Re: [ACAT] Broken Catalogs

Posting to Autocat

On 02/03/2013 20:03, J. McRee Elrod wrote:

Yes. Ours: This is the URL for an OPAC of SLC’s database, intended for use by SLC clients for ILL, and by SLC cataloguers as a cataloguing aid.  

The search screen is: <drop down window for area to be searched> Contains <blank for search term> Year <blank to limit search to a particular year if wished> Buttons above allow you to select a Boolean search or a MARC field search. Buttons allow you to select a browse search for list with search term in context, or search for the items with the search term.

This is nice for an expert cataloger, but I have been talking about normal users, who we proclaim are the “primary targets” of our catalogs, and those people would be completely confused. A regular user who uses Google 90% of the time would never understand what KWIC means, or many other technical terms. As I have mentioned before, many don’t even understand the concept of searching by author, title and subject. The fact that they don’t understand is nothing really new–librarians discussed it earlier when the big arguments were about: do we make separate author and subject catalogs or put everything all together in one big list? The public had problems with both. Different libraries did it differently at different times.

Also, the cross-reference structures must be incorporated into our online catalogs instead of in separate files that must be searched independently. It is clear that people will not do that. The cross-references were in the card catalogs, at least a lot of them. Here are some cross-references in the Princeton Scanned Card Catalog: “Hungarian National Congress” and “Hungarian mythology” Nobody can find those forms on their own. The cross-references are vital if you are to make the catalog work correctly, as I demonstrated in my last podcast. It was complicated and difficult with printed catalogs, but at least it could be done. It can’t be done today at all, and this is why I say the catalogs are broken.

If I actually do find a real subject heading, do I discover anything about the broader and narrower terms? The dictionary card catalog did not give this information, but people were still expected to go to other tools, (as I mentioned in the podcast) so that whether or not you found anything under “Zydeco music” there may still be a lot of information under the broader term “Popular music–Louisiana”.

As I mentioned in my podcast, and I will discuss more deeply in my next one, if we are to put the needs of the user first, as we claim that we want to do, we must find out how they relate to the tools we provide, and unfortunately, there has been little research done. The focus has been on how people search full-text. What research I have found has not been at all positive.