Re: [ACAT] New Bibliographic Framework: Update with Eric Miller

Posting to Autocat

I guess I am not making myself clear on this. I continue to maintain that catalogers absolutely must stop viewing the catalog through their own eyes and look at it through the eyes of the patrons, who know nothing about how the catalog works. How will the average, untrained person approach the catalog?

To look at the problem in this way is using the same method that Cutter himself took, and his answer was that people will approach the catalog and search it like….. a dictionary. A printed one. He admitted there were problems with that and pointed them out, but still decided that it was simplest for the public to use.

Today, that logic no longer holds. People will approach the catalog and search it like…. Google. To assume anything else makes no sense. Whenever I have worked with anybody, they always search the catalog like they search Google, and people search Google in some strange ways, but no matter what, they never search Google as a left-anchored text browse. Why don’t they? Probably because it is impossible to search Google as a left-anchored text browse. The most you can do is search as a phrase, and that proves difficult enough for some. People instead search Google just typing in words, thereby using the implied “AND” operator. Most people do not realize, or care, that AND is the default operator on most full text searches and that options even exist.

To use library catalogs correctly, there are supplementary tools: a series of cross-references, subject headings based on browsing, along with the entire syndetic structure, and these additions to the catalog are completely, 100% vital if the catalog is to make sense. So far as I am aware, these vital additions are available to the public only with a left-anchored text browse search, which we have already said, people do not do and I would even go so far as to suggest, that people do not even understand.

Therefore, the only way to get the public to use these vital additions to the catalog is to train them to use the catalog in a completely different way from how they use other, related services. As I mentioned in one of my open replies, someone can do a search for “fascism bologna” (which someone actually did with me) and they clicked on a record that had the subject heading “Fascism–Italy–Bologna–History”. When they clicked on that, they were thrown into a list that I reproduced in my letter at section 5. I shall go ahead and reproduce that section here:

Fascism Italy Bibliography Exhibitions.
Fascism Italy Bibliography. [from old catalog]
Fascism Italy Bologna.
Fascism Italy Bologna History.
Fascism Italy Bologna History Congresses.
Fascism Italy Bologna Pictorial works.
Fascism Italy Bologna (Province) History 20th century.
Fascism Italy Bologna region.
Fascism Italy Bologna Region History 20th century Dictionaries.
Fascism Italy Bolzano (Province)
Fascism Italy Bolzano (Province) History.
Fascism Italy Brescia.
Fascism Italy Brescia Congresses.
Fascism Italy Brescia History 20th century.
Fascism Italy Brescia (Province) History 20th century.
Fascism Italy Brescia (Province) History Sources.
Fascism Italy Bressanone History.
Fascism Italy Cagli.
Fascism Italy Cagliari History 20th century.
Fascism Italy Calabria.
Fascism Italy Calabria History.
Fascism Italy Calderara di Reno Addresses, essays, lectures.
Fascism Italy Caltanissetta History.
Fascism Italy Campania.
Fascism Italy Capri Island.

I won’t argue that people will sense some kind of structure in this arrangement, but when I have asked my users about this, not one person understands what is going on. They cannot predict anything in here, except maybe something similar to “Fascism Italy Rome.” They can go forward and backward, but it is still incomprehensible to them. And they will never find in this way (other than going through 100 screens, which they will not do) that “Fascism” has a narrower term of “Corporate State,” which may be exactly what they want. And the list certainly does not give a sense of the richness of the subdivision structure that is available under “Fascism,” along with the headings “Fascism and …” This is what users need.
(I discuss other major problems with subject browses in that open reply as well)

To compare this with using a card catalog: a person would open the “F” drawer, browse the cards until reaching the heading “Fascism” and see the narrower and related terms, then follow along the little “golden roads” (or subdivisions) they found in the catalog. You could flip through the cards very quickly and with great control. When OPACs and keyword appeared, this method broke down in all kinds of ways.

Today people find a record they want by keyword, click on the subject heading and find themselves suddenly transported into the middle of the very complex subject subdivisions instead of the beginning and then they are supposed to divine the structure in some way. To do this is bizarre even for an expert searcher, but for somebody who has grown used to searching Google?

So, the solution offered has been to “train” the users how to use the catalog. So long as people search it with left-anchored browses, everything is fine.

No. That is not, and it has never been the solution. The solution is to make a catalog that can be used by the public as they are today, not as they were in the 19th century. Cutter made a catalog that would be the easiest to use for the people of his day. His days are over and have been for at least two decades.

I compare it to the situation of automobile starters. When cars first came out, the way you started the engine was by: jacking up the rear wheels, going to the front and putting in the crank, cranking the engine until combustion began and then quickly took out the crank so that it did not swing around and break your arm or your head. Then you brought the car down and took off. This was accepted as “the way to start the car.”

Then came the electric starter and all you needed was to turn a key. From the moment it was introduced, all car companies had no choice: they had to put in electric starters too and if a car manufacturer said, “We don’t need to do that. There is already a way to start the car”, then he would find himself bankrupt because people had discovered that they had a very attractive choice. From our standpoint today, we would say, “The dopey guy deserved to go bankrupt since he refused to change!”

I maintain that library catalogs are in exactly the same situation. So long as the people had no real choices, there was little need to change the catalogs, but now the public has very attractive choices and know there are other, simpler ways to get the information they want–and they can do it whenever they want every single day.

This is why I say that catalogers have no choice except to look at the catalog record, and the catalog search results, through the eyes of the user, not through the eyes of the expert. The solution is to make the supplementary parts to the catalog (the authority files and cross-references, etc.) work for the way people search today. Otherwise, we will find ourselves in the same situation as the old-time car manufacturer who refused to install electric starters on his cars.