RDA-L RE: RE: Re: RE: RE: Re: publisher info

On 26/03/2015 22.16, Amanda Cossham wrote:

If a university has compulsory user education or information literacy classes, that’s a good opportunity to teach, but it’s usually a one-off. If users come into the library, there’s a chance to engage with them, but more and more they sit at home and go online; we’re just one of a range of competing options. And what about public, school, and special libraries? They are different situations again

Of course there are exceptions to all this. It’s a varied situation across many different library types in many countries, with many different users who have widely differing needs. But, we need to be where users are, not expect that they will learn our way of doing things, regardless of the quality of library catalogues. Even sophisticated users find catalogues somewhat frustrating, if not a lot frustrating.

This reminds me of a controversial article that quoted a “Mr. Line” (I have not been able to find out any more about this person) who said that the term user education is, “meaningless, inaccurate, pretentious and patronising and that if only librarians would spend the time and effort to ensure that their libraries are more user friendly then they wouldn’t have to spend so much time doing user education.” I did not like this statement at first, but slowly realized that Mr. Line only stated clearly what a lot of people were thinking. (I discussed this in a podcast https://blog.jweinheimer.net/2010/11/cataloging-matters-no.html)

The amazing thing today is that catalogs are virtual, and that means they do not have to look and operate the same for everyone. Just as Google gives different choices to Amanda in New Zealand from what I see in Italy, depending on what the system knows of each of us, so too can a single catalog work differently for different users and different purposes: there can be a child’s interface, an undergraduate’s, a scholar’s. Even the expert in Enlightenment philosophy who wants the most detailed records possible for John Locke and David Hume, probably doesn’t want the same level of detail for all his or her searches on other subjects, e.g. people can also be interested in teaching methods, or jazz or chess and they do not need or want the same detail for all of it. While librarians need that detail for everything for their work, rarely do members of the public.

As Amanda mentioned, this is not catering to the lowest-common denominator: it is tailoring the catalog to provide the most relevant information to each user. That is one of the powers that the new systems provide and we experience it all the time with all of the “customization” on website and apps. People no longer have to browse the same cards (records) that are in the same order (main entry). In the earlier environment, there was no choice and people had to be trained. Of course, people won’t do it today, and I have demonstrated that even when you know how to do it (as I do) it still doesn’t work!

The problem is: our catalogs are still fundamentally structured to provide information in the traditional ways following Cutter’s Rules for a Dictionary catalog. Note that word “dictionary.” It meant that people were expected to use it like a 19th century printed dictionary (browsing alphabetical lists of text). That fundamental structure has never changed. When you do it, alphabetical browsing allows people to see cross-references and notes that the 19th-century catalog designers knew were indispensable but those days are long gone and people no longer see those cross-references and notes. I think people would *love* to see a cross-reference when they search, e.g. “wwi battles” that told them:
“Search also under:
World War, 1914-1918–Aerial operations.
World War, 1914-1918–Campaigns.
World War, 1914-1918–Naval operations.”

or a reference when looking at something with a subject heading “Labor movement” they would see a note such as this:
“This subject split in [date]. Items cataloged before that date used Labor and laboring classes which then split into Labor movement and Working class. Therefore, to make a complete search on “Labor movement” you must also search “Labor and laboring classes” otherwise you will be missing older items.”

It’s a sad truth but a fact: although people were able to see these references in card catalogs, they do not today. And they haven’t for a long time.

So it should not be a surprise that people find the catalog terribly frustrating and turn to other options whenever possible. These are some of the reasons why I think that RDA, Bibframe and linked data will not make any difference to the public until these more basic problems are dealt with.



One Comment

  1. Stewart McKee said:

    I believe the Mr. Line you refer to was Maurice Line who worked at one time for the British Library and later as a library consultant ( i remember his visits to us well) He could be a provocative thinker and once wrote an article entitled “The care and maintenance of white elephants” where he aimed various darts at library catalogues.
    I enjoy your musings, keep up the good work
    Stewart McKee

    March 31, 2015

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