RDA-L The reason why catalogers do not record a date of

Posting to RDA-L

On 12/17/2015 12:25 AM, Laurence S. Creider wrote:
I have figured that the RDA practice of allowing no dates was an old practice sneaking back in. “n.d.” was allowable under rules earlier than AACR2 (or possibly AACR). I have always considered the failure to provide a date as one of the dumbest of bibliographic crimes.

Absolutely correct. But this shows how a change in technology has resulted in new “user needs”. In printed/card catalogs, dates existed only for “description” and not for access. You couldn’t search or limit by dates as we do now. In that case, “n.d.” or its equivalent was not such a bad thing. See for instance, in “Catalogue of the Mercantile Library in New York” (1850) the heading “Biographical Dict. of Living Authors of Great Britain and Ireland” (p. 29) and we get (n.d.) for one of the issues. http://bit.ly/1mphtBx

and “Catalogue of books added to the Library of Congress, from December 1, 1867…” the heading “Saiz (Manuel Cecilio). Method castellano …” p. 249, where “n.d. before 1800” was used. http://bit.ly/229AaK6

I am sure there are lots more examples.

With the introduction of computers and MARC formats, for the very first time the dates were suddenly searchable and took on a different purpose. The computer’s power to search information that was formerly unsearchable led to many changes, e.g. catalogers began to enter fuller titles and used fewer abbreviations. For instance, the title above “Biographical Dict. of Living Authors …” became useless in a keyword environment because people who wanted “biographical dictionary” would never search “dict.” Something had to be done. Of course, you could decide not to change your procedures and instead have your computer programmer write rules such as

“IF search for text ‘dictionary’ — search also ‘dict.'”

But doing that for all kinds of abbreviations in various languages would be the very definition of “being backward” and “refusing to change”. As a result, catalogers today type out what was formerly routinely abbreviated.

The same happens with dates. The use of “n.d.” leaves the programmers in the lurch: how can they make an “n.d.” date useful in a keyword environment where people expect to be able to search/limit by date? I have personally seen “n.d.” handled as the equivalent of date “0000” which is logical, but it also means that they come up either at the very first or very last of a list.

Not very useful at all. That is why we have been expected to supply a date so that there is at least some kind of data to manipulate. So, I applaud the cataloger in the 1876 LC catalog above who entered “n.d. before 1800”. A nice practice.

Yet, this shouldn’t be taken literally as computers would take it to mean. “Before 1800” doesn’t mean the year 500 B.C. (or B.C.E.) or the years 1000 or 1300. The item is probably not an incunabula. So, the LC cataloger probably meant something like “between 1700 and 1800”. The problem then is: how can this be made useful for the public?

Therefore, although “n.d.” may be more accurate theoretically in some ways, it makes the record utterly useless for searching or limiting by date. For the sake of the users, dates should always be supplied, even if it is a best guess.

That’s why we get paid the big money! 🙂