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

Posting to Autocat

On Tue, 11 Jan 2011 13:36:12 -0600, Mary Mastraccio wrote:

>James, I think most everyone agrees with you that there needs to be some major changes in library catalog software, and there is a need to enhance the vocabulary with UF terms. However, addressing questions about what subject terms to use and rules/guidelines for constructing a controlled vocabulary cannot be said to “avoid the primary problems”. When I see an optometrist about my eyesight and am given a prescription, I don’t say the optometrist “avoided the primary problem”–I’m aging–I recognize he has addressed a specific issue and go elsewhere to address the aging problem [haven’t found a solution yet]. Since the original question was what term to use, it was appropriate to answer that question and only that question.

That’s a fair point Mary, and I stand corrected on that. Still, in my own defense, I had changed the subject to “Helping the Searchers of the Catalog”, but in essence, I think we all agree that major changes must take place.

>There are three issues.
>1. what terms will be included in the controlled vocabulary;
>2. how will we embellish these terms (with UF and RT and restrictions, etc.); this includes both general rules as well as the mechanics of linking to other vocabularies and possibly languages;
>3. how will those terms be made useful to people using our catalogs.
>It is 2 and 3 that are critical to make the work on #1 of any lasting value. I share your frustration because such developments are long overdue.

I want to add a corollary here: the universe to apply these issues must change from the traditional view of the library cataloger, who is focussed on the local catalog, plus maybe WorldCat or LC, to that of the user, which is much, much more expansive and includes more or less the totality of the information universe. Again, this is impossible to achieve in reality, and anything we do will be gradual, but we can take some steps toward it.

VIAF points to a possible solution, e.g. the record for Leo Tolstoy can lead to related searches on authorized forms in other library catalogs. For instance, if everybody would simply point their headings to, the patrons will find the correct form used, e.g. in Italy, which is something no English speaker would ever think of: Tolstoj, Lev Nikolaevič, (which is incredibly useful for my patrons, who would never think of ending Tolstoy with a “j”!) plus lots of others. For instance, I really appreciate the corporate bodies, e.g. “Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees”

Of course, this tool could be reworked to be clickable for the various forms, to search each catalog(s) for the correct form of name. Something similar could be done with subject headings and descriptors, although I am sure it would be more complicated.

I think that conceptually, the VIAF is extremely important because it provides catalogers with a sense of what the patrons (and reference librarians) confront as they search for the information they need. People searching for information do not want to be (and should not be) limited only to the local catalog and WorldCat, i.e. where the LC authority file operates. This means the complexity increases enormously and I think it is imperative that the catalogers make this task much easier. A person wants information on the aging process in food, and they don’t care where the information happens to be. If a specific database uses some kind of authority control, how does someone find that point of control? How do we someone search all of these control points easily? I think the library system should be the place to find help. This is the Semantic Web.

Once again, I don’t think that this means the individual records made by the catalogers necessarily need to change, or very little at the most. The task will still to assign headings consistently at the “correct” levels of specificity and exhaustivity. (Although the definition of “correct” may change. Right now, we theoretically assign subjects to 20% or more. This may change to 10% or 5% or 50%. Already there is the discussion over the rule of three for name headings)

Where I think change needs to take place ASAP is to create tools similar to VIAF that bring related access points together at the higher “conceptual level”, and then the information architects and programmers can take over and create useful and cool ways to interoperate with that tool.