ACAT A Fight Over ‘Aliens’

Posting to Autocat

On 6/23/2016 10:46 PM, MULLEN Allen wrote:

James Weinheimer writes: ” 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.” Subject headings do continue to have a great deal of value for everyday patrons in our contemporary OPACs, but the usage is functionally different than the dictionary catalog approach of card catalogs. A study I recently perused suggested, if memory serves me correctly, that outside of known item searching, about 60% of keyword hits came from subject tracings. Another fundamental utility of subject headings in our bibs is usage for faceting – a quite valuable aid.

I agree with that. I have never said that subjects should not be included in a catalog, it’s just that the underlying structures and systems that provide the foundation for the subject headings themselves no longer function. For instance, how many people look for movies but never find “Motion pictures”–or do so on such an intermittent basis that the final result is incomprehensible? I also think they would really like to see the notes and narrower terms, e.g.
“Note: Here are entered works on motion pictures themselves, including motion pictures as an art form, copyrighting, distribution, editing, plots, production, etc. Works about the technical aspects of making motion pictures and their projection onto a screen are entered under Cinematography. Works about the technical aspects of making video recordings, i.e., creating and storing moving images in an electronic form and displaying them on an electronic display are entered under Video recording. Works about the artistic aspects of making video recordings are entered under Video recordings–Production and direction. “

That’s nice to know as a searcher, and could save people massive amounts of time, and they won’t find help like that in the Googles. Still, I have demonstrated how and why the subject heading structures just don’t work today. Even for me. Nobody has disputed me on this. I want the subjects to work again.

They could work. Just like a proposed cross-reference from “Illegal aliens” that had a scope note: “This heading was changed in 2016. For materials cataloged after this date, search under the two headings “Noncitizens” and “Undocumented immigration”. At least people would know.

This could work, and even works today for people who do left-anchored subject text searches, e.g. for a similar search. Unfortunately, we must be realistic and say this is not a solution and anything must work with keyword searching. These aids do not appear in keyword searches.

Therefore, we must conclude that anybody who will search for “illegal aliens” “noncitizens” and/or “undocumented immigration” will get no help from the catalog at all, but somehow they are supposed to divine what the correct searches will be. And of course, they won’t.

In my professional opinion, that is unsatisfactory. But others apparently have their own opinions.