On 6/5/2015 8:53 PM, Karen Coyle wrote:
> there is no other institution that I know of that does not look to > its activities with some kind of value assessment. Museums, schools, > hospitals…. none of them gets to say: we don’t have to justify why > we do what we do. It will be very hard to be taken seriously by > funders and by the public with that kind of approach. Yes, you can > measure effectiveness, and you must measure effectiveness. Libraries > do it all the time with their stats on users and circulation and > other services. Research libraries measure their collections in > various ways. This is the data we take to the university
> administration or city government to justify our existence — and if > we didn’t have these figures, we’d be hard-pressed to convince > anyone of our value.

> The concern about the lack of a connection between cataloging and > actual use is at least a century old. (Actually, it goes back at > least to the battles of Panizzi with his board.) Although it arose > out of the Stockholm Seminar mentioned above, I don’t think that FRBR > answered the question adequately (see my forthcoming book from ALA — > I’ll announce it here). The problem remains.

This is absolutely correct and although I did not understand the problem when FRBR first came out–I was much more concerned about actually understanding the abstruseness of FRBR–once I gained experience outside of strictly tech services, plus studying the history of cataloging and libraries, I began to see the real problems of the catalog. People were complaining to me about the catalog, and I learned they have always complained. There was a reason why nothing less than a Royal Commission investigated Panizzi’s catalog.

It was only later that I began to see that FRBR only tended to continue the same old library methods but used new terminology. Thus it only continued the same old problems.

For instance, my experience in reference showed me that although many people want “items” (that is, entire books), much more often people want bits and pieces of books. Sure, if you want a mystery novel, you don’t want only a single chapter (although lots of people read the first chapter or two and flip to the end!). But, if someone wants to find out about the technique of Bernini, they *do not want* to read 30 or 40 entire books about Bernini, about sculpture, and about art in Italy. Tables of contents and back-of-the-book indexes were created for very good reasons.

So, when I reconsidered the FRBR user tasks that people want to “find-identify-select-obtain –> works-expressions-manifestations-items by their authors-titles-subjects” I thought: At least concerning items, most of the time they don’t want entire items. They want something else. Perhaps when everything was locked in physical books (and other physical resources), people had no choice, but today they have lots and lots of very attractive choices.

The FRBR user tasks do not describe what users want to do. They describe how people have always supposed to use our catalogs. That is a big difference. As I mentioned, it only continued the same old problems. The result: I think the public will continue to view our catalogs much as we view hand-cranking a car today:

Library catalogs (since the time of Panizzi anyway) have been designed to give the public the kind of answer they do because there have been different types of limitations (technological, staffing, organizational and so on) and people accepted what catalogs gave them because they had no other choice. When they did begin to have other choices, they opted for them in a very big way.

The cataloging profession never reconsidered its fundamental premises; instead of finding out how people search and what they want, they focused on fitting our traditional methods into more modern tools.

It was only in retrospect that I began to see that FRBR missed a great opportunity to discover (re-discover) what people want from information. Perhaps when FRBR came out in the 1990s (pre-Google) it was still too early to understand what was happening and to see the huge changes in store, but we can today.

I remain very positive that libraries *can* provide the public with highly valuable tools because (I think) the library community provides people with things they can find nowhere else, especially not on the web. But the focus should be on finding out what the different user communities want and then trying to give it to them. This is not easy to do of course, but our tools are very powerful so it should be possible.

The real hurdles, as I see them, are to discover the problems people have with using libraries and their catalogs, and then actually to acknowledge those problems generally. If this were done, I think that all kinds of solutions would be forthcoming.

James Weinheimer
First Thus
First Thus Facebook Page
Personal Facebook Page Google+
Cooperative Cataloging Rules
Cataloging Matters Podcasts
The Library Herald