Weekly Response 6 — Diana Rosenthal

I really appreciated the breadth covered by our readings this week. I was drawn at first to Hjørland’s piece because the title is a question I’ve had in my mind since starting library school. How much will people rely on how items are cataloged in libraries if they are using the Internet to search for things? I stopped myself from reading this piece first and started instead with the readings that tackled the foundations of classification. I appreciated Steckel’s article on Ranganathan and his methodologies for “classification, management, reference, administration” and other subjects, as well as the Straight Dope piece on Dewey. Both provided succinct backgrounds on two of the biggest names in this discipline. It was also interesting to get a perspective on Dewey from an obvious fan; I feel like the majority of what I’ve been exposed to so far has been largely critical of the Dewey Decimal System. Though I can see the flaws of DDC and the Library of Congress system, I’m happy to view both of these systems through many lenses to get a better picture of how they are useful and how they can be improved.

After getting a better understanding of the history of classification and the true necessity of it in order to organize knowledge, I returned to Hjørland. Early in his piece, he talks about the abandonment of classification by the Royal Library in Copenhagen and the State Library in Aarhus. The reasons those two Danish institutions left cataloging behind center on their belief that global services, like WorldCat, make it possible to obtain disseminated MARC records for items, while large scanning projects will eventually make full text of “all available content” possible, and user tagging “will somehow act as a substitute for professional indexing and classification.”

My reactions to these ideas are on both sides of the argument. As a future librarian, I’m somewhat appalled at the idea of banking on scanning projects that may not happen for many years (or at all based on copyright issues) and user tagging to accurately depict information about items that will be useful for all patrons. Anyone who has used social media can understand what a bad idea relying on the general public for the only information about something could be! On the other hand, I think it’s smart of libraries to acknowledge the modern user and to realize that most people will encounter WorldCat via Google before the individual library’s OPAC.

I’ve come away from these readings with more respect for the foundations of cataloging, while also appreciating the challenge of incorporating these (possibly antiquated) rules into the digital world.

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About Diana Rosenthal

Scientific publications editor and archivist at the American Museum of Natural History with a Master of Science in Library and Information Science from Pratt Institute. New York City enthusiast.

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