Brief records

Posting to Autocat

As Mac pointed out in his analysis of the sample RDA records from LC: “Thanks to the efforts of Richard Violette and Jim Bowman, I’ve been looking at more RDA records in the LC catalogue.  Below are only brief records, in interest of brevity.  And let’s face it, most patrons will only see brief records.”

Of course, he is right, but therein lies a thought that has troubled me for a long time. If what Mac says is true-as I think it is–then why are we adding all this additional information found in our long displays, to our records? It seems inescapable that IF most patrons are only looking at the brief records, then what we are doing is adding all this additional information for a small minority, or perhaps, primarily for ourselves. Even if we say how important this information is for reference librarians to do their jobs, which I hope is true, the uncomfortable fact is that the number of reference questions is decreasing and crashing through the floor.

To be fair, we need a lot of specific information to do our jobs as collection managers, but the brief display has always bothered me. I understand why it has been implemented: during the days of the card catalog, when browsing through a bunch of cards, everything was full display. Yet, through the arrangement on the card, formalized in ISBD, people could concentrate on the tops of the cards (headings and body of the entry) and move on quickly. If they wanted the “full display” it was simply a matter of dropping your eyes down and reading more deeply. This was too wieldy in an OPAC and they came up with brief displays.

I still don’t like them however, and I have felt they are actually a disservice to our patrons. In fact, when I realized that the multiple display in my catalog contained the call number, and that people were bypassing the full display, I decided to, in essence, force my users to look at the full display, with all of the headings, summaries, notes, etc. if they want an item. I did it simply by suppressing the call number and links in the multiple display, and not even having an option for a “brief display”. If someone wants to get the call number or the link to the electronic resource, in my catalog they must look at the long display.

Perhaps that is awful of me, but the labor of a click to a long display does not seem to be too onerous for people, and I have received no complaints. And in any case, in my professional opinion, I do not see how a patron can begin to understand how a library catalog works, or sense the potential power within a library catalog if they never even see any of the controlled vocabulary, except for this incomprehensible concept (for them) of “main entry”? If our patrons see only brief displays, how can they have much respect for what we do? And why would they continue to fund us? If the records we are making are aimed only at the small minority and ourselves, I think it may be increasingly difficult to maintain that what we are making is “important”.

I am not saying that my solution is the only one. There may be some kind of automated solutions for this, e.g. “onmouseover” events, where if you just run your mouse over a specific area without clicking, you could see the long display, or something like that. But I think people need to be very aware of the full displays and how these displays can help them.