RDA-L Some discoveries of search engine results

Posting to RDA-L

On 8/20/2015 4:03 PM, Ehlert, Mark K. wrote:

… because the public wants it and expects it today

Or the catalog’s default search result arrangement is “relevance.” Does the public “want” and “expect,” or as you put up-thread, “demand” it? Or just accept what’s in front of them?

In my experience, people do not understand what searches by “title” “author” or “subject” mean. And they don’t care to learn. They like keyword because it is what they are used to. And then the problem becomes: how do you arrange keyword results?

Since I am an historian I try understand what is happening from a historical point of view, so I like to go back into some of our beginnings. Why did Cutter … [et al.] make something they called a dictionary catalog as opposed to something else? For them, the choice they had was called a “classed catalog” but I won’t discuss that here.

Cutter … [et al.] wanted to build something that was the easiest for the public of their time to use. This was discussed widely. At least in the US, they decided that almost anyone who walked into a library would know how to use a dictionary. So therefore, they arranged everything in alphabetical order so that if people wanted things on “dogs” they would look under “D” and find either the items on dogs, or a cross-reference to look someplace else. In other words, the made it work like a dictionary.

Well, that means how a 19th-century dictionary worked. Today’s online dictionaries work completely differently because they have been re-designed to work in a radically different environment. To see how it worked before, here is a part from the movie “Sherlock Holmes in Washington” where Holmes and Watson realize that one of the main clues is based on antiques, so they want to find antique stores in Washington. Holmes goes to the printed Yellow Pages and finds it. We don’t do that today.

The farther away we get from Cutter’s world, the less sense lots of his rules make. I am wondering how long it will be before (those very few) people like me who study the history of cataloging and come across the title “Rules for a Dictionary Catalog” will have completely forgotten what the “dictionary” part means, and how those rules assume the use of something called “alphabetical browsing” and what that means. If you don’t understand alphabetical browsing, many of those rules make no sense at all.

Yes, I extend this same thinking to many of our practices today. Much of what we do is still based on the dictionary catalog, which has become completely obsolete. It was something I hoped AACR3/RDA would really address.

Today, people have experience with the Googles and they expect our tools to work like something from the 21st century, not like tools from the 19th-century. The Googles do not have choices by author, title, subject and are all keyword searches. Keyword results have to be arranged in some way, and for all its faults, “relevance” is probably the best choice at this juncture.

For an older article that was widely discussed see: http://www.alatechsource.org/blog/2006/03/how-opacs-suck-part-1-relevance-rank-or-the-lack-of-it.html

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