Posting to NGC4LIB

Peter Schlumpf wrote:

Anyway you look at it, both opacs and Google simply match patterns of text and return the results. To say otherwise for either is to suggest some sort of inherent intelligence in the system itself.

While this is correct, it needs to be kept in mind that–for better or worse–this is *not* the way the OPAC, or the online public *card catalog* is designed to work. This is part of the knowledge that is being lost.

During the time of the card catalog and before, people never searched “text” like they do today because it wasn’t possible. They browsed cards that were arranged in a conceptual manner. You could arrange these concepts primarily in two ways. First was a classified way as they did in many European libraries, and so you would search for “dogs” under animals–vertebrates–mammals… (whatever the classification is). In the US, they opted for the “Dictionary catalog” which used alphabetical order (and then some classified arrangements after that) so that you searched for “dogs” by going to “D” and browsing to “dogs” and perhaps finding a cross-reference to “Canines.”

This is still what we do. Isn’t that freaky?! This is why I say that taking a record outside of the catalog it belongs to is a bit like taking a fish out of water: it can’t really exist on its own because it is so reliant on so many other things. It becomes more or less senseless and will die on its own.

This is why you can search concepts in the catalog, and shows that people searched concepts before OPACs. In fact, they had no other choice. When computers arrived, catalogers used them as a more efficient way to *make cards,* not to find and access, and when online access came about (Online Public Access Catalogs), everybody just kept on doing their same old thing, while the systems people threw on keyword searching. This actually messed up the traditional, conceptual way to search the catalog and therefore, the traditional catalog card traditions disintegrated in the online environment. Nobody talked about it much; it was never fixed but just ignored.

Does this need to be changed? Of course (and keep in mind that RDA and FRBR do not change these functions in any fundamental way! That’s one of the many reasons why I maintain they must be reconsidered), but the access the card catalog provided, and still provides through the OPACs, can still be extremely powerful, so long as they are used properly.