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.


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