Re: [ACAT] Currency of subject headings (was Tell all your associates …)

Posting to Autocat

On 27/06/2012 10:09, Jardine, Heather wrote:

We (as a UK PL) have never used subject headings to provide subject access and still maintain a classified catalogue with a (locally-produced) subject index. Both classification and subject index are revised and updated as often as we possibly can. Unfortunately there is little evidence that colleagues and users make much use of either, preferring keyword searching no matter how often we demonstrate its failings. In my view, classification without a subject index is little use – but given user preferences and the high cost of creating and maintaining such a thing, not helped by the lack of support for a subject index within our online catalogue (so it has to stand apart), I don’t know for how much longer this will continue to be possible. [My own views, only].</snip>

Charles Cutter, in his chapter “Library Catalogues”, part of the huge “Public Libraries in the United States of America” from 1876, Cutter discusses the advantages and disadvantages of classified vs. dictionary catalogs: how one type is good for some questions, while another type is good for other questions.

The real problem of classified catalogs was how to direct people to specific areas, he gives an example that someone looking for “Cookbooks” would have to look under “Productive Arts” which people would never do, so there must be an alphabetical index to find your way into the classified arrangement. He says that once you are in the correct place in the classified arrangement, it is definitely more useful than a dictionary one, so for instance, if someone is looking for “Badgers” and there is no book specifically on badgers in the collection, the searcher is at a loss in a dictionary arrangement, but if you are in a classed arrangement, it is much easier to go up or down in the classification to help you find a more general book that may contain the information you need. The problem is: it is a two-step process to use a classified arrangement: first you look it up in the alphabetical index and then you go to the classified arrangement. So, to find “badger”, he notes how you may be directed to look under Science — Natural History — Zoology — Vertebrates — Mammals, and so on. Not so simple for searcher or librarian.

In the U.S. they decided simply to skip a step and not place the cards themselves in a classed arrangement, which was perhaps all right since there was a trend toward open stacks, which could provide the classified arrangement on the shelves. (see: p. [526]+

I think his analysis is still sound today, but what can modern technology provide? It seems to me that the actual arrangement of the records is much less important than before and there should be more effort in providing the searcher with the correct query and letting the catalog arrange records in various ways. I find that using the AAT from the Getty is very useful for this. So, let’s imagine you are interested in “knuckle dusters” and find this: to discover that the term is “brass knuckles”. If this were connected to a catalog or full text, you should be able to get into those records or full text from here, but it is still important for the searcher to see the classed arrangement, or here “Hierarchical position” that there are weapons — edged weapons — fist weapons and that if you click on any of the little triangles, e.g. fist weapons, there are all kinds arranged under there, and find different kinds of fist weapons.

The same methods should be doable with the LC authority records. Here is “brass knuckles” in the NAF but the default arrangement there is alphabetical (dictionary), which puts the searcher into the middle of a list with “Brass Knuckle Boys (Musical group)” and people surnamed “Brass” which is completely useless for the searcher. But if you get into the record itself, you see some nice references:
Topical subject heading:     Brass knuckles
Variant(s):     Brass knucks
    Knuckles, Brass
    Knucks, Brass
See also:     Nonlethal weapons
This last is a BT that puts you into the classified arrangement but to see it all, the searcher must make separate clicks. Cutter talks about all of this.

To compare, there is dbpedia dbpedia has the same limitation (that I see) as the NAF since it also does not provide a classified arrangement like the AAT but you have to click on all the BTs, in this case Blunt weapons — Weapons.

It seems that keyword searching that leads into a classified arrangement should be very useful for searchers, and certainly is more useful than the dictionary arrangement, as Cutter pointed out so long ago. Keyword avoids the need for the two-step process of looking up your topic in the alphabetical index to find out where your topic classed, or at least makes it much simpler.

This would be worthwhile to research, if people are not doing it already. There is less and less reason for the dictionary arrangements.