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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Library catalogs



Since we read about the cataloging, classification, and library catalogues this week, I thought you’d enjoy these three articles. My Alma Mater, The University of Wisconsin at Madison, is finally mothballing their card catalog. “Farewell Cards” On Wisconsin (Summer2012):31-35, 62 http://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/features/farewell-cards/

I have very fond memories of the time I spent there looking up books and exploring topics for research papers. When you read the article, you’ll discover that their catalogue took up the entire floor of the building. It was huge and contains so much information. Can you imagine such a large catalogue? New York Public Library had a huge card catalogue as well. It also filled the entrance to the reading room. Oh, the hours I spent lost in subject headings.

Today, librarians, researchers, and our other patrons use the catalogue from home, or terminals scattered around the building. Finding great titles accidentally is more difficult. It’s a different type of learning and exploring because you have to follow subject headings or browse the shelf. American Libraries e-extra for June contains an article that examines how cataloging itself has changed. “Cataloging Then, Now, & Tomorrow” American Libraries (May/June 2012): 52-54 http://viewer.zmags.com/publication/b0fcde2b#/b0fcde2b/54 .

It may surprise you to discover that not all libraries and librarians love classification systems. Some think it’s time to get rid of them. Here’s an article supplied by one of your fellow students Oder, Norman. “Rangeview Library District, CO, First System To Fully Drop Dewey.” Library Journal (June 5, 2009): http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6663145.html . A group of libraries decided to drop DDC and create use a simplified subject heading system.

I find this fascinating, especially since I teach about genealogy & local history collections, which often arrange their materials geographically and then by topic. After all, what good is a library where all the call numbers are the same? I’m a strong advocate for classification schema, subject headings, and fixed or controlled vocabulary. They make our jobs easier and allow us to group like topics and things together. Natural language, tags, and key word searching is great. Natural language is how search engines like Google use. For me, personally, there’s a little too much fuzziness to searching when you don’t know someone else’s terminology.

What do you think about the usability of catalogues? Do you think it is time to
stop using the Dewey Decimal Classification System or Library of Congress Classification schema? 

(For earlier comments about catalogs, see late Feb, early March 2012.)

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