Re: Objectivity in subject headings

Posting to Autocat

On 02/08/2013 19:48, john g marr wrote:


… when I would catalog books from the Soviet Union, I would forever be getting books that claimed to be about “anti-Soviet propaganda” coming from the US … I could use only “Propaganda, Anti-Soviet” or “Propaganda, Anti-Communist”.

But now, in the world of the “$v”, perhaps we could be more descriptive. Researchers do seek examples of particular types of “propaganda” (rhetoric, etc.– pick a term), and it would be a disservice not to enhance access to such. If terms have been established to describe them, then it must be possible to identify them in such a way as to not permit their misuse.

For example, imagine being able to bring together all examples of rhetoric used in “Far-right politics” and, conversely “Far-left politics” (but look those terms up in references in Wikipedia, etc., before you assume you know what they mean). It is exactly the same concept as bringing together all examples of certain forms of music, etc.

And yet this shows the conundrum quite clearly. When a cataloger is looking at e.g. MSNBC, and assigns it “Far-left politics”, it says much more about the cataloger than it says anything “objective” about the resource itself. The only way such a subject assignment makes sense is: for someone in the US who lives in the early part of the 21st century, and who has a certain political slant. Today’s MSNBC would be considered quite different from a person of another time (the 1960s), or in another place with another political slant. For instance, I don’t know what “Far-left politics” would mean in Saudi Arabia or China. And what would “Far-left politics” have meant in those countries 40 years ago or what will it mean 40 years in the future? When we think that the records we make should stand the test of time, i.e. not be obsolete in 10 years, and today should strive to overcome cultural and political differences with the growth of record sharing, we entire a very complex world.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that there are people who would assign to FoxNews a heading such as “Center politics” or even “Far-*left* politics”. Catalogers should stay away from such skirmishes that we can only lose. I think that trying to reach “objectivity” in subject headings is like chasing a will-o’-the-wisp: it’s like chasing after a mirage where the closer you think you are, you are actually farther away than ever.

People certainly do want examples of right-wing or left-wing resources, but such lists go beyond the catalog. If people would want to make their own lists of what they think are right-wing or left-wing journals, those lists could be cataloged and could perhaps become very useful to people both today and in the far future (as examples of what some people in 2013 thought was a right- or left-wing publication), e.g. from the DailyKos a few years ago for right wing websites, and from a few years ago chosen by the Right Wing News for left-wing websites These lists could someday be very interesting to someone.

For the cataloger though: hands off!