Weekly Response #8 Alana Mohamed

A few weeks ago, I remember discussing how difficult it must be to get a computer to take input and process it like a human, reading into culturally understood connotations, subtexts, and colloquialisms.  When I was reading the Chowdhury chapter and Thomas Mann’s piece, I began to think that subject headings was the solution.  It did seem exhaustive, thinking through subjects that to us seem so obviously connected.  That’s why I really appreciated the Taylor chapter on subject headings and how to determine the ‘aboutness’ of a resource.  It brought up many of the issues with determining subject headings that I foresaw when reading the Chowdhury chapter, but couldn’t vocalize, as well as pointing out others I had not yet thought of.

I couldn’t help but think of our radical cataloging session with Jenna and Emily last week.  For example, when Taylor began to talk about neutrality, I remember Jenna and Emily discussing the politics of using the term ‘queer’ in cataloging.  Each generation within the LGBTQA umbrella has their own identifiers, and on top of that preferred descriptors may vary from person to person.  Jenna talked about how the word queer seems perfectly neutral for her to use when cataloging, but points out that an older gay colleague still finds it offensive.

Also, when Taylor talked about the lack of focus on ‘point of view’ when it came to describing aboutness, they say that this content characteristic is especially useful “for items that may be political in some fashion (e.g. political works, religious works, cultural treatises, works on sexuality, gender, age, socio-economic levels etc.)” which I thought was interesting in light of what Emily pointed out about searching for ‘women’ as opposed to ‘white women’ in the catalog.  Suppose we didn’t prioritize point of view for only “political” works.  Would that encourage us to reexamine what we mean by political?  Of course, I am just philosophizing.  At the end of the day, cataloging is just a job.

Taylor did a great job of getting to the intricacies of subject headings and ‘aboutness.’  I wonder now if determining subject headings should really be a one-person job.  It seems that what’s needed is the expertise of the author, the understanding of their intended audience, and then feedback from a secondary audience, to truly understand what subject headings best apply.  It seems a daunting task for one person to be that prescient about users needs.

Weekly Response Posts #8 – Subject Analyisis, Rachel Skinner-O’Neill

This week’s subject matter for the readings (no pun intended) was particularly pertinent for me given I’m still on my crusade to master searching the classic catalog at NYPL which is the preferred on-line version of the NYPL’s catalog used by the Reference Librarians in the Mapping Division to find material pertinent to Patron’s (mainly students and researchers) queries/interests. Just this week I’ve been shown a couple of ways, one using the advanced search option and the other just keying in one or two “keywords” and then clicking on the LCSH that appears as starting points to a search. Thanks to the Chowdhury chapter I now have a much clearer idea of the way subject indexing systems are classified as pre-coordinated and post-coordinated systems and what this actually means in terms of the way keywords are combined in the former and not in the latter to assist in searching the catalog. The value of pre-coordinated subject strings is emphasized in the Mann article and was brought home to me even further when I commented on this week’s readings to colleagues, one of whom declared the problem with thinking of the Library catalog in the same way as one might a browser such as Google, is that “Patrons use so many search terms they wind up with nothing (they want to look at)”, the message would seem to be to keep things simple.

Seemingly at the other end of the spectrum from simple but with a huge “wow” factor is the NYPL Subject Heading Network created by Matt Miller to show the extent of the Steven A. Schwarzman Building’s collection – it’s a pretty amazing project and great fun to peruse. Miller blogs about the process here. Below is a screen shot of the NYPL Subject Heading Network – click the link to experience the “wow”!

NYPL Subject Heading Network
NYPL Subject Heading Network

Weekly Response– Cataloguing Woes

Thomas Mann’s article “Why LC headings are more important ever” are a great follow-up to last weeks discussion since we all talked about our issue with cataloguing. It seems like all at some point we’ve discovered an issue with our research, as students and as future librarians. Since librarians rarely interact in the classroom, students aren’t taught early on about subject headings or how to use search engines in general. Even before library school, I would frequently type in my search parameters into a general search bar and come up with more frustration rather then answers. It seems to Mann this lack of education to our users is what is hurting cataloguers the most since they are an underused resource. Even Taylor’s chapter suggests the money that could be used towards cataloguers can be better put to use towards a digitization project. As an archivist, digitization of materials is still incredibly important, but since I’ve recently started a cataloguing internship, it has become quite clear its an undervalued resource.

