ACAT Jurisdiction as a 151 (was” RE: Istanbul versus Constantinople)

Posting to Autocat

On 29/10/2015 0.55, J. McRee Elrod wrote:
So if a local library decides to use “Constantinople” as a subject heading to better serve local patrons’ needs, it would be coded 651 4 rather than 651 0.

Well, what would really serve patron needs isn’t for catalogers to spend their time adding “Constantinople” to bunches of records–and by extension to zillions of other, similar records floating around the catalog that follow this same practice, such as many cities in Eastern Europe with lots of changed jurisdictional names. The solution is also not to have more “Information literacy workshops” of increasing complexity, but rather, to make a catalog that ensures that the public will see the cross-references in the authority records that are indispensable when they search the catalog. Otherwise, the only outcome is seeing only a part of what you want and/or frustration.

Of course, the present situation is all a remnant of the card catalog, where someone interested in “Constantinople” would have invariably browsed the cards alphabetically through the “C” section until they finally came to “Constantinople” and they would see the reference. In pre-AACR2 days, the cataloging practice was different, but the public still would have seen the card for Constantinople (here it is in Princeton’s scanned card catalog http://bit.ly/1jTQ1uT).

Today the practice is more complicated and instead of seeing “Constantinople See Istanbul” they would see:
“Constantinople
Valid as a name heading for the period 330-1453.
SUBJECT USAGE: This heading is not valid for use as a subject. Works about this place are entered under Istanbul (Turkey).”

Still, I don’t know how many members of the public would understand this very cryptic and cataloger-friendly note, which is decidedly user-unfriendly. I can’t imagine too many non-catalogers who could understand it. (“What’s a heading?”) In the 19th-century, this was not that big of a problem for our predecessors, who were designing catalogs for their own environment: they could assume the existence of a friendly reference librarian close by whose job it would be to notice someone with a confused look and ask, “May I help you?” and perhaps the user would take up the offer and then could search the catalog correctly–in this individual case.

That world is long gone. Unfortunately, the ever-watchful reference librarian is disappearing and has vanished completely on the web. One thing every web master knows: On the web, nobody ever asks for help. Never. If it’s too tough, they just go someplace else.

Still, if the public is going to use our catalogs in any way efficiently, they need to see the kinds of directions found in our authority records. But we must keep their needs in mind above all.

These were some of the important, practical issues I was hoping the AACR3/RDA initiative would address, instead of the academic exercise it has turned into.

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