Re: Bibliographic Control: A Meeting Between Educators and Practitioners

Posting to Autocat

On 08/01/2012 18:21, Aaron Kuperman wrote:

I have never taught cataloging in an academic setting, but have participated in training at work, and frankly, I don’t think that cataloging per se is all that complex, and to the extent that it is complex the priority should be to simply the rules.

What is critical, are language and subject skills. It isn’t all that hard to teach someone the necessary skills to catalog (especially if we simplify the cataloging rules), but it is very hard to catalog (especially subject cataloging) without a working knowledge of the language and subject.

Cataloging is not rocket science, but if you want to catalog a book on rocket science in Chinese, it is best to understand rocket science and to be able to read Chinese.

While I agree with this, especially the part about needing the language, I have often thought about what exactly the term”understand” means in “understand rocket science” or “understand [add any subject you prefer]”. It doesn’t have to mean that you actually are a practicing rocket scientist, or a farmer or sailor or poet or whatever. In fact, in those areas where I am more or less of an expert, when I have cataloged something, I have found myself getting angry that the subject headings and classification are not better. So, I suspect that having genuine expertise in a field may actually be a hindrance. Besides, no person can be an expert in everything, but often you find yourself cataloging books on almost anything.

Also, I have found that subject analysis is much more difficult than it appears. Just because you are the author of an article or book does not mean you can automatically analyse the subject. I have cataloged many articles that have had keywords supplied by the authors (who you would think would be the experts on their topics), and I discovered that the keywords the authors assigned were normally much too general. And they do not understand the principle of “exhaustivity” at all.

So, I would say first comes a knowledge of the language and second, you need time–at least enough time to learn enough to furnish adequate subjects by finding similar books on those topics to use the subjects there, searching other books by the same author, or items in the bibliography if there is one. Finally, if nothing else, to go outside the library and ask an expert about the parts where you need help.

This takes time, though.