Re: [ACAT] Complications in applying subdivisions (Re: Land or country as divinely given to Israel (in this case))

Posting to Autocat

On 01/05/2013 16:11, Brian Briscoe wrote:

Although I agree that our catalogs need much improvement, I think that Mr. Weinheimer’s anecdote about file usage shows not that the catalog is broken, or that authorities are broken, but that humans are fickle.

I use google a lot. I’m a pretty good Google searcher but certainly not expert. Put me in a classroom of high school students and I can still teach most of them a few things about finding specific items that they may lose in the morass of average keyword searching. Others in the class would teach me even more than I can imagine. People become most familiar with the tool that they use most frequently. That is not evidence that the catalog itself is broken if the user knows how to use it. It is evidence that the library catalog is becoming more marginalized by the influx of keyword searching. It is very important to understand the difference.

The question is how do we make the catalog (it’s still the most exact of all search tools because of its emphasis on authorities) more user-friendly without breaking it in the process. Deconstructing the catalog in an effort to make it more popular would indeed break it. Whatever changes we make must keep the strengths of the catalog (its authority work) while eliminating its weaknesses (really clunky interfaces).

I agree with your conclusions (keep the strengths and eliminate its weaknesses), but I think it is vital to realize what it means when you point out: “That is not evidence that the catalog itself is broken if the user knows how to use it.” We must confess that is quite an “if”. The history of bibliographic instruction is pretty bleak so we cannot rely on it. People never did enjoy BI (today Information Literacy) and today they will not sit still long enough to learn skills that they believe similar to learning how to shoe a horse, especially as “search” will undoubtedly continue to evolve in all kinds of ways, leaving us farther and farther behind. We cannot pretend that as “search” continues to evolve, it will have no consequences for people using the catalog. As they did in the past, people learn these things only through gritted teeth. It would be folly to expect everyone to change themselves just because we prefer not to change our catalogs.

Plus, the catalog as it is now is indeed broken. Until that is acknowledged we can expect little progress. As I demonstrated in my podcast, it won’t even work for me and I understand better than 99% of the public who uses it and I want it to work. If someone cares to dispute my podcast, it is very easy for anybody in the world to repeat it for themselves. I am prepared for peer review and I can certainly make a vigorous defense. For instance, I can come up with many, many, many more examples, as I am sure others can.

Why does this problem exist? For one thing: because we have been ignoring this situation instead of concentrating on how the modern public responds to what they see (the catalog as a whole). We are concentrating on individual records: abbreviations, unproven FRBR structures, lessened and chaotic access, and an unfocused hope that Linked Data holds the magical key to relevancy.

But yes, I agree that we should make the catalog user-friendly without breaking it even more than it already is. How could we do that? Lots of ways, but I have discussed that at length very often.