Re: [ACAT] Seeing the Catalog through the Eyes of the Public (Was: RDA and the Plague)

Posting to Autocat

On 25/04/2013 19:30, MULLEN Allen wrote:

Ann Williams writes:

The bottom line is most of our users today are not interested in/capable of constructing precise searches using controlled vocabulary and an understanding of fields. They may not even be using the same database from class to class so investing time in learning the bells and whistles, when vendors, even ILS vendors, constantly tweak, seems a waste of time. 
I reply: Unfortunately, I agree, Ann. Still, there are a couple of things going for library catalogs thus far that lend them some vitality. First, even if most users would be perfectly happy with Google or Amazon-like searching of library materials, library catalogs are still the only viable means for them to get to library monographs and a shrinking portion of other library resources. …
These useful tools deserve to be extended to a much larger body of resources – real research using less capable tools is problematic. That’s what RDA (via linked data and data integration) is supposed to accomplish – eventually.

In my opinion, the public does want what the library catalog has to offer, so I think it is far too soon to conclude that “most of our users today are not interested in/capable of constructing precise searches using controlled vocabulary…” The fact is, nobody knows this yet. We cannot know because the tool that takes advantage of that controlled vocabulary (i.e. the library catalog) is broken. It does not work as it was designed to work. As I have demonstrated, it doesn’t even work for me when I try to use it.

I would admit that if a prototype existed that presented our controlled vocabulary in a way that was understandable to the public and was easy for them to use, and if people then rejected it, although it would make me very sad indeed, I would then agree that most of our users are not interested. That hasn’t happened yet since nobody has made such a prototype and all we can show anyone are our broken catalogs. So it should not be surprising that people do not like our catalogs. But that does not necessarily mean that they would not like our controlled vocabulary if it were presented to them in a better way. I think people would like it. A lot. And I think it could work with full-text searching to create something extremely powerful.

But what we are seeing in the cataloging community is the hope that once we allow the “magic” of linked data to work, the problems will be on the way to being solved, and RDA and FRBR are necessary steps toward linked data. As I have discussed, it remains to be demonstrated that linked data on its own will make any difference and in any case, if the ultimate goal is linked data, neither RDA nor FRBR are necessary. That is simply a fact. There are many projects working in linked data now that use traditional structures.

As I have tried to point out: so long as we continue to see the task before us as creating tools that people must use no matter what, and then train the public to use our tools through variants of “information literacy workshops”, there is no hope. That will not happen since people know they have options and will no longer sit still for that. This does not mean that access must get worse–in fact, I think it could improve. We must adapt our tools to the habits of the public of today; otherwise I agree that there is very little hope.