Posting to Autocat
On 4/15/2016 1:43 AM, John Gordon Marr wrote:
I think what you mean is there is no such thing as absolute “truth.” Where we draw the line between objectivity and subjectivity is between testable hypotheses and untestable “beliefs” and between a willingness to test vs. a refusal to do so.
I’m not talking about anything so profound. I am just stating a fact: that you can’t get everyone to agree on anything, least of all, what is the appropriate term to use for a concept. And, there is nothing wrong with that. But the debate over which term to use can become heated. Of course, “Illegal aliens” has connotations that angers many people, but as we have learned “Undocumented immigrants” has just as many connotations that anger other people. We may like to tell ourselves that one form is more “objective” than another but others can–and are!–disputing such an assertion. And they have every right to. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The fact is: You just can’t please everybody and the more you try, the more hopelessly you find yourself entangled.
Librarians shouldn’t get involved in these arguments. We have no special insight into “objectivity” that allows us to decide these matters better than anybody else. The task of librarians is to ensure reliable, consistent access in various ways, one of those ways by “concepts”, i.e. names, titles, subjects, no matter how someone may search for those concepts.
Modern technology (? not so “modern” anymore. Relational database technology is decades old) allows for more flexibility than earlier methods. When all we had was text typed on the top of catalog cards, it was very hard to change that text, but computers allow for multiple views of the same thing, e.g. if I see a website in the US and I am in Italy, lots of times I see it in Italian, or if I’m in Germany, it’s in German. One is not better or more objective, but one may be more useful than another for my purposes.
Similar technologies can be employed to let people deal with multiple terms for the same concept, and finally rid us of this old, tiresome debate over which single one of all the various terms will be the “preferred” one. The technology has been available for decades now, but never implemented, at least in library catalogs. If the same effort had been put into getting this technology to work as has been spent on arguing which preferred term to choose, it would have been done long ago.
Then, we could be arguing over 21st-century concerns, such as: how do we make the displays useful and coherent for the public?
As a concrete example, here is the Wikidata display for “Love” (the emotion): https://www.wikidata.org/wiki/Q316. If you scroll down a bit, you will find 135 forms for “love”. No form is better or worse than any other. You can search each language form and find this record. When you find this record, you can click on any form and you will go to the related Wikipedia page, where, if you scroll to the bottom, you will find all kinds of related terms. It’s all very clunky right now, but it demonstrates a direction of what can be done.
Can something like this be adapted for use in the catalog? I personally think it can; I think that all of it can be vastly improved, and that the public can benefit.