Concept of a Subject (Was: Relationship designator)

Posting to Autocat about a critique of a work. Should there be a special relationship designator in a 7xx field.

On 2/5/2015 11:17 PM, J. McRee Elrod wrote:

No. 700 $i relationship designator + AAP is in addition to the 600.

What purposeos does that redundancy serve? If I want a critique of a work, I search the work as a subject. Wouldn’t most?

I think this is just another bit of evidence that the very concept of author/title/subject is being lost among the public. I am still so grateful to the student who, when I was showing her how the catalog worked, said: “What do author, title, and subject mean?” I was floored, but I began to understand how things were changing. This is not to say that things are any better or worse, but how much things have changed–and indicates how much more they will change, whether I happen to like any of it or not.

In a way, it’s not all that new. (Please indulge me in this bit of history) For a long, long time, there was a debate about whether subject cards should be interfiled with the author/title cards or be in a completely separate file. Similar debates had taken place with the book catalog. Different libraries would make their own decisions: one would interfile all the cards, while another would make a separate subject catalog. Libraries would also change their minds and for a certain time the cards would be interfiled, at another time, they would separate them. (For those who are interested, Princeton University’s final card catalog (which was scanned and is online at had all cards interfiled in a single arrangement, but earlier, e.g. in 1902, there were separate catalogs, as shown here where you can see the author and subject catalogs. The subject catalog is back in the corner.

Princeton University Library Catalog in 1902


(By the way, title cards were made only for title main entry. There were no–or very few–title added entry cards)

The reason for the debate was that in separate catalogs, reference services pointed out that the public had problems figuring out which catalog to search, but putting everything into a single arrangement could also prove very difficult. It was complicated to search no matter how a library decided to arrange their cards. So, if you wanted books about, e.g. “War and Peace” you first had to look under main entry (T for Tolstoy), then within the subarrangement (which could vary in different ways), go to the uniform title (V for Voina i mir) and also do this within the correct arrangement (single arrangement or separate subject arrangement). This was too much for a lot of people. On the other hand, if you knew how it worked, it could be pretty efficient, but it was a lot to expect the public to know.

Today, I think it may be even more complicated for the public. With the Googles and Yahoos, where people do 95%+ of all their searching and have the vast majority of their experience, there is not even the possibility of a subject vs. author vs. title search. This explains the student’s question to me that I mentioned. Although there is the possibility of such searches in a library catalog, the idea of doing it is being lost because people search it like they do the Googles. How would they search it in Google? Probably they would search the title of the item, maybe even using the parentheses and add “review” but in the catalog, they should search, as Mac mentioned, by the title of the item (in fact, main entry) as a subject. Not so simple.

So, how could it work better for the public in a library catalog? To use Worldcat, if people could search for the uniform title (or URI) of “War and peace” (“Voina i mir” then within the facets, one of the facets could be for “voina i mir” as a subject (which currently isn’t there:”voina+i+mir“) and voila! We have the correct search. From here people could limit to languages, authors, subarrange in different ways and so on. But if you search our catalogs for the terms “War and peace” it can only give you incorrect results–you need the uniform title for subject access.

(I would have added Tolstoy’s heading to the example, but everything seems to break down for some reason. The example seems to work best without Tolstoy’s heading. In any case, the user interface of the facets needs some serious improvement)

This seems to show that the catalog records serve all of these purposes now but the catalog is just too hard for people to use–even now. It seems to me that adding extra 700 relationship designators is far too much work, especially when considering the “legacy data,” the number of already overworked catalogers is not growing, and we would merely be duplicating information that is already in the record. I won’t even discuss how this would work in a web portal with a “single search box” with non-library records.

Approaches that call for adding information to our records attack the symptoms and not the underlying causes: the catalog must change the way it works so that it is more useful to a modern society. The information is there already in our bibliographic records, it just needs to be used much better than it is and made easier for the public to understand.