Re: [ACAT] Un/Trained patrons (Was: Re: New Bibliographic Framework: Update with Eric Miller)

Posting to Autocat

On 13/10/2012 18:52, Frank Newton wrote:

I’m not in favor of expecting people to have certain library skills. Library staff including librarians are supposed to meet people at their point of need. Ours is a helping profession.

In an earlier E-mail, I referred to the important role which microfilm played in straightening up my attitudes about library work. I’m pretty good at words, but have low manual dexterity and poor spatial visualizing skills. As a result, learning to thread a reel of microfilm on a microfilm reader was a humbling experience for me. Furthermore, I forgot how to do it several times as a result of a universal condition which James describes:
“Many of these skills are highly complex, and people may learn them for a time . . . but if they do learn them and they are unused, people forget them.” 
Over the course of several decades, during which it was sometimes five years between one time when I had to use microfilm and the next time I had to use it, I forgot how to thread a reel of microfilm on a microfilm reader several times.

There is no avoiding that there are some skills that we assume people must have before they begin searching. In Cutter’s day, he assumed that everybody would look for information as they would in a printed dictionary: in alphabetical order. Also, that they would look for people under “surname-forename”. People would also look up corporate names and titles in specific ways. His assumptions were based on the technology–the card catalog–that ruled his day. I already mentioned the importance of “catch-word title” for Cutter. What about corporate bodies? In his Rules, Cutter has a long excerpt from a discussion he had in Library Journal about why he disagrees with the German guideline to treat “works by corporate bodies as anonymous, for reasons of entry” and thereby enter under title. But that runs into the problems of useful titles, and titles of works issued by these bodies are often bad access points (“Journal of ….”) so the German practice was to enter under the first noun in the title. In the Library Journal discussions, one person had suggested title entry under the Society’s name, e.g. “Proceedings of the Royal Society” under “Royal Society, Proceedings of” (a catch-word title). Cutter demolished that argument and argued for corporate body entry.

But that led to another problem: do the names of corporate bodies go under their own names, or under the place? Pre-AACR2 believed that many should go under the place, e.g. you would find the Metropolitan Museum of Art under “N”: “New York (City) Metropolitan Museum of Art” and AACR2 changed much of that.

Today, much of these parts of Cutter and of the previous rules, is completely irrelevant because almost nobody today searches in the ways he describes. Today, what skills do we assume people have when they search a catalog? We assume that people know how to use the mouse to point and click. (This skill may go away rather soon now that touch screens are becoming common. See for some incredible new possibilities, including 3-d movements and keyboards) We assume that someone has a basic idea how a text search box works, and how drop down menus work so that they can select “author, title, subject, keyword”, etc. We also assume that those terms mean something to them. We assume that people understand they are searching bibliographic records (i.e. severely restricted information) and not full-text. That when they click on a link for a heading they see, be it a name, title, or subject, that they understand what they will then be looking at. For example, let us imagine that through a keyword search, they find a record for Shakespeare’s Hamlet, they then click on Shakespeare. They are supposed to understand that they are looking at the results of a search restricted to a left-anchored text browse within the “author” field and (for those catalogs that allow it) they are looking at groupings of records gathered by means of the heading “Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616” I won’t discuss how much people are supposed to understand how to create a good subject search and understand the results. Other catalogs work differently, such as Worldcat, where if you find a record for Hamlet and click on “William Shakespeare”, you see something quite different than in catalogs that work similarly to LC’s catalog.

Compare this with searching Hamlet in Google. What are people assumed to know there? Quite a bit less: people need to know how to use a mouse and know to type text into a box.

I am not saying that searching Google is better or worse, it is just immensely easier–plus you are searching full-text with all the advantages and disadvantages that entails. If you understand a lot, really a lot, the catalog search can be more focused. One of the reasons Google is immensely easier is that it assumes many fewer skills than a library catalog and we must admit that the public searches Google/Yahoo/Bing far more often than they do the library catalog. As a consequence, they are much more used to searching their tools than ours.

So people have problems with our catalogs. Can they be improved or is the solution to train everyone? They can be improved in all kinds of ways, but this is why I think RDA and FRBR really miss the problems patrons face when they are using the catalog. People may have problems understanding the cataloging abbreviations, I won’t argue. They may have problems finding WEMI and it may turn out that they need to be able to mine the catalog as data so that they can discover all of these relationships among all of these entities.

But I just don’t know how someone can approach an OPAC and understand much they see there even if they took an information literacy class five years ago, or a bibliographic information class 20 years ago. This is why we need to look at the catalog through the eyes of the untrained, or poorly-trained, public than through our own eyes, the eyes of experts.