Posting to RDA-L
On 11/30/2012 05:34 PM, Mike Tribby wrote:
I think that for a lot of libraries RDA is a matter of overkill, introducing complications into the process of cataloging titles that may never have more than one manifestation, expression, etc. That being said, and to address James Weinheimer’s frequently asked question about a business case for RDA, I don’t think there is a business case for it for smaller libraries other than the perceived need to be in step with the national libraries. But for LC (and likely the British Library, LAC, the Australian National Library, etc.), it seems to me the business case is that it will allow them to focus more on important endeavors like classification and subject access rather than the housekeeping aspects of descriptive cataloging. For instance, being allowed to accept inputs like ONIX “as is” means their professional staffs need not concern themselves with converting ALL CAPS fields and similar matters. The national libraries have as much right as any other institutions to set their own policies, and I don’t see how they can go forward in a time of diminishing funding and staffing without making major changes. If cataloging is truly a cooperative effort, records with nonsensical machine-generated contents notes and all caps title fields can be upgraded by other members of the bibliographic utilities that house records.
This is a very perceptive comment about descriptive cataloging–that the utility of RDA is seen mainly with the defacto “outsourcing” of much of descriptive cataloging, and this is done by accepting what we get through ONIX and more-or-less of anything else we may find.
But the very existence of WEMI seems to be emphasizing and using the minutiae of descriptive cataloging–certainly there is much less emphasis on subjects–and name access (elimination of the rule of three) becomes far more random, becoming based more on what catalogers “feel” is best and perhaps more importantly, what the local resources and local practices happen to be.
Probably 99% of descriptive cataloging is not all that important to 99% of the public, but it is absolutely vital for the librarians who need to manage their collections. I tried to emphasize this in my article in “Conversations with Catalogers in the 21st Century” (available at http://hdl.handle.net/10760/15838)
If descriptive cataloging becomes less precise, this means that selectors will have to spend more time checking against the actual items–they won’t be able to trust the catalog because otherwise they may end up wasting their budgets buying materials already in the collection, and then they will be the ones in trouble. ILL will experience problems too, and perhaps other sectors of the library as well.
I agree that improving subject access would be absolutely fabulous–if it could be made to work in today’s information world–but our LCSH hasn’t worked for such a long time now that the memory of its unique power has been almost completely forgotten, and I don’t know if it can be resuscitated. There was an article in the Chronicle “As Libraries Go Digital, Sharing of Data Is at Odds With Tradition of Privacy” (Nov. 5, 2012) http://chronicle.com/article/As-Libraries-Go-Digital/135514/ which dealt with other topics, but some the comments concerned LCSH. User 11134078 mentioned LCSH and said how important they are (correctly), but mbelvadi replied:
“Wow, really, subject headings? Have you looked at the work done in the last 10 years in search algorithms on full text? Or even tried Google Books? Metadata has its place, but I’ve seen far too much inconsistency among librarians in applying LCSH to assume that mastering it rather than full text search techniques and tools is the best choice for the future. I know this is threatening to many librarians, because librarians understand LCSH, and in a great many cases they don’t have the first clue how the complex multi-dimensional-matrix algorithms behind full text relevance searching work. But just like my older car mechanic who has accepted that modern cars now run on computer chips that he doesn’t understand but just has to buy the special tools to work with, librarians need to stop trying to hold research in the 20th century just because they’re more comfortable with words than numbers.”
I disagree. I happen to have spent a lot of time learning how full-text searching works/doesn’t work, but at the same time, I sympathize with this point of view. The statement “… I’ve seen far too much inconsistency among librarians in applying LCSH to assume that mastering it rather than full text search techniques and tools is the best choice for the future,” unfortunately has too much truth in it.
We have to accept that LCSH has been broken since keyword was introduced. The quality of subject analysis has also become more–shall we say–“varied” throughout the years. We should either fix subject access or dump it. Otherwise, it seems to be a bridge to nowhere. I vote for fixing it but I don’t know if that will happen. Too many resources–and hopes–are going toward RDA and linked data.