Fwd: Re: Blog post: Library Catalogues are no longer an inventory but a place, and a community by Laurel Tarulli

On Mon, 29 Jun 2009 16:04:57 -0400, … wrote:

>I never knew libraries were in the business of *”controlling”* library
> users…?
>What does this mean exactly… just wondering…. interesting perspective
>I don’t think I have ever heard that in over 20 years in libraries.

I tried to illustrate this in my post, but I have maintained this in many
other posts on this list and others. *In the past,* libraries were extremely
controlled environments compared to today. As just a few examples:
If you wanted to get reliable information, you had to go to the library,
*and* you had to go there physically. It would not go to you. Once there, if
you wanted to find out the height of Mr. Everest or get the address of your
Congressman, you had *no choice* but to walk into the reference room and use
the materials there. While you could enter the stacks immediately, stacks
are obviously much more difficult to use and anyway, the latest editions of
those types of materials (almanacs, directories, etc.) will be in the
reference room. While there, you would be under the watchful eye of the
reference librarian who would offer you help if you looked to be in trouble.

While you were free to go into the stacks and wander around, if you wanted
to do anything serious, you *had* to use the catalog (not from your office
or home, of course) and you *had* to search it correctly. So, if you wanted
something by Mark Twain, you could not look under “M” but under “T” where,
if you were lucky, you would find a cross-reference card that said to look
under “Clemens, Samuel” (pre-AACR2 practice). If you didn’t do it, you found

I remember the first OPACs that I used and they worked exactly like the card
catalog, except that you had to type in the entire string! You didn’t get
the list of headings, just records, and nothing was clickable. When keyword
was introduced, I remember how I was aghast because suddenly, people didn’t
have to use our headings anymore! The former utility of the zero search
(i.e. the zero search was a clear indication to users that they were
searching incorrectly and had to revise their search) became almost useless
since keyword found *something* almost every time. Consequently, people did
not realize that they should search, e.g. not “WWI” but “World War,
1914-1918.” For those clients who remembered how the card catalog worked,
they realized they could continue on to search the tracings, but this was
remembered less and less. On the other hand, our users were *very happy* not
to be forced to use controlled vocabulary.

There were set library hours, many things couldn’t be checked out, you
couldn’t eat or drink in the stacks, I could go on. Now, everybody expects
24/7 access to the physical library, immediate access from home to the
texts, full-text keyword searching for everything, and people actually come
to the library for a cup of coffee and a doughnut!!

I am certainly not the first person in the history of librarianship to point
this out. For an excellent and provocative discussion of this in relation to
bibliographic standards, see the lecture available at the Library of
Congress, No Longer Under Our Control: The Nature and Role of Standards in
the 21st Century Library by William Moen.

All I am saying is that those days of control are gone. Our users don’t want
or need to wait for libraries to do their work, they have other methods and
tools. This is a difficult reality for many librarians to grasp, but once
you do and you realize that the task is to go where our users do their work,
the task at once becomes more achievable, plus it turns into a far more
interesting challenge than it has ever been.

James Weinheimer j.weinheimer@aur.edu
Director of Library and Information Services
The American University of Rome
Rome, Italy