Metadata is changing, and both libraries and their catalogs must change along with it.

Maybe this is a sad fact and hurts people, but it must be acknowledged nevertheless. Then, the field can begin to move forward. And that is when I think it begins to get really interesting!

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