Re: [NGC4LIB] The “A” in RDA

Posting to NGC4LIB

On 02/08/2013 17:47, Stephen Paling wrote:

As usual, you raise some good points. I would agree that the subject headings contain potentially valuable connections. But the “potentially” carries with it a big if. I can’t provide cites off the top of my head (Karen Markey?), but the literature on user understanding of subject headings is, to my recollection, not encouraging. Even trained librarians have trouble correctly interpreting subdivided strings. So the connections may be there IF a user can and will follow the syndetic structure.

This is the entire problem: I entirely agree that people do not understand the subject headings today–even lots of catalogers I worked with do not. The task should not be to get the user to follow the syndetic structure. That is a useless task that smacks of arrogance. The task needs to be to somehow get the syndetic structure to actually work in today’s information environment. I can demonstrate that the syndetic structure was incredibly useful for the public. (For those who don’t know this term, it means the system of Broader Terms, Narrower Terms, Related Terms, all kinds of earlier and later names, and an entire variety of references and notes, or what I showed in my previous posting) That structure exists today and is (finally!) available as linked data.

How could we get it to work? I don’t know. I have some ideas but anything would have to be experimented with, following trial-and-error methods. If it could then be shown that we really cannot make the syndetic structure work decently in a modern information environment, I would be the first one to say: Dump it then! It’s a useless appendage from earlier days. But that has yet to be demonstrated. So far as I know, nobody has tried to make them really useful.

When I have managed in a very few cases to get someone to understand how the subject headings work, they ask: Why don’t Google and Yahoo work this way? That question made me feel great! I think that people today would absolutely love that kind of “new” and “innovative” experience that they can find nowhere else on the web. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple and the other “information companies” will never offer such access.

It seems to me that if we don’t focus on projects like this, we end up competing with the Googles and Yahoos, and we will find ourselves in a race we must lose.