McMaster University Libraries: Transforming our Future

September 7, 2006

The Future of Cataloguing? — Part 2

Filed under: cataloging,cataloguing,LC Subject Headings,library systems,Search Engines — by ultransform @ 11:19 am

It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted part 1. In that post, I touched on some of the common themes emerging from my readings of various papers on the future of catalogues and cataloguing.

As I mentioned there, I think we need to give serious thought to these common strategies. In particular, I think we need to put greater emphasis on describing our unique resources, whether that’s Research Collections; theses, SEDAP, and other products of McMaster scholarship; or collections of research and teaching resources held by the Faculties and other parts of the University community.

There are a number of other ideas that have turned up in my reading. Here are a few:

Consider description an ongoing process

Change the workflow from the traditional process of acquire–catalogue–put on shelf to acquire–put on shelf with existing description–begin ongoing enhancement of description using “iterative automated query of metadata sources” (California, 25).

I’m not sure how we do this one. Perhaps some of our e-resources have online sources of description that we could tap into for updates.

Abandon LCSH and MeSH

Some authors suggest that we rely more on subject keywords rather than authority controlled subject headings. Other proposals in this area call for “encourag[ing] research and development into automatic subject analysis” and consideration of “whether automated enriched metadata such as TOC [tables of contents], indexes can become surrogates for subject headings and classification for retrieval” (Calhoun, 18; California, 24).

Many library-folk have problems with this. For my part, I see subject analysis as one of the big “value-added” aspects of cataloguing. It gives our users the ability to pull together resources in a variety of languages and formats in a single result set.

Concerns have also been raised about losing the “I know it when I see it” aspect of access and retrieval. Keyword searching gives results containing terms specified by the user. It doesn’t, except by chance, provide relevant items containing other terms the user hasn’t thought of.

Watching the Endeca search engine demo a while back and looking at North Carolina State University’s use of it with their catalogue, I see possibilities for LCSH and MeSH to be more useful. Try a keyword search in the NCSU catalogue and look at the results page. Click around on some of the links. Share your thoughts!

For physical resources there’s also the “mark and park” problem–they still have to go somewhere on the shelf. How do we determine the appropriate classification (i.e. shelving location) without doing subject analysis? Are there other ways to locate physical resources that would better serve our users?

Replace local catalogues with shared catalogues

Rather than each library purchasing and maintaining a system like Horizon and constructing its own catalogue, some are advocating a union catalogue approach.

Could we contract with OCLC to provide a customized view of FirstSearch for our public searching and catalogue directly in OCLC?

Could the members of OCUL (the Ontario Council of University Libraries) share a single catalogue and give our users the choice of searching one library, all of them, or some combination of their choosing? Getting all of the players to agree on something like this would be the first challenge, but it could have interesting results.

Radical Solutions

Those familiar with the current cataloguing environment will recognize these ideas as more fundamental changes to our existing practice than those discussed in Part 1. Support for these ideas has been less widespread, but they are provoking lots of discussion. And discussion is what it’s about right now. Should we be looking at a more fundamental change to our practices? What other outside-the-box solutions are available to us? And how do we get there from here?


Wade Wyckoff


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