Re: [NGC4LIB] The “A” in RDA

Posting to NGC4LIB

On 01/08/2013 05:17, Stephen Paling wrote:

I wanted to find a video of someone playing the mountain dulcimer. I Googled “mountain dulcimer” (no quotes), and found a YouTube video as the first hit. Even with network transit time, I was listening to the dulcimer (and watching) within a few seconds. I clearly wasn’t looking for author or title. But was I looking for subject? I would argue that I wasn’t. I didn’t want articles about the mountain dulcimer. I already knew, basically, what it was. I didn’t want information on playing the dulcimer. I’m already the world’s worst banjo player, why torture people further?! The video isn’t ~about~ the mountain dulcimer, per se. Topic? Genre? Instrument? Medium? I didn’t have to think about. 

For fun, I looked at UW’s catalog ( Not only did the author-title-subject scheme not help me, it made it more difficult. I didn’t want an article, book, journal, or database. I used the advanced search, limited to videos, slides, and files. I got a single hit. For a VHS tape. I’m not even sure I can play a videotape any more.
So back to the main page. Explore Music! I roll over the link, and it says “The Beatles”. Surely, a hint on how to search. Right? Nope. I click on the link, and get 79 hits (no pun intended) related to a defunct rock band that broke up before many of the ~parents~ of current undergrads were in kindergarten. I give up. The default options seem to be author-title-subject-anything, and those options are routed through divisions in the collection that don’t help me. It really doesn’t matter where on the site I go. It’s just too damn difficult.
Part of the problem was the collection. But the catalog made me think in ways that were unnecessary, even counterproductive. Now, if I wanted a particular recording or video? Work by a specific musician? Maybe the catalog would help. It absolutely should be able to. But, particularly with works that are primarily aesthetic in nature, author-title-subject just aren’t enough in many cases.

How could it work in another way? There could potentially be a lot of help in the catalogs. For example, when you search “Mountain dulcimer” in the LC Authority file, we find:
See:  Appalachian dulcimer.

So, we discover that for people who want the Mountain dulcimer, they must look under Appalachian dulcimer (controlled vocabulary)

We discover that in the hierarchical arrangement of Appalachian dulcimer, it is a subtopic of (or has the Broader terms of):
Musical instruments –United States

We search under Zither and find many subtopics:
Narrower Term:  Appalachian dulcimer.
Narrower Term:  Autoharp
Narrower Term:  Bulbultarang
Narrower Term:  Citaharp
Narrower Term:  Đàn bâù
Narrower Term:  Đàn tranh

We return to Appalachian dulcimer and find:
Appalachian dulcimer.
Appalachian dulcimer and autoharp music
Appalachian dulcimer and guitar music.
Appalachian dulcimer and guitar music–Scores.
Appalachian dulcimer and mandolin music
Appalachian dulcimer–Chord diagrams.
Appalachian dulcimer–Construction.
Appalachian dulcimer duets
Appalachian dulcimer–History.
Appalachian dulcimer–Instruction and study.
Appalachian dulcimer–Instruction and study–Juvenile.
Appalachian dulcimer–Methods.
Appalachian dulcimer–Methods–Juvenile.
Appalachian dulcimer–Methods–Self instruction
Appalachian dulcimer–Michigan.
Appalachian dulcimer music.
Appalachian dulcimer music (Appalachian dulcimers (2))
Appalachian dulcimer music–Appalachian Region.
Appalachian dulcimer music, Arranged.
Appalachian dulcimer music–Indexes.
Appalachian dulcimer music–Juvenile.
Appalachian dulcimer music–Kentucky.
Appalachian dulcimer music–Scores.
Appalachian dulcimer music–Teaching pieces.
Appalachian dulcimer–North Carolina–Photographs.
Appalachian dulcimer–Studies and exercises.
Appalachian dulcimer–Teaching pieces.
Appalachian dulcimer–Tuning.
Appalachian dulcimer with string orchestra–Scores.

(Believe it or not, this arrangement is bizarre for someone who knows how the subject headings are supposed to work, but it is a fact/loss that occurred when OPACs arrived. I don’t know if the general public sees this as bizarre or just normal, but such an arrangement can lead to serious problems within more complex subjects)

I have long thought that these sorts of displays not only show what is available, but also provoke the searcher into directions he or she may never have thought of, and we see how someone who is interested in “Mountain dulcimer” can be led to “Appalachian dulcimer with string orchestra” which someone may find very interesting and a subject of further research. When correctly applied and used, the subject headings should open the searcher’s mind to new possibilities. And the experience is different from using search engines.

I have also used this controlled vocabulary in uncontrolled environments, so, I search for “Appalachian dulcimer and guitar music” in Google Video and get some items that I may find interesting. I can also do that search in Google Scholar or all kinds of other sites. Of course, if you are searching for “Appalachian dulcimer” you will probably not get results with “Mountain dulcimer” (or any of the other “see” terms under Appalachian dulcimer, ie.
American dulcimer
Appalachian mountain dulcimer
Dulcimer, American
Dulcimer, Appalachian
Dulcimer, Kentucky
Dulcimer, Lap
Dulcimer, Mountain
Dulcimer, Plucked
Kentucky dulcimer
Mountain dulcimer
Lap dulcimer
Plucked dulcimer

I have always thought that people today would like such capabilities. People used to like them before but everything was forgotten when OPACs and keyword came up. I have written about this extensively.

So, could this system be used to improve the “A” in RDA? I think people would love it–that is, so long as catalogers were assigning the controlled vocabulary consistently and correctly. That is not so easy. But it is something that the Googles and Yahoos and Microsofts will not do.