ACAT A Fight Over ‘Aliens’

Posting to Autocat

I’m afraid I must add one more point before letting this matter drop entirely from the Autocat list.

MULLEN Allen wrote:
Other implications of the “Aliens” heading change aside, this is no more or less a challenge for catalog users than scores of other split heading and other heading changes that occur regularly in our catalogs. Users seldom even note these frequent changes, particularly since it is generally researchers and library staff, presumably with some search skills, who utilize subject searching in the first place. These users don’t abandon the library catalog for other games in town if the resources they are seeking are part of the library collections they have access to. Until those resources are available from other sources at a lower “opportunity cost” than via the library catalog ( the foreseeable future), or until those choices everywhere become a useful tool for discovering our local resources (not likely), they’ll continue to use a library’s catalog to search that library’s resources.

I’ve yet to witness a single library die because of a clunky catalog, let alone split headings. Let me know if that ever happens. What I’m witnessing is that the primary danger for the library community, and the Library of Congress in particular, is that the reactionary politics that have insinuated themselves into this change proposal hold purse strings.

I have difficulty accepting this.

I will agree that today it is people with search skills (primarily library staff) who use the subject headings–but that was not the original purpose of subject headings. They were put in precisely for people who were not experts. That was why they opted for a dictionary catalog over other types of catalogs. It was considered that the experts didn’t need subject headings because they were the ones who came in already knowing what they wanted. They had found it elsewhere during their work as an expert: “Dr. ___ told me about his new book” or someone wanted something seen in a bibliographic citation. Those experts also could be expected to understand how various classified arrangements work.

But with a dictionary catalog, anybody could come in who wanted books on “Dogs,” walk over to the “D” section, and find a nicely arranged grouping of the library’s materials on dogs. And if you thought of something that was a little different, “I want books on the movies” you would find a cross-reference that said, “Movies. See: Motion pictures” and perhaps some other headings of interest. As a result, if you knew your ABCs and could read at least a little bit, knew a few basic rules such as “surname, forename” and ignore initial articles, plus you could physically flip through cards, it worked automatically. And it was a good search.

Of course, none of that works in a modern information environment.

Many would say (and do) that we are watching libraries slowly dying now and have been for awhile. Of course, the reason is not only clunky catalogs that are no longer being made for the average person (see above), but that is certainly a factor and should not be an excuse for deciding to make it more difficult for people to look up information, as I have demonstrated. We can consider that a problem or not. Library budgets are not growing, professionals are not being replaced, and there is lots of talk about how the library should not be a place of information discovery; discovery will take place in other venues using other tools and the library will supply the items people have discovered elsewhere. That means: no subject headings and only basic inventory information (ISBD).