Weekly Response 7 — Diana Rosenthal

I really enjoyed this week’s readings and the concepts behind radical cataloging. Though not a library setting, the artifact catalog in the Anthropology Division at the American Museum of Natural History has undergone changes to incorporate the languages of native peoples in order to facilitate keyword searches. This is just one step in renovating the existing catalog and relates to Drabinski’s article. Drabinski points out that the language problem within the Library of Congress system is not the only issue at hand; the “structural limitations of library classifications” also need to be addressed.

It seems like a tall order to revamp classification on a structural level, and I’m wondering if addressing the language of subject headings and thesauri may be the best first step. I wonder if the Library of Congress system could start to undergo frequent updates, similar to how Merriam-Webster (and other dictionaries) releases new editions with changes to word usage and definitions based on the evolution of language. Though it’s a Band-Aid on a larger issue, it does seem better than acknowledging the prejudices within the cataloging system and not doing anything to remove them.

We’ve also talked about this before, but the subjectivity involved in cataloging is an inherent problem that will continue to persist. Drabinski points out “it is the nature of subject analysis to be subjective.” So what is the answer to the issues highlighted by Sanford Berman and others? It seems that the best option is teaching librarians to think critically and to admit the shortcomings of the system in order to best serve all patrons.

I also liked Freedman and Kauffman’s chapter on DIY zine cataloging. I’m not too familiar with zines, and I found this to be a very approachable guide to cataloging them–and doing the medium justice. It also made me think about how useful it would be if there were similar guides for other special materials. I think it would be great if there was a cataloging guide for special items written by people who care about those items a lot, in order to highlight the most important fields and the different “issues” that will be encountered by catalogers, like the use of pen names or first names in the case of zine authors.

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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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