Posted tagged ‘Subject Headings’


April 28, 2009

I’ve been joking about formalizing this for awhile so I might as well talk about it here.  We have a sort of unofficial subject hierarchy in my library that comes up any time a reasonable case can be made for placing an item under two different subjects.  Biographies beat professions, drug addicts beats biographies, sports beat drug addicts, pets beat everything.

But every now and again a real stumper comes along, and so I give you Crystal Clear, the memoir of hocker player/snowboarder/crystal meth addict/mountaineering accident survivor Eric Le Marque.  By our unwritten formula I think this’ll wind up in hockey (the bigger of the two sports, particularly since he played for the local team), but that’s also probably the least significant of the options.

Some people just need to lead less interesting lives, for the sake of us catalogers at least.

Losing Control

December 8, 2008

Let’s talk about controlled vocabularies for a bit.  Librarians love them, patrons get frustrated by them, and us techno-geeks just get annoyed that we have to keep having this debate in the first place (yes I’m a cataloger, but try to ignore that for the duration of this post).

So, here’s the two sides.  On one end, we need to limit the terminology for subject headings to avoid confusion between similar terms and ensure that.  Thus materials that would otherwise be sorted into cooking, cookery, cookbooks, and cooks all gets grouped together in a single place (of course given the option we selected the worst label of the bunch).

On the other a controlled vocabulary is very limiting.  If you don’t know that cookery happens to be the chosen term then the difficulty of searching the catalog skyrockets.  A smart system (and most are capable of this) will then bring the user to a screen saying something like “please use cookery instead”.

The solution to this confusion as things currently stand is user tagging.  It’s not a great solution really, but considering that the alternative is recataloging every item in every database out there, it’s the lesser of evils.  Problem still being that many in the profession fear that compromising the integrity of our carefully controlled vocabulary will ultimately throw out our quality control.

This is a ridiculous notion because there’s absolutely no reason the two data sets can’t co-exist.  With the technology available to us we should be able to provide the means of allowing our patrons to search however they see fit, as long as they are able to use those tools successfully.  It really shouldn’t matter if someone wants to search for the tag “dogs” or the subject heading “canines” if they’ll both work.

So can we please get over this fight and start making some progress at last.

Flame War!

November 26, 2008

Yes, I’m on vacation, but I just had to share a bit of cataloging humor courtesy of Thingology.  Enjoy

Q & A

November 24, 2008

For something a little different, a user question from Daniel:

Why do libraries group graphic novels/comics in trade paperback all in one category, rather than have them delineated into categories similar to – if not within – those of the rest of the library. What I mean is, why not put something non-fiction, say a memoir like Blankets, or Fun Home, in the non-fiction/memoir section, instead of simply alongside other comics. Is it simply something to do with ISBNs, or along those lines? I ask because I have always wondered this, and think that such a categorization of comics would be beneficial in the long run to their growth in libraries and academia. Not all, but much of what is in a library seems to be organized by content, not form; besides that, it just seems silly to have to wade through a bunch of superhero junk to find the great, literary-quality graphic novels (and I say that as a huge reader and weekly purchaser of said-superhero-junk). Anyway, thanks for your time!

First of all Daniel, thank you for asking, this is actually a huge pet peeve of mine.  I actually wrote a paper back in my cataloging class arguing that no one has figured out how to handle comic correctly.  That was 4 years ago and not much has changed in that time.  Basically the problem is that cataloging practices change at a pace that could perhaps best be described as glacial, especially in regards to call numbers and subject headings.  And comics are a form that are relatively new and annoyingly unfamiliar to many in the profession so problems happen.

On to the long answer.  I work with Dewey