Even cataloguing internationally is an issue. In the US (as we also discussed in the last class), are not recognized well in terms of where international books are cataloguing. For example, French books are commonly catalogued under PT (which is also the French work for toilet paper). While it may be just a coincidence, religious texts receive a a similar treatment by also being listed under BS. While the aspect of subject headings is incredibly not shown to our users, where books are cataloged also matters so as to not offend our patrons. It should be our job to teach our patrons how to use the libraries for their research, so they are educated and know how to use databases.

Katherine M: Weekly Response Post

The Thomas Mann article describes the benefits of OPAC browse displays for LCSH, which I continued to relate back to current web search features (still in the early stages of development at the time of publication — 2003).  A point he argues in various ways:

A system [OPAC browse display] that enables people simply to recognize what they cannot specify beforehand is crucial to LCSH’s functioning as an adequate search tool….The problem is that web-type search engines do not allow researchers to simply recognize arrays of relevant options whose existence they could not guess in advance.

This was exemplified by a simple query, “Yugoslavia” and “history”, to which a number of subject headings were listed for the patron through the display. As a comparison, I applied the same search to Google. The predicted terms were “war”, “break up” and “map.” To the right of the page display were a number of quick facts from the Wikipedia page where a linked table provided cursory summaries of all of the sections listed in Mann’s subject headings with the exception of Yearbooks.

As part of the conclusion, Mann notes: “Evidently it is thought that comparable precision can be achieved nowadays by simply throwing more elements–either controlled or uncontrolled–into greatly extended Boolean combinations.” He goes on to state that this leads to “pitiful results” and most readers are “not sophisticated in thinking up which terms need to be employed.”  The motivation for writing this article seemed to be out of desire to support the most efficient option for patron use but the voice denigrates user habits without seeming to have foresight into the future of web searching.

Weekly response

Thomas Mann makes a compelling point about the importance of LC subject headings and the value of the librarian cataloger. He writes that “a system that enables people simply to recognize what they cannot specify beforehand is crucial” because, without this capability, “researchers will routinely settle for whatever comes up…even if their misguided specification of terms causes them to miss the best material.” His assessment of why librarians are susceptible to unwarranted criticism — the prospect of being labeled old-fashioned and misguided feedback in a new web environment — is valid.

But if subject headings optimize search, why is Google and its keyword search so popular? A qualitative study suggests that students favor simplicity and ease and are willing to put up with irrelevant results.

Maybe there is value in both types of search. Subjects headings are useful to display different context on the same topic. Keywords are fundamental to the web environment and are great for quick searches.

Weekly Response Post – Elizabeth Frank

I wish that Thomas Mann, like the Chowdhurys, had provided a more screen shots to illustrate his point in his article “Why LC Subject Headings Are More Important Than Ever.”  He showed his results but not the unpopulated subject browse feature.  I’ve never seen an unpopulated OPAC subject browse feature and had to google “What does an OPAC subject browse feature look like?” (which is kind of ironic) to see what he was talking about.  (I also had to google “LCSH red books” since he refers to the “red books” so casually.)  Additionally, I was flummoxed by the example he gave regarding the search for Yugoslavia and history.  His search turned up many results, but none of them were actually “Yugoslavia history,” which was what the library patron was searching for.  All in all, I found the entire article confusing — perhaps natural, since I am a library student and established librarians are the target audience — I also felt that he failed to prove his argument that “LC Subject Headings Are More Important Than Ever.”  What he proved was that subject headings are important.  He describes as a “crucial need” the maintenance of “browse displays of precoordinated strings in the OPAC environment,” but I don’t see what is threatening it.  Is there a working group out there trying to turn OPAC into Google?

The Taylor chapter, which spells out the terms at hand, was much clearer.  “There is evidence that cataloguers using the same controlled vocabulary and the same rules for applying it will produce consistent subject headings, as long as they have the same understanding of the aboutness of the item to draw upon.”  So, it doesn’t have to LC.  This won’t help Mann’s patron, who wants to learn about Yugoslavian history and not library science, but it became obvious in last week’s readings and discussion that LC headings are oftentimes as much the problem as the solution.

Weekly Response post – Eugene Rutigliano

Thomas Mann’s article on the importance of subject headings inadvertently raises a point that was brought up during our class discussion last week that I think is relevant to our readings. In class we came to the topic of how and why the Library of Congress takes so long to revise its subject heading. Jenna Freedman suggested that the process is prolonged for unavoidable bureaucratic reasons but that another key factor is that the LC catalogers often defend the headings’ inelasticity because they are, after all, describing the LC collection. I agree with Mann that subject heading assignment is still worthwhile because of its value for resource discovery and because there is no computer system sophisticated enough to determine aboutness with any nuance (yet). However, he uses the LCSH’s intrinsic OPAC function for the LC collection as a defense of its implementation. That same function could be construed as a limitation and used as an argument in favor of reallocating resources towards postcoordinate, faceted searching systems. LCSH is widely used because of its exhaustiveness, but there may always be some gaps in its subject relationships as it is mapped onto collections with a unique extent. Interoperability projects for linking resources between local systems could in some near future yield retrieval results that fill in some of these gaps.

