Bibliographic identities (Was: Dead man writing: spirit, fictitious person)

Posting to RDA-L

On 7/3/2014 10:18 AM, Hal Cain wrote:

I hesitate to say it, James, but I think you’ve slipped into putting things into the sort of categories that at other times you decry, because they don’t match the way searchers approach the catalogue (or other finding aid): creator (author, composer, artist) or issuer (corporate documenrt creator) etc. on the one hand, subject (and possibly genre) on the other. But this is a classic *relationship* category: neither Bush nor Obama have created the content — just as the persons addressed in _Illustrissimi_, letters to persons no longer living, written by Albino Luciani (Pope John Paul I) have performed no personal act of creation in bringing these letters to the reader. But the relationship is not one of *aboutness*. The primary categories of the conventional catalogue, *by* or *about*, do not apply. But, as in providing access under the name of a person honoured by a festschrift, the mechanisms available (in the MARC format and catalogues built on it) have to be expressed within one of those categories, so there we are, 700 again — maybe modified by $e or $i or $4; at least a keyword search not limited to author or subject indexes will find it anyway.

In the absence of improved markup systems and category containers, we have to work with what we’ve got. Sometimes, it seems to me, we spend a bit too much funnelling tomorrow’s expected data into yesterday’s overstrained categories, manifestly inadequate though they are.

Perhaps my last message was unclear. I believe that I agree with this; although I have definite (mainly philosophical) qualms about adding a person who has zero intellectual input into a work as a 1xx/7xx. It’s not even a related work, such as Homer being included in the record for the movie “Troy” with Brad Pitt. Nevertheless, my practical side allows me to set these qualms aside and say: OK. It is useful for someone to find it that way.

The real concern that I have is when somebody who writes something that deals with the 2010s and then says that the real author is someone who died in 1940–that this is impossible and very obviously indicates there are separate bibliographic identities. The catalog should reflect reality as much as possible; if it does not, we will find it even more difficult to distinguish our catalogs from a general Google search (and justify the budget lines we require); at the same time we risk making ourselves into laughing stocks.

Another question however: Do people care about finding items by separate different identities, or do they only want relationships? This is the big difference in Cutter’s first two Objectives. The first is to find a specific item based on the author, title or subject, and simple citations would suffice well enough (i.e. relating the author’s name to an individual item). The second objective is to find what the library has by an author (i.e. separate bibliographic identities)–quite a different task from the first.

1. To enable a person to find a book of which either…
…the author,
…the title, or
…the subject is known
2. To show what the library has…
…by a given author,
…on a given subject, or
…in a given kind of literature.

It is my perception that the Googles do fairly well when it comes to the first objective, but when it comes to the second they disintegrate. As a couple of examples, I have a certain “web presence” and if I know a title or keyword and add my name, I can often find something, but there is another “James Weinheimer” who lives in NYC. You can even listen to some of his songs! Sorry everyone, but these are not photos of me! I don’t think I would care to be him, and he probably wouldn’t care to be me. Google doesn’t understand that we are not the same person. There are other James Weinheimers too.

Another example is “James Packer” a good friend of mine from San Francisco, and a distinguished archaeologist best known for his work on the Forum of Trajan. He shares a name with another “James Packer” in your home of Australia who is a billionaire playboy and gets himself into bar fights over beautiful women. My friend has said he would not like to be the Australian James Packer, although he would like some of his money.

So while you are right about everything being overstrained, I don’t think it is a matter of giving up or concluding that people only want “relationships”, but it may be a matter of catalogers finding better tools and methods. When our only tools are relational databases, Z39.50 and MarcEdit, that is like attacking tanks with cavalry (as has happened in history when that was all anyone had). Our cataloging tools today were created in the 1960s and 1970s and haven’t changed very much. A lot has happened since then. While MarcEdit has been a godsend for me, I know there are more powerful tools possible.

And far more powerful tools exist. We need new tools designed for modern purposes and new methods.

The very first step is for catalogers just to imagine what kind of tools could help them in their work, e.g. to help them efficiently find bibliographic identities and add them to the records easily. Once these things are imagined, it may be possible to build them.