Re: Proprietary catalogs (WAS: [ACAT] Use of $4 versus $e)

Posting to Autocat

On 09/02/2013 21:58, Frank Newton wrote:

But nevertheless, there is something I like about some proprietary library catalogs — namely, the fact that they’re local. (At least, some of them are.) Take a look at your library, and ask yourself two questions: (1) Where is the history of the struggle to answer people’s questions at my library?, and (2) Where is the history of the struggle to organize information resources at my library?


… we need to make Reference work more like what Cataloging work has traditionally been. Reference librarians should be *permitted and encouraged* to cite and quote the work of their predecessors in the expository writing which they do for the purpose of helping people use the library.

I agree with all of this, although I would like to suggest that perhaps Cataloging work should be more like Reference work has been. Catalogers know better than anybody else how someone should search a catalog, whereas the Reference librarians know better than anyone else how people actually search the catalog. The emphasis for the moment–and I emphasize for the moment should be on how people actually search the catalog. As only one example, someone who is interested in battles of World War II will probably search “battles of wwii” as a keyword. It doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes or a crystal ball to predict that a person would do such a search.

What is the correct answer in terms of the catalog? The searcher must see the cross-reference (which currently exists but doesn’t work in a keyword environment–that I know of):
See:  World War, 1939-1945–Aerial operations.
See:  World War, 1939-1945–Campaigns.
See:  World War, 1939-1945–Naval operations.

These would possibly never enter a searcher’s head. But once you see the cross-references, you understand the incredible help it provides. It focuses your thinking and shows new possibilities at the same time. In the card catalog, someone would find this structure automatically because of the nature of how the card catalog functioned, but this same cross-reference must now be made so that someone sees it in a normal, keyword search done today. In fact, there are probably more than these few headings that I don’t know about, but a specialist in WWII would know about–and that a searcher should be made aware of. How can this best be achieved? With more cross-references? Not necessarily. This is where there needs to be new and innovative attempts at solving these sorts of very basic tasks.

For the history of the struggles of how people search the catalog, there are the log files which are a rather exact representation of how people search the catalog. Other “information specialists” spend a lot of time with their log files, trying to understand what people do and do not understand about the site they are responsible for. Of course, the actual log files are overwhelming and you need software to tease out what people are looking for, but it can be incredibly enlightening to see what people can find and what they can’t find.

Proprietary catalogs have many, many advantages that open source catalogs do not have and to have a successful open-source implementation, I think needs a shared attitude from all involved: from catalogers, to reference, to IT and administration. It must be seen as a work in progress, and that means that failure must be an option. Therefore, if something doesn’t function quite right at the moment, heads should not roll, people should not point fingers, but there needs to be understanding and appreciation, and a realization that everyone is really on the same side.

That is much easier than it sounds.



One Comment

  1. Ricar2 said:

    Wikipedia does not work in an alphabetical environment and works fine. Library catalogs must, in my opinion, be built more closer to Wikipedia than to Google. I work in authority control, and I see my work wasted everyday, anytime conducts a search by keyword search. As you see, cross-references (needless other relavant information or URLS added) are lost in the way.

    February 11, 2013

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