James Weinheimer wrote, in part:
“…if a prototype existed that presented our controlled vocabulary in a way that was understandable to the public and was easy for them to use,”
I thought we had, and still have, such a prototype, in the form of the Big Red books, also known as Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), which present subject headings left to right in alphabetical order in bold-face type with “see” and “see also” references and Narrower (more specific) Terms, Broader (more general) Terms, and Used For (UF) terms. Some bold-faced headings even have a helpful Library of Congress Classification Call Number, or a range of such numbers, printed in brackets just below the subject heading, to show that materials cataloged in the catalog with that subject heading will have that corresponding call number, which can help with and encourage the practice of browsing the shelves.
I feel that the presence of this traditional in-print and in-person feature of browsing by subject heading or call number or author or title in computerized library catalogs makes them that much more functional and relevant as a bridge between the old and the new for ourselves and our patrons and our public service colleagues, especially when we have the opportunity to educate them about this traditional option.
I have yet to encounter much if any difficulty in helping a student or a colleague understand the alphabetical aspect of browsing online in the catalog by author, by subject, or by title, and how, in some cases, that type of searching can be way more effective and less time-consuming than keyword searching or browsing the Web.
I guess you have completely different experiences from me. There have been only three people who were not (or had not previously been) catalogers who could really grasp the importance of controlled vocabulary and cross-references. I have no idea if they still understand it all or not. Yet, why should we expect that when someone comes to use a library catalog, they must do everything differently from all other tools they use? Why shouldn’t the catalog work more like what people have come to expect? There is no reason why it can’t. Cutter … [et al.] chose to create dictionary catalogs precisely because they assumed that most people would already basically know how to use them. The Red Books are relics from that time. If you know how to use a printed dictionary, they work not too badly. Compared to the files authority files online, they work much better but even so, the Red Books are totally obsolete tools.
In my work, both behind the scenes and at the desk, I try my best to make use of the best of both the old and the new, from a “both/and” approach, rather than from an “either/or” approach.
That’s fine with me, but there must be the “either/or” for this to work. Right now, there is only one way to use the cross-reference structure, and it is the way that very few people would choose.