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.