Re: [NGC4LIB] Video of “Think Different”

Posting to NGC4LIB about Karen Coyle’s talk at emtacl12, entitled “Think Different”

Karen Coyle wrote:

Dan, yes, I too think that there might be times when alphabetical order is useful. The big question (and I don’t have an answer) is: when is alphabetical order the best order for the user? If we have a case where it is the appropriate order, then we should use it. But before we do (because it would be very easy to fall into an assumption that alphabetical order is “best”) we should really investigate all of the options we have for getting the user to the “right stuff.” …

On 11/11/12 5:28 AM, Dan Matei wrote:

Thanks a lot ! Thought provoking …

I agree with you most of the time. Just on one point I’m not sure…

Call me old fashioned, but I still see some value in the lexicographic ordering.

When my user types “Paris”, I want to show him not just the Paris (city in France) page (as Wikipedia does). I’m interested that (s)he sees (on the first screen) some entries “around” Paris (France), such as:
Paris (Kentucky, United States)
Paris (Texas, United States)
Paris (Greek mythology)

or even:
John of Paris (French theologian)
Commune of Paris (1871)
An American in Paris


This is a very interesting talk that I must consider some more. There was a recent discussion on Autocat about alphabetical order, otherwise known in cataloging as “the dictionary catalog,” which in my personal opinion, should now be discarded. One part I noted is that this argument is not new, and that Charles Cutter himself had a very clear understanding of the problems and advantages of a “dictionary catalog”. I wrote about it at

Although Cutter saw the pros and cons quite clearly, I think if he were around today he would also agree that the dictionary catalog should be eliminated because nobody searches that way any longer. He chose it back then precisely because that was how he decided most people searched. I need to point out that this does not mean that the catalog itself should be done away with; it is the dictionary aspect of the catalog that needs to be reconsidered from its very foundations. This is why the LC Subject headings no longer function–not because they no longer provide people with what they want, which is: conceptual access found nowhere else. This should be researched before being dumped because it is so unique, although it must be improved in several ways. I believe people would absolutely love conceptual access to information–but since the function of our current subject headings is based on an obsolete premise: alphabetical order, it just doesn’t serve the needs of a modern society.

Concerning the Paris example: A searcher knows more or less what they want when they do a search, e.g. when they search for “Paris”, they know already if they are interested in a geographic place or the person in the Iliad or some movie. Seeing other information may be interesting but can be more diverting than useful and actually deters people from getting to what they really want. After that, most are interested not in any geographic place named “Paris” no matter where it happens to be in the world, but in a single geographic place. Today, this can be done very effectively through maps, e.g. Paris, France, or Paris, Texas

If such a map view of Paris could somehow include links to the catalog records on Paris, perhaps through the centuries, with options to zoom in or out on specific locales within Paris, its environs and so on, it could, for someone searching for “Paris”, be a much more useful interface to the records in a catalog than any other. All of this can be done now and you don’t need linked data. You just need to hook everything up through the appropriate APIs. Here is one for the classical world You can search for Ostia (one of my favorite places) In this record are “references”. It should include at least some of these materials somehow:, but depending on your needs, if you are a scholar or interested citizen, there are other interesting resources. For instance, here is a video in Youtube made by people on vacation that would interest the average person

I have no doubt some would find that useful. But for scholars, a friend of mine has been excavating there, and if she would put up her notes, it would be fabulous for everyone. Here is something similar for excavations near Vesuvius I personally do not believe that researchers would even think about linking their materials in this way, in any case, they are too busy. These are the perfect sorts of things for future librarians to get involved in, and it is not all that different from what librarians do today.