ACAT Left hand searching/helping users, etc. (was RE: Czechoslovakia/Czech Republic)

Posting to Autocat

On 8/13/2014 11:34 PM, Kuperman, Aaron wrote:

One could establish relationships (RDA is set up to support this) between geographic terms, and then some clever OPAC designer could exploit this. One could encode the record for Israel to indicate it is part of Palestine (the region as defined by LC), is adjacent to the West Bank, and that Palestine is part of West Asia and the Middle East. If we really wanted to we could say it was part of Gondwana (according to some theories). You could use relationships to indicate that Israel was once part of the Ottoman and British Empires (something very important for understanding its legal system. The if someone looks for Israeli dinosaurs, they could automatically be referred to adjacent and immediately broader terms.

Of course we could put all sorts of cool data in our records, but getting the OPAC people and the searchers to use it is another matter.

And I still use left-hand matches, which are very powerful if you combine them with field-specific keywords. Of course, only a veteran cataloger probably understands this.

RDA is really irrelevant to this–we don’t need to establish new types of relationships. The problem is, the ones we have now are not being used. Why would new ones make any difference?

But if we accept that new relationships are needed, it begs the question: who is going to do all that work? There are not enough of us now to do all of the work we currently have, and I don’t foresee that armadas of catalogers will be hired in the future. This is similar to what I have mentioned about RDA in general: its “new, improved” relationships imply that every record needs to be edited, and if the old records are not edited, those materials will be even harder to find than they are now. (I discussed this at some length in “Cataloging Matters No. 16: Catalogs, Consistency and the Future” Some may conclude that the old materials are not as important as the newer ones, but that is certainly not in the competence of the catalogers to decide. I, for one, would argue strongly against it. The public must be included in such a decision.

It is clear that those older records will not be edited, and therefore it will never happen. Yet, I will grant that that the old records might be edited, but without any added staff, it will take a long time–decades at the very least–and in today’s information universe where normal time speeds up in an almost relativistic rate, those decades probably translate into hundreds of years of “internet time”. The first Iphone was announced only seven years ago and look at the “mobile web” now! We have absolutely no idea what the information climate will be in 30, 40 or 50 years from now. As a result, what we are creating is something only for the far future, in an information world we cannot even imagine, and no one can even demonstrate that RDA is what anybody wants today! And yet, we are all supposed to strive toward this “wonderful future” together.


I also use left-handed search browses, but as you say, only veteran catalogers really understand them. There are many advantages with that kind of search, but that no longer matters. The real task is to make what we have now work for the real-life public of today. That demands making a catalog we know they will want and use. It seems logical to make the cross-references we have useful once again. For instance, could someone come up with a way of having the real-life search “battles wwi” (keyword) come up with the absolutely vital cross-references,

See: World War, 1914-1918–Aerial operations.
See: World War, 1914-1918–Campaigns.
See: World War, 1914-1918–Naval operations.
(“World War, 1914-1918–Battles, sieges, etc.” is not a valid subject heading but exists only as a reference)

and that each of these headings have multiple subdivisions of all kinds, then it would be something useful for the searcher. The problem is not a lack of information. All the information already exists in the authority records (the reference from “wwi” is in the record for “World War, 1914-1918” and the reference for “battles” is shown above) In the old days, a reference librarian would have pointed this out to the searcher, but we are living in another world now.

Only new types of catalogs can fix this. But first, we need to recognize that our catalogs do not function for today’s world, and need to be fixed.