Posting to NGC4LIB

Alexander Johannesen wrote:

First Jim : “Better” and “reliable” are synonyms to the subjective user, and I’m always writing from his or her perspective, never from the librarian perspective, which perhaps not only clarify my language and stance, but why we seem to have these contradicting views which when scrutinized become agreement. I’m sure that “reliable” is – how to put this? – a better goal, however I don’t think I see users worry about the operating word here, nor what your goal is per se.

This is an important point that separates certain world-views that I must insist is both understood and accepted: “better” and “reliable” are not synonyms at all, and I think the general public can understand the difference when it’s explained to them. It is much like many people I know who absolutely hate to drive a car: they hate maintaining the car, fighting the traffic, obeying the traffic signs and rules and so on and so on. But, for many it’s the only practical way to get anywhere. As a result, they have no choice except to learn how to drive a car, learn about putting air in the tires, learn the traffic rules, follow the signs, read maps…

“Better” doesn’t even enter into the equation. Certainly, people can imagine lots of things as being “better” than this task they absolutely despise, but all of that remains in the realm of fantasy. This is how you drive a car. Period. And there are very good reasons why these rules and methods for driving a car exist, because otherwise if everybody were left to do whatever they think is “better,” and ignore one-way streets and speed limits, let their brakes go to pieces, the result would be chaos. If you want to get from here to there reliably in a car, you have no choice except to do it a certain way. And it’s very complicated.

This was the situation in the library and its catalog before keyword access. People learned (or were supposed to learn) how the catalog functioned, learned the “rules of the road” and followed along as they were supposed to. It was just like the situation with a car: the tools made were designed to get the patron to the materials they needed reliably, although it was not easy at all. They had no other choice since there was no other access into the collection except to browse the shelves more or less helplessly (if it was open stacks), and many chose this option.

When keyword was introduced, it suddenly allowed people to drive “off the roads” and this was experienced as a sense of freedom. Librarians (I believe), while realizing keyword was introducing a bit of chaos into the catalog, shared this feeling of freedom, seeing it as a very useful addition to the normal means of access since the reliable means of access still existed. Yet in reality, as time passed these “normal means of access” became less and less known among our public (and among many librarians as well) and as a consequence, less and less used, and the former “reliability” was practically forgotten among them. Yet, the catalogers still maintained and added to these increasingly empty streets, pretending that they were being used as much as ever. This is obviously a practice that cannot continue indefinitely.

So again coming around to the point, it seems as if your suggestion is that we abandon these roads that we have been creating and maintaining over the generations in favor of these “wonderful and new” tools that are being created today. I, and many of my colleagues, say that the new methods cannot replicate what the old methods can do–and still do thanks to the fortunate circumstance that they have continued to be maintained throughout the years–and would prefer to adapt the old roads to the needs of the new environment. In this way, they could be rediscovered by the public. Naturally, the new methods you mention can be adopted and added, but the task of “reliable access” needs to be taken up anew and put at the forefront.

Apart from that I don’t have much to say as you didn’t really address many of the larger points I was making. 🙂

I ran out of time and I am again. But let me take one of your points:

… because it’s a straw man. I can do the same to you; if you searched for Mark Twain you will miss out all of that which was written by Samuel Clemens or Josh or Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass.

There’s a lot more than that. To see what you are missing and how to use the catalog correctly, see (you have to click on “Authorized and Notes,” then “Authority Record” and then “Labelled Display” (Don’t blame me. I didn’t design it! 🙂 ):,%20Mark,%201835-1910&Search_Code=SHED_&CNT=50+records+per+page

So, we see many other forms that will lead a searcher to the authorized form of “Twain, Mark, 1835-1910,” plus the absolutely critical note:
For works of this author written under other names, search also under
Clemens, Samuel Langhorne, 1835-1910,
Snodgrass, Quintus Curtius, 1835-1910
Louis de Conte, 1835-1910

This is because there is a bibliographic concept of “separate bibliographic identities” and it manifests itself in AACR2 rule 22.2B with the LCRI at:–choice-among-different-names–pseudonyms where it says contemporary authors have separate bibliographic identities, and therefore will have separate authority records for each name, plus a contemporary author is anybody who lived into the 20th century. Twain died in 1910, so therefore, he falls under this rule, and there are some nice guidelines to follow in this RI.

There are also other forms being brought together in the VIAF:,%20Mark,%201835-1910

Welcome to my world! This is what bibliographic control is all about and it is not simple. I personally disagree with 22.2B and the entire idea of separate bibliographic identities, but it doesn’t matter what I think. I must follow the rules, and that means that anybody who uses the library tools must follow them as well. No single person can know all of it.

So, considering that example I gave in one of my messages of searching “Dostoyevsky” and the typical Google response “Did you mean: Dostoevsky” seems rather facile in comparison.

I think these constructions are far too important to be discarded and it has yet to be shown that the new and wonderful tools, as promising as they may be, can provide even a hint of this control.