Response #8: Kyle Olmon

Great to get an introduction to RadCat and its major proponents like Sanford Berman in ‘Radical Cataloging’.  I also appreciated the dialogue from the same book between Webster and Doyle as they discussed the endless marginalization of Native American resources in the current dominant classification systems. While these two chapters expose a biased system and rage against the library machine, I found more to love in the ‘Cutter & Paste’ article by Freedman and Kauffman. Sticking true to the DIY aesthetic, they provide concrete examples for  catalogers to follow and build upon when dealing with zines or other unorthodox library materials. In stark contrast is Jonathan Furner’s “Dewey deracialized” article where I got lost in the endless discussion of semantics, perspectives and definitions related to CRT. My favorite takeaway from his paper was his examination of US public libraries from before and after WWII. It looked like a very stark world through these lens:

The emphasis was on the librarian’s responsibility to select the “best” books for an elite minority of middle-class scholars, while providing the masses with a harmless source of recreation and entertainment that would keep them too busy to harbor ideas of insurrection, and inculcating in new immigrants the morals of the American who is “sober, righteous, conservative, patient, devout” [21, p. 2510].

And yet I feel that after 1945, the “ideal of freedom of access to all recorded knowledge for all people” is a worthy goal, but still currently beyond our collective reach as noted by the cats preaching RadCat the world over.


Valerie Ramshur: Weekly response week 7

Stick it to “THE MAN “ week.

This week the readings confronted the issues of race, gender and social justice that lie in cataloguing and information Organization structures. But also how do we teach students and the public to dig deeper to engage in a more meaningful way in the information they seek. Teachers and students learning together to break down the “blind to the structures of racism built into the library catalog” (Drabinski)

Since Both the DDC and LC were created by white me of a ‘certain standing ‘ at a time when their voice, vision and money was the most powerful resource, this is the structure that is in place. Necessary and problematic are the words that kept jumping out at me this week- in regards to classification. The cut and dry language of classification the “same ness “ they produce create repeat problems in this area.

Can it be changed? Is there room for more detailed and in depth classification of equal weight? How do we face the of racism and ignorance present in our cataloguing systems? – radical cataloging.

Teaching the Radical Catalog by EmilyDrabinski was interesting this quote summed up a lot for me.

“The LC list can only `satisfy’ parochial, jingoistic Europeans and North Americans, white-hued, at least nominally Christian (and preferably Protestant) in faith, comfortably situated in the middle- and higher-income brackets, largely domiciled in suburbia, fundamentally loyal to the Established Order, and heavily imbued with the transcendent, incomparable glory of Western civilization.”

Acknowledgement and Disenfranchisement is; Naming and Reclaiming Indigenous Knowledge’s in Public Institutions: by Ann M. Doyle,

The article was interesting – focusing on the experience at with the Musqueam people and First Nations library- Indigenous research methodologies and ethics. How does a culture that holds the power and intellectual property of a culture proceed in a kind of intellectual “repatriation”? How can students contribute and receive a more holistic education within their own community. By Librarian, information specialist and student working collaboratively and with a sense of interconnectedness.

I was unable to open this article -Furner, J. (2007). Dewey de-racialized: A critical race-theoretic perspective. Knowledge Organization, 34: p. 144-168.

Weekly response, Erin E. McCabe

There’s a certain severity to the judgment of “banking education” that appeals to me in the Drabinksi article, “Teaching the Radical Catalog”. While librarians and school teachers answer to some different authorities with different goals, critical assessment of a catalog’s anthropological biases expands beyond that explanation into radical learning. Education reform is such a hot button issue (especially nowadays in my hometown, Chicago – with teachers’ strikes and low income district schools closing) that it struck me as almost snuck in here under the guise of a shift in cataloging as a more or less tidy fix.

It certainly seems like the only valid option on the table. A change of heading classifications is both insufficient and completely inefficient, given the fluid nature of social evolution. Then, removing a hierarchy of categories is simply not a possibility, it runs against the very definition of classification.

I love any support for critical pedagogy but the more pessimistic side of me thinks it might actually be easier to change the headings. Afterall, we’re talking a shift in not just how patrons use the library, but in how students, or people, use their brains. It’s pretty cool that librarians can be find themselves in a pretty uniquely flexible position to start this kind of thing.