Monthly Archives: March 2014

Next Generation OPACs

Within the Next Generation OPACs article, I found the comparisons between first and second generation the most interesting.  For example, the fact that first-generation catalogs were designed for people who had originally used card catalogs, and then later generation OPACs added features like keyword searching.  I also found that the three-fold task described by Bowen is a clear-cut and straightforward description of the evolution that cataloging practice needs.  Those needs being to make cataloging tools accessible, to facilitate access to digital and print, and to create records suitable for use in a digital environment.  One section that I found particularly hard to grasp described browsing as a distinct strategy.  To me, browsing always seemed to directly defy the definition of strategy.  I think that some aspects of this article were a bit hard to understand, especially in this case, but overall I’m glad to have gotten a slightly deeper context of some of these ideas.



After reading the short Chowdhury chapter on the subject headings I am thoroughly confused. I understand the headings and how they work. I also feel that they are elemental to being able to search and cross search things. However I kind of don’t understand how these can continue to be relevent. Don’t new headings need to constantly be created in order to keep up with the new types of books that are being published? It just seems like a lot of work for someone…

Svenonius – Chapter 8: Subject Languages

I am writing a brief entry on this chapter.  I have no doubt that Elaine Svenonius is a brilliant professor of Library Information Science.  I am also certain that for many, her book, The Intellectual Foundation of Information Organization, is must reading.  Thus, it saddens me that I found the language, the writing, the style, to be filled with so many layers of opacity that the book screams, “Go away – unless you are already an experienced librarian.”

Here is an example of one sentence from our reading under the heading of Library Warrant – Page 135:

“Library warrant, a concept introduced by Wyndham Hulme in 1911, has the status of a  principle.  A subprinciple of the principle of representation, it enjoins that the vocabulary of a subject language be empirically derived from the literature it is intended to describe.”

Sure it does.  If that sentence had been written in Swahili I would have had an easier time getting to its intended meaning.  After making my way through the 7,000 words in this chapter, I hopped over to Google Scholar, found a summary, and called it a day.

Here’s part of the summary that describes what is going on in this chapter:

“The primary organizing device is description using bibliographic languages which can be analyzed in terms of vocabulary, semantics, syntax and pragmatics (terms, meanings,  combination of terms, and language application rules).”

Twenty-eight words and I came away with greater clarity than from the 7,000.  (Thankfully, there is one perfectly clear statement at the beginning of the chapter:  “A subject language is used to depict what a document is about.”)


New Generation OPACs

A patron walks into the library.  She walks past four rows of OPAC computers – none of which are in use.  Her journey ends in front of the Information/Reference desk where the following conversation takes place:

Patron:  I’m looking for something on ess-que-el.

Librarian:  I’m sorry, I don’t understand.  Is that the title?

Patron:  It’s ess-que-el.

Librarian:  (Now mildly annoyed.) I need to know if that is a title or a subject or an author.

Patron: (Now frustrated) It’s ESS-QUE-EL!

Finally, I step from behind a book shelf  and say to the librarian, “It stands for Structured Query Language and it is actually referred to as SQL.”  I believe the reason why the librarian did not simply type in what the patron was saying is because for those few moments the words (or the letters, as it were) did not fit into any of the established classifications (in the librarian’s mind).

So that brings us to this week’s reading (PDF attached) that heavily references the work of Christine Borgman’s 1996 article (PDF also attached).  One of the primary points made in these readings is that the 2nd generation OPACs (in use today) still rely on 1) keywords and 2) Boolean searching.  The theory is put forth that the reason that OPACs are difficult to use is because “their design does not incorporate sufficient understanding of searching behavior.”  The author from our reading (Naun) relays Miss Borgman’s point that the three things for a successful search – conceptual knowledge, semantic knowledge, and technical skills may not be part of the end user’s (patron’s) linqua franca.

