Re: [ACAT] Soviet Union in Library of Congress headings (WAS: [ACAT] When do I use?)

Posting to Autocat

On 04/04/2013 19:34, Aaron Kuperman wrote:

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, LC finally changed the records so the ridiculous headings resulting from treating “Soviet Union” as the current form of name of the Russian Empire that had existed prior to World War I. Under current rules, the Russian Empire is considered to have died in World War I, the Soviet Union is considered a new jurisdiction that came after and lasted until 1991, and the new Russian Federation is considered a new jurisdiction. The boundaries, legal systems, and poltiical systems of the three are all distinct and only mildly connected. But if you are a cataloger of a certain age, you will fondly remember how LCSH made it possible for the commisars of the Soviet Union to have commerce and friendly relations with the Byzantine Empire (well, time travellers and alternate history fans would approve. As I’ve said, LC is moving away from such anachronisms, or in more professional terms, is much more skeptical that a current “revolutionary” jurisdiction is merely a “new name” when the trauma of changes resulted in different political systems and different boundaries and a clear disruption of continuity.

To me, the question of “ridiculous” should be balanced against the interests of everybody concerned. To me, “ridiculous” means to expect catalogers to understand the complexities of assigning Russia/Soviet Union/Former Soviet republics, and then searchers to know to search in ways different from everything else. I can’t blame either catalogers or searchers for getting it wrong because it is far too complicated and doesn’t help anybody find anything at all. In fact, it hides things.

The searcher can never predict which heading will be used. There are problems when we ignore the cardinal rule of one label for one concept. See: 3.3 Uniform heading (one heading per subject – control of synonyms) in “Library of Congress Subject Headings – Principles of Structure and Policies for Application”
“In order that all materials on a particular subject are collocated so that recall may be increased, each subject is represented by only one heading. [My emphasis–JW] Synonymous terms and variant forms of the same heading are included as entry vocabulary, i.e., as referred-from terms. In a few instances, duplicate entry headings, i.e., the same heading in different word order or configuration, are made in order to provide access points to significant words imbedded in the heading by bringing them to the filing position.”

When you have multiple names for a single concept, such as a geographic area, it destroys the fundamental structure of the catalog and makes everything far more complicated (far too complicated?) for catalogers and for searchers. Why should we expect everyone to search under three different headings each time they want to find something on, e.g. dinosaurs or education or architecture or agriculture or any of the other millions of topics that are not restricted to a single historical time? This, to me, is a very clear example of somebody somewhere making a decision without thinking through the consequences and/or not caring about the people who use our catalogs. What is more important: to put the searchers and catalogers in such a predicament, or to not offend a specific person’s aesthetic sensibilities? 

I put the searchers first, and if they think we are stupid we can explain to them how the catalog works. I volunteer for the job.

Modern technology may offer a solution. I like Hal’s idea of using mapping for this. And adding the coordinates to our authority records would probably have taken less of my time than figuring out the ridiculous current practice of Russia/Soviet Union/Former Soviet republics and figuring out how to assign the headings!

This is obviously a pet peeve….