RE: Digital Information Seekers: How Academic Libraries Can Support the Use of Digital Resources; Briefing Paper

Posting to NGC4LIB

Laval Hunsucker wrote:

To what extent is the following up of instructions, rules and guidelines to be construed as evidence of, or a manifestation of, ethical judgement or expertise ? To what extent is the *establishment* of such rules and guidelines to be construed as evidence of, or a manifestation of, ethical judgement or expertise ?

This is not the place to explain the principles of subject analysis. Suffice it to say that it can be done, but no one should expect perfection. The task is complicated and sometimes mistakes occur, which should cause no surprise. Building the space shuttle is also complicated and it blows up from time to time, but we don’t conclude that it is impossible to build a space shuttle. You can build one; it just blows up once in awhile.

From my own career, I began by thinking about subject analysis as: “How could there possibly be any problem at all with figuring out the subject of a book?” to “How can any human being ever hope to do something like this?” until finally, I began to learn how to do it. Just like learning any other kind of skill, there is a method, there are many standards and manuals to learn how to use, plus you acquire an attitude in using that method. The underlying idea however, is following the rule of “consistency,” which means following a whole realm of precedents. I may have a resource on the tilling of land in the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century (made up). I have to parse this topic in my mind, and find out how similar resources have been handled; discover the subjects they have been given, and follow those usages wherever possible. If I have something genuinely new, I am in effect, creating a precedent for others to follow (just like any other new conceptual name or title), and it is up to later catalogers to follow my precedent.

The “attitude” I mentioned is not the same as “lack of bias” but rather a commitment to and understanding of the problems and to solve them as a professional, keeping to a minimum personal concerns such as morality, politics, religious, and pecuniary. This is very difficult to expect from an untrained person–a member of the general public or the authors themselves, as one can witness the user assigned tags in tools such as LibraryThing and Amazon. Naturally, this is beyond the ability of Google, *although* it has other powers.

I wrote a short discussion of this several years ago when I was still at another institution. It’s been archived in the Internet Archive but the images do not come through (which happens a lot with the Internet Archive)

I don’t think the images are all that critical and people can figure out what I mean. The only real change I would make to it is where I mention “standardized terminology” and would try to explain how standardized conceptual URIs can change the situation to an extent.

Most catalogers don’t think of the ethical aspects of their work–but that doesn’t mean that these aspects do not exist in their work or that they aren’t important. Simply approaching the task as professionals succeeds in the goal.