Copernicus, Cataloging, and the Chairs on the Titanic, Part 1 [Long Post]

Posting to NGC4LIB

I agree with many of the points you make, but on some, I have some difficulties agreeing:

“Stop Bashing Google
Bashing Google for not allowing people to search by title, author, etc., misses the point of a general purpose search engine”.

Does it also follow that people prefer to *not be able to find* resources reliably by authors, titles and subjects? My own experience is that people actually believe that when they search for, e.g. Samuel Clemens in Google, they actually believe they are getting “everything” by this author; the same goes for subjects.
I admit that titles are weird.

Just because we can point out problems with Google does not mean we are bashing it. Just as any other information tool, we need to know its strengths and weaknesses.

Stop Bashing Users.
Have you ever implied that users don’t use our tools because those users are ignorant of how our tools work? Because the users are impatient? Don’t be surprised if those perceptions color our interactions with users. How many times on this list, and others, have we heard people advocate ignoring user desires and needs? Let’s stop telling users what they need, and instead focus on meeting those needs as they are.

I think it is also important to point out that expecting people to find useful information/knowledge/whatever-you-want-to-call-it without any training at all is rather naive. People accept that they can’t work on their cars or do anything on a computer without training. Yet, research has shown that most people believe they are expert searchers, but of course, they are not. Anybody who has done any reference work knows this. Of course, this doesn’t mean that people are ignorant or stupid, but they have been untrained. Just like I cannot work on a car competently or work on my electrical wiring.

It’s nice to believe that Google-type searches, i.e. the black box, will solve all problems, but I think it is clear that this is not correct.

Consider Eliminating Cataloging.


[This one from pt. 2]
Users First, Technology and Standards Second.

I sympathize with the concept of users first, and while I may be old-fashioned, I think it is vital for professional librarians to be able retrieve materials in a reliable, almost guaranteed way, from the collection that is under their control so that they can help people and have some kind of control. Perhaps the methods we use will not be obvious to the general populace, but that is not unusual, just as there are special ways into a car for a mechanic, or special methods for a plumber. We all want these experts to have their own ways to maintain our cars and plumbing systems. If there are no standards, I submit there are no real possibilities for experts, i.e. librarians, to help users who experience trouble.

Standards for bibliographic retrieval are necessary, just as they are accepted as necessary in many other aspects of specialized areas of endeavor. It’s no secret that I don’t believe we need RDA and FRBR, but we need some kinds of standards, in any case. What those standards will be is a very interesting question.