Document (#30582)

Author
Ewbank, L.
Title
Crisis in subject cataloging and retrieval
Source
Cataloging and classification quarterly. 22(1996) no.2, S.90-97
Year
1996
Abstract
Report of the ALCTS Cataloging and Classification Section during the Annual Meeting of the ALA at Chicago, June 25, 1995 with summaries of the presentations by the following 5 speakers:
Content
TAYLOR, A.G.: Introduction to the crisis; MIKSA, F.: Bibliographic control traditions and subject access in library catalogs; INTNER, S.: Subject access education: oxymoron or obligation? MANN, T.: Cataloging and reference work; GORMANN, M.: The cost and value of organized subject access
Footnote
Arlene G. Taylor, (University of Pittsburgh), in her talk "Introduction to the Crisis," stated that there has been an erosion of confidence in subject cataloging, which is frequently thought not to be cost-effective. Signs of the crisis are 1) an administrative push to cut back or eliminate subject cataloging, 2) lack of sufficient education in the theory and practice of subject analysis, leading to a lack of understanding on the part of non-catalogers, 3) a widespread negative view of Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), and 4) a view of classification as only a way of arranging items on a shelf, and therefore clearly dispensable in an age of online information. Reasons for the erosion of confidence are 1) the availability of keyword searching, which many people think is sufficient, 2) the difficulty of subject analysis in an expanding universe of knowledge--including the increasing variety of materials, and of different formats, not all of which are suitable for traditional subject analysis--increasing variation of word usage even in the same language, the appearance of new subjects requiring new terminology, and the use of multiple thesauri with little or no attempt to relate them to each other), and 3) the "since it can't be perfect" syndrome, i.e., since subject analysis is subjective anyway, so why bother? Francis Miksa, (University of Texas at Austin), spoke about "Bibliographic Control Traditions and Subject Access in Library Catalogs". Suggesting that we need a broader perspective, partly historical, and a new approach and methodology, he discussed 1) bibliographic control as a general model and the various traditions of bibliographic control, and 2) the measure of a single bibliographic item, and how much information about it belongs in an entry in a bibliographic control system. Bibliographic control is any attempt to gain power over the information-bearing objects which comprise the bibliographic universe. The universe of knowledge is intangible and ordered, and resides in information-bearing objects, while the bibliographic universe is tangible--being made up of objects--but unordered; bibliographic control consists of identifying and ordering bibliographic objects so that they can be retrieved and used to help people reach the universe of knowledge. The types of bibliographic control that have arisen are--in chronological order--1) bibliography, 2) library cataloging, 3) indexing and abstracting, 4) documentation and information storage and retrieval, 5) archival enterprises, and 6) records management. The nature of a single bibliographic unit--that is, the basis of an entry in a bibliographic organization system--differs among these traditions of practice: in archives, it is a collection from a single source, in records management a group of records, and in library cataloging it was originally one book containing one work by one author.
The first breakdown of this ideal was the appearance of information-bearing objects containing more than one work, such as transactions of learned societies, periodicals, etc.; the solution to this breakdown was analytical cataloging, and the result was the rise of indexing and documentation. The second breakdown, originating in indexing and abstracting, was the discovery that subject access is not limited to a work as a single bibliographic item, and that it is not simply concerned with "aboutness". The response to the second breakdown was the fragmentation of the concept of the unity of a work into the concept of the work as a conglomeration of topics, forms, and genres. Therefore, library cataloging is two breakdowns behind, and still operating with a simplistic view of a document as a unit. Thomas Mann, (Library of Congress), spoke about "Cataloging and Reference Work". His first topic was the continuing need for subject classification of books (i.e., for subject arrangement of books on shelves). He gave two examples of information that could be found only by taking books in a particular subject area off the shelves and looking through each one for the relevant information. The information exists in these books at the page and paragraph level, and this kind of searching could not be done if the books were not organized on the shelves by subject. Scholars, students, and journalists use this type of search quite often, but librarians generally ignore it or say that it is unimportant (partly because it can't be computerized, and some librarians think anything that can't be computerized is unimportant). The quality and level of research that can be done in libraries would be greatly diminished if this kind of searching became impossible. Mann's second topic was the importance of specific entry in a controlled vocabulary. Use of the most specific entry is being abandoned because of the increased use of copy cataloging; general headings are being accepted in place of specific ones, and this leads to disaster. The items are effectively lost, because one never knows where to stop with general headings (since all general headings are potentially applicable), whereas with a specific heading, one stops when one finds the heading that fits most closely with the subject one wants> If works dealing with this subject all had the specific heading, one could then be sure that one had found all the works in the library on this subject.
The third topic was that the crisis is mainly due to reference and bibliographic instruction librarians, who are not telling users how to use the retrieval systems created by catalogers. They should tell users about the red books, about the importance of Narrower Terms (NT, including those that are alphabetically adjacent to Broader Terms (BT) as these cannot be found in screen displays), about the usefulness of subject headings from records for relevant items located by author, title, or keyword for finding similar items. (Of course, this will not work if the headings are at the wrong level of specificity!); and about the subdivisions of subject headings. Some bibliographic instruction librarians are telling users not to use LCSH, so the users are missing many--sometimes most--of the relevant items. If the retrieval system is going to work, reference and bibliographic instruction librarians have to explain how subject headings work, rather than concealing or even disparaging them. Michael Gorman, (California State University--Fresno), talked about "The Cost and Value of Organized Subject Access," saying that systematic subject access is the key to effective use of libraries, and it is therefore both cost-effective and cost- beneficial, even though many administrators don't think so. But there are problems, both inherently and in application. Good subject access maximizes both recall and relevance. Specificity is extremely important; it best meets the needs of most users, because the cataloger has already differentiated the items. It is also extremely important that a verbal subject system have a syndetic structure, so that the user can explore broader, narrower, and related subjects. The time spent by the cataloger in creating subject headings should be inversely proportional to the time spent by the user on retrieval; the canon of service of our profession demands adding that value at the front end instead of shifting the burden to (infinite numbers of) users. Direct and indirect benefits to the user increase with the amount of time spent on subject headings; if we believe that the whole purpose of a library is to make its collection accessible, we can't afford not to provide detailed access to collections. Effective retrieval is impossible without authority control (which however is free, since it is just cataloging done right). Gorman contrasted the "howling desert" of the Internet with the well-ordered world of libraries, comparing the Internet to a used bookstore in which the bindings, indexes, and front matter have been removed from all the books and they are arranged in no order. The user searches for clumps of related material, but has no idea of its source. It may seem ordinary to go into the largest library and be able to find a specific item, secure in provenance and immediately usable, but this is beyond the wildest dreams of Net-surfers. We need fast and efficient access to recorded knowledge and information, because we have lives to live and can't spend time surfing; subject access is an essential part of this, and is vital for future seekers of truth.
Vgl. auch unter: http://www.catalogingandclassificationquarterly.com/ccq22nr2news.html

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