Now, [Drum Roll] we have what looks like the next generation of OPACS in the form of a software company called Endeca and their state-of-the-art commercial search engine called Information Access Platform (IAP) that is being used by North Carolina State University (NCSU).  I will save my further input on this for our in-class discussion – but one of the most remarkable features may be the fact that you can begin a search with no keyword at all!  And thus, it simulates browsing in the library.



Why Online Catalogs_Borgman1


Syllabus Update

Just a note that there is a new syllabus uploaded on the blog. The next three class sessions will now be:

  • April 1: Subject Analysis
  • April 8: Data and Information Organization
  • April 15: Documentalist Movement

In addition, please note the due dates for your in-class collection and for your final project presentations:

  • April 29: In-class collections due
    • Each group will show their collection to the class, and discuss why they made specific choices about how to catalog and display them, considering all we’ve learned this semester. We will also discuss the collections as a class.
  • May 6: Final projects due (essays & presentations)
    • Each group will present on their final project topic. You will also each turn in your individual essay portion of the final project.

That’s all!  🙂

“Teaching the Radical Catalog”

Emily Drabinski’s, “Teaching the Radical Catalog,” illuminates the inadequacies of the already in place catalog and other classified retrieval tools and systems. In order to break the cycle of “perpetuating the dominance of story “told” by the classification,” Drabinski (2008) posits for the implementation of “problem-posing education” when teaching the catalog in the library classroom. She (2008) writes, “Instead of passively teaching classifications, a critical library instruction program might instead teach students to engage critically with the classification as text, encouraging critical thought in relation to the tools” (p.204). Now, while I believe it is important for library students to have an understanding of the catalog and other classification tools and systems, I agree with Drabinski (2008) that students should be taught to “engage with the classification as text” (p.204). I also believe that “problem-posing education” and critical thinking (Drabinski, 2008) should be extended beyond a classification class to other library courses.

Teaching the Radical Catalog


I found this weeks’ readings really engaging. I had never considered how cataloging is a human process as Drabinski mentions in “Teaching the radical catalog.” The subject headings assigned to a book, article etc. could be created/ decided upon by only one person. This led me to think about how important the education of future catalogers is. If a future cataloger is aware of racial, gender, and sexuality issues in cataloging then perhaps they will make different choices when classifying things and eventually change the whole system. I also began to think about how cataloging can inform users’ perceptions, and thus perhaps even become a seed of change.


Teaching the Radical Catalog

I had Emily Drabinski for my Reference class last semester, and reading her article was a happy reminder of how she brought a critical rigor to a topic that otherwise can be a bit dry. Knowledge organization, cataloging, and the very structure of the English language are all rooted in the hegemonic, patriarchal, white supremacist Western tradition. I agree that librarians should not be promoting an ignorance about the ways in which this is occurring; biased language structures are universalized and made invisible through our education for a great portion of our lives.

“We cannot do a classification scheme objectively; it is the nature of subject analysis to be subjective.” I love this point, that classification is a subjective act, and that taking this fact for granted is dangerous. Hierarchical structures are loaded with meaning, when we gather what is the same and separate what is different or secondary to a subject. I’m interested in methods of faceted classification that take user input/folksonomies into consideration. Of course, classification is still necessary, for search engines and information indexing algorithms have not yet supplanted this need. There is far too much information to make sense of. Still, there needs to be a way for subjects to be accessed (especially historically sensitive ones) without coming up against top-down hierarchical erasure.

Webster/Doyle – Don’t Class Me In Antiquities!

I was especially excited about this week’s readings because radical cataloging is the subject we have for our project. Every article is different and interesting, and I like how a lot of them stray away from the conventional form of the traditional published academic article.

This essay switches between the two authors, one American and one Canadian, each writing about their own experiences with Native American materials in the library. What struck me first was the fact that it literally switches back and forth between authors, with their initials before a block of text indicating who is writing, so it feels kind of like you’re reading a conversation. I’ve never seen anything like this in an article or essay written by two authors before, and I thought it was pretty neat.


Continue reading Webster/Doyle – Don’t Class Me In Antiquities!