Improving catalogues

Posting to Autocat

On 08/09/2014 23.59, Charles Pennell wrote:

The introduction of Bibframe doesn’t change anything about legacy data, just as AACR didn’t change anything about pre-existing ALA rules records or AACR2 to pre-existing AACR1 records. …
In your example, $e can be added retrospectively when role information has been provided through the 245$c, 508 or 511, but again, this takes effort and needs to be subjected to a business model. We have been doing a lot of clean-up of our legacy e-book records, standardizing 856 notes, eliminating duplicate records, separating print from e-, etc. using global edits plus a lot of grunt work for which we have community support in the interest of providing better access. It can be done when you have a plan and support.

Sure, we can do all kinds of things, but in a world of declining numbers of catalogers who are spending less and less time actually cataloging (from everything I have heard and read), we should be asking ourselves: what is the best use of our diminishing resources? Is it best spent by adding information to older records that have been around for decades or more, or doing something else? Where is the evidence that the public wants and needs this relator information so much more than other things we could do? While I have heard many–too many–complaints about our catalogs, I have certainly never seen or heard anything from a user that says that it is critical for them to search for people as “editors” or “thesis advisors” or something like that. And this is at the same time as the authority records do not work.

Which is more important:
1) to find specific authors reliably by their function as editors, “creators” (whatever that catch-all word means) and so on, or

2) to find out that if you want to do a good search for Mark Twain, then you need to know the following :

“For works of this author written under other names, search also under Clemens, Samuel Langhorne, 1835-1910, Snodgrass, Quintus Curtius, 1835-1910 Conte, Louis de, 1835-1910, Alden, Jean Francois, 1835-1910”

along with the associated links? How is anybody supposed to just “know” that?

To do 1) demands a huge amount of resources and time from the entire cataloging community. A product that could give even halfway-decent results (such as finding a specific person in the role of an editor, say 50% of the time?) will take what? 5 years? 10 years? Shouldn’t we find out how long it would take and what resources would be needed to get it done in–say 20 years vs. 10 years vs. 5 years? More important, shouldn’t we at least find out if this is so important to the public–because librarians themselves do not need that information to manage the collection.

To do 2) it is entirely different. Everything exists now, catalogers need do nothing, and it remains only that some programmers/computer technicians build it, and share it. I emphasize “only” because that is a loaded word here, but in any case, it demands exponentially less resources from far fewer people than option 1). Anyway, I would argue that it needs to be done in any case if our authority records are ever to become useful to the public again.

So, what is the wiser choice? Of course, I may be wrong and it could turn out that research would show the public would vastly prefer the relator information to the information in the authority files, or prefer the relator information to having catalogers actually catalog more resources–which could help everybody deal with the problem of “information overload” that is causing everybody to pull their hair out. Shouldn’t we at least find out? To find out, the public needs to be researched in semi-scientific ways. Of course, that is one part of “making the business case”.

Nobody can avoid making a business case for what they do. Coming up with a valid business case is a complicated task and you may hear and discover things you don’t like one bit, but it is nonetheless inevitable. You can either make the case before implementation of a project, so that you can avoid as many problems and errors as possible, or you have to do it afterwards when the problems and errors are clear to everyone, and you find yourself trying to explain them away.