Helping the Searchers of the Catalog (Was: subject heading or subdivision for food aging?)

Posting to Autocat

On Mon, 10 Jan 2011 16:42:38 -0600, Mary Mastraccio wrote:

>> Melissa asked:
>> >Is there really no subject heading or subdivision for the
>> aging of food?
>> Mac suggested
>> > Food spoilage
>> Tina Gunther suggested:
>> Cooking (Meat)
>> Food–Preservation
>> Game and game birds, Dressing of.
>> Slaughter and slaughter houses.
>> “Food aging” is a rather ambiguous phrase, which is probably
>> why it hasn’t been established.
>”Aging” of food may be ambiguous (is it good aging? or bad aging? or food for the aging?, etc.) but it is a common concept. Aged cheese, aged wine, aged meat, fruitcakes, etc.
>Many things age/grow old not just people so it is not surprising some searchers want to qualify their search “[topic]–Aging.”

There are also the possibilities of “Fermented foods” and “Fermentation”.

But I think this is a great example of the problems facing the public who want to use our catalog: just from the people who have answered this question here, it wouldn’t surprise me if there is close to 100 years or more of cataloging experience. If that kind of deep professional knowledge with vast experience has a problem–and this *is* a good problem–what can we conclude about a normal person with no training, sitting at his or her desk, and just staring at that text box? How can we provide genuine help to that real-life person out there who is looking for the concept of “the aging of food” to steer them into the direction of all of these possibilities?

Compare this to: in Google Books or in Google Scholar. Perhaps not perfect results, but it is very easy and at least there is something for them to grasp onto.

So, if we imagine somebody using our catalog to search for “the aging of food” who finds essentially nothing and gets no help (because people will not actively seek out help on their own), it is only reasonable that they will then go to Google Books and Scholar, and begin to find some things that begin to answer their questions. When the full text is available in Google Books, why would they ever come back? What would you prefer if you were searching on the topic? And next time it is very possible you will go to the Google tools from the beginning… and not have time for our catalogs.

And when we solemnly proclaim that “our tools are better” can we blame them when they roll their eyes and turn away?

These are the types of absolutely important, 100% realistic issues facing the catalog today, *not* typing out abbreviations in full or getting into debates over what is a work or expression, and which “attributes” go with which “entities”, all highly reminiscent of the arcana of medieval academics. If the “Statement of International Cataloguing Principles” proclaims (

“Several principles direct the construction of cataloguing codes. The highest is the convenience of the user.”

then we should take that statement seriously. This question provides a great example of a real problem facing users.

I think there are solutions out there to provide genuine help to people who are using our catalogs. For the longest time, the standard answer was, “If you have problems, ask a reference librarian,” but that answer no longer holds (if it ever really did, but that is another topic). Of course catalogers need to continue to provide all kinds of controls over our data, including authority control–I don’t question that–but our final product must also be easy enough and useful enough for the general public to use. We must take this task very seriously.

How do we do it?