Re: Article recommendation: OPACs, Google, and cataloging theory

Posting to NGC4LIB

On 26/05/2011 02:48, Steve Casburn wrote:

> For an intelligent comparison of the effectiveness of OPACs with that of Google, I recommend this article (available in full text through EBSCO’s > Academic Search Premier as Accession Number 17663772):

Campbell, D. Grant and Karl V. Fast. “Panizzi, Lubetzky, and Google: How the Modern Web Environment is Reinventing the Theory of Cataloguing.” _The Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science_ (Sep 2004), vol. 28, no. 3, pgs. 25-38. [at]

The authors observed 16 college students search for information using both an OPAC and Google, and interviewed each student in depth immediately afterwards. Based on those observations and interviews, they posed two questions: “Does the OPAC do justice to cataloguing theory and practice?” and “Does cataloguing theory have relevance to search engine design?” Their answers to those questions are clearly written and thought-provoking.

Thanks for pointing out this article. I hadn’t known about it. Their results match my own experience with patrons and how they use (or don’t use) the catalog. They don’t use it very well; they know it; and in general, it makes them feel stupid and inferior. Yet, none of that should be surprising since people have always had problems with the catalog–that’s why reference librarians exist. One difference that I have seen is that the arrangement of the catalog records, which make it a useful tool, were probably much easier to divine when everything was still physical. The printed book catalog was much clearer to use than card catalogs, but even then the arrangement of a physical card catalog was pretty understandable. The good point–or bad point depending on how you look at it–was that anybody who searched a card or book catalog was forced to browse it in an alphabetical way, and to browse it according to heading. So, if you saw, e.g. Fascism–Albania and Fascism–Bulgaria, you could figure out that there would probably be a Fascism–Italy or Fascism–United States. Therefore, when everything was physical the arrangement was at least somewhat understandable for a non-expert.

Today, the overwhelmingly used search is keyword. I use keyword too. People have grown more accustomed to Google-type search results than anything we do. And the problem (among others) is that with results of a keyword search, any arrangement based on alphabetical browsing is much more difficult to see and to understand. For instance, cross-references are normally not seen in keyword searches.

In the article, there is an illustration on p. 31 (I stubbornly choose to continue to use the obsolete abbreviation “p.”), it is a keyword search, and I am sure a searcher cannot understand what is going on with the results, much less be able to see and figure out the rules and arrangements in underneath. It makes as much sense for a user to understand the cataloging rules and catalog arrangement from the results of a keyword search as it would for them to understand it from a bunch of cards taken out of the catalog.

Now that I can actually do a little research (incredible to have so many wonderful resources on line for free!) I have been working on the idea that Panizzi’s cataloging theories were based much more on the needs of his library and much less on his users. One of his main aims was to get books to users as quickly as possible (no open shelves at the British Museum); five minutes is mentioned over and over; and this would have meant that the “back rooms” had to be as efficient as possible. This obviously has a lot of consequences. Also, people did not like a lot of what he demanded from them, but of course, he won.