Monday, May 05, 2008

Cataloging with blinders on.

There's a topic that's been sitting on my mind for a long time now and it probably deserves a bit more than a single blog post. I'll take a stab at addressing the overall issue though. A common saying in cataloging is that you catalog only the item at hand. That is, you're not expected to go running off to various sources or do in-depth research on each item. There's usually many reasons given for this but one of the main reasons boils down to one of practicality. Most libraries received too much material to give each item this treatment.

However, I believe this rule is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Searching and research is becoming dramatically cheaper in terms of manhours with each passing year. Given certain seed information for newer publication such as isbn, author and title it should be relatively easy to have automated searching done of the publisher onix servers, webpages related to it, Wikipedia entries, LibraryThing, Shelfari, and more. This searching can be performed and gather information for the cataloger to use to enhance the record. At the very least our systems should be smart enough to be attempting to guess appropriate authority records and offering analysis of similar records and suggest subject headings.

A good example of potential actually exits right now with the wealth of organized information for one particular medium, cds. Cds themselves can have their track information as cd-text. Barring that, there's many ways that the songs or cd can be used to pull up information from a wealth of online resources such as freedb, musicbrainz, discogs. This really deserves a post all of it's own, which I may get to one of these days.

For example involving printed books not long ago someone asked on how to create a record for two books (The Talisman and Black House) that came in the set. She claimed as far as she knew that they were unrelated. Turns out that they shared the same central character (Jack Sawyer), had re-occurring characters, and were written by the same two authors. Had she checked LibraryThing she would have found the books classed by readers as a series. Wikipedia even notes how the second book tied into Stephen King's Dark Tower series. There was no reason to even have her go to the browser, the act of putting in the isbns should have pulled up some of this information.

So lets abandon item in hand. It no longer takes a walk across several floors and possibly hours of effort to find useful information on several books. It could be as easy as doing what we're already doing, with a little smarter software and a little bit more flexibility in our cataloging procedures.


Catalogablog said...

Well, yes and no. Cataloging the item in hand means not changing things to fit your ideas. If the author is listed as A.N. Roquelaure, don't change it to Anne Rice. Have the catalog make the links, not the bibliographic description.

Also not all materials needs extensive research. Other than series info the King novels don't need much more info. Local, small-press authors could benefit from extended description. Look at the Tolkien bibliography that gives minor details for each of the hunderds of printings and editions. That level of description would not be useful in most catalogs. Marquette that has a Tolkien special collection is one exception.

You are right though. Adding additional information is much easier now. Cut-and-paste from the publisher, author or fan websites is quick and can provide better access to materials. Beware copyright.

As for authority records. Web searching should be used to create those records. If someone is still relying only on print they are doing a disservice to the profession and their users.

Codex Monkey said...

That use of "item in hand" makes more sense then how I have seen some people use it lately. I haven't taken the time to really trace the origin of the phrase. (Heck, I didn't even crack open my copy of AACR2 to see if it is in there).

I'm not necessarily picturing extensive research, but more something along the lines of using sources like Wikipedia and publisher sites to indicate possible phrases. (And this searching being done primarily by the software, not the user).

I envision some cataloging client that as someone is importing or creating a record is going off and searching for this book in those sources and then offer a quick way to add that information to the record. Perhaps clicking on it or dragging and dropping it into the record. It can be even quicker than copy and paste ;).

On my cynical days, I think we should just stick to minimal records and merely point our users to Amazon and Wikipedia in the first place, but I'm trying to be more positive.