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

Posting to NGC4LIB

First, I agree with many things you say.

Alexander Johannesen wrote:


Still, it has always been my opinion that the main part of a library that determines its worth is its selection.

Then I think you’re in bigger trouble than you think. The only libraries that comes well out of this are those where researches and historians hang out. Maybe that’s a worthy consolation price, though. But the library as a public service to the masses won’t hold up to selection; it is this *very* selection that makes people go straight for instead of putting themselves on the 3 month waitingqueue for some popular and selected book.

My own experience proves otherwise. I think that people are realizing that when they type in “Caravaggio paintings” into Google, the results are essentially useless. I meet this all the time as students come to me in a total panic and need help *now*. As the public learns more and more about how to manipulate Google results to their own advantage, and the searcher for “Caravaggio paintings” sees, e.g.


the Google results will become increasingly useless. In fact, I think Google itself has agreed to this implicitly by implementing the left-hand options for revising the search, including tools such as that eerie Wonder Wheel that hasn’t helped me at all! In any case, I can rework the results somewhat more, but for those who understand the traditional methods, these options are still far too elementary. Adding an option to filter for “quality”–however that would come to be defined–would be far more important than, e.g. Sites with images.

These are the sorts of things that could begin to turn Google from a popularity machine good for getting a sense of a “cultural moment in time”, into something more durable and ultimately more useful for serious purposes. Yet, this would be reimagination on a huge scale. (I still believe a promising method would be through innovative browser plugins)

And yes, I think librarians have a huge role, and probably a dominant role, to play. Will it happen? Not so long as they spend their efforts and resources on projects such as RDA which will force catalogers to change their tools and learn how to use them (a tremendous undertaking by the way), while changing nothing at all for our users(!!).

One final note:

The only libraries that comes well out of this are those where researchers and historians hang out.

Some of my favorite libraries have been the smallest, so long as they are well selected. For example, that is when I began to experience the real power of the classification, which I discovered could actually provoke me in all kinds of ways and led me to some wonderful books I would never have even considered reading before.