RE: Writing out what we now abbreviate

Posting to Autocat

Hal Cain wrote:

On Tue, 4 May 2010 04:26:38 -0400, James Weinheimer wrote:
>We should get away from thinking that the solutions to these kinds of “problems” are by figuring out what text to type. This is printed card thinking and we are not working with cards anymore.

No it’s not. Cards have nothing to do with it. It’s thinking that thinks it matters how we record the characteristics of the item in hand so that the results are clear and comprehensible to as great a proportion of of the end-users as possible.

Hal, I’m afraid we have a serious disagreement here. I think it is absolutely vital for librarians and catalogers to stop thinking that the text that is entered into a database or a web page is static and cannot be transformed. That is card thinking. Today there are incredible things that can be done using all kinds of tools from scripting to style-sheets to browser add-ons and who knows what else? Look at Google Translate, and think about how a much simplified tool could reformat abbreviations. And not just for English speakers, but properly done, such a tool could work for all languages who could look and work with exactly the same records.

Anything in a webpage can be transformed if you want it to be transformed and there are lots of possible ways of doing it. It can be done on the server, or it can be done on each client’s computer. This is a basic change in how people can work with our records (and how I hope they want to work with our records, if we’re lucky) that has yet to be thoroughly understood and addressed.

With respect, James, you’re arguing against your own often-stated position, that our data can go anywhere. Taken outside the context of the catalogue (or national bibliography derived from catalogue records, as the British, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand ones have been) those smart tools will no longer work. Therefore we have to do the job in the cataloguing process; I would hope that some smart tools will be incorporated into future interfaces, but I am not optimistic: in part because system designers working for vendors are not good at listening to customers, but also because as a profession we are unable to reach a consensus about what should be in our workstation facilities to streamline our work.

But these parts are not where people experience their major problems when they work with catalogs. Our public relates everything from Google, the tool they have the most experience with, they definitely love it, and they really and truly “think” they know how to use it. Trying to explain the difference between Google-tools and a traditional catalog is not easy since they are so conceptually different. I have discovered that simply explaining how to think in hierarchies (and thus in concepts) is not easy in a time of keywords, but trying to get people to do so is… Well, let me put it this way. While I have had some who were very interested and motivated in learning, I have not had anyone I can yet honestly call a “success.” Whether that is all my own fault, I don’t know, but I have learned that it is not a simple matter to explain and use a library catalog.

People certainly do not understand everything they retrieve in Google, but that doesn’t seem to bother them much. What I am worried about when records are exported out of our catalogs and into new tools is ensuring that the records still function, i.e. subject headings and other links won’t just stop working. But on a wider level, what will it mean for these links to “work” in that kind of environment? I don’t think we know yet.

The question for me is: where do we focus our energies? Do we put them into “fixing” areas where people will really notice, such as increasing productivity to include electronic resources in a comprehensive way so that we don’t have to tell our public when they want academic, scholarly webpages, “Well, you’ll have to use Google to find those things.” (That is a disaster!) Or do we use our resources to type out abbreviations?

I agree with you that “the first objective of cataloguing is to serve the user’s convenience,” and “If we don’t serve our primary users well, we won’t be around to massage our data into forms useful to others — we’ll find ourselves out of a job.”

And this means to not ignore zillions of worthwhile materials on the web out there and believing that everybody understands our heading structures, while we focus on abbreviations! Let me tell you: that’s what gives catalogers a bad reputation! And when the Google Book Search makes everything available, watch out!

I’m not saying we shouldn’t type out abbreviations in full. We can do it, I really don’t care since I’ll just make some stupid macros or something. I just don’t think we should fool ourselves that it’s going to make any difference at all to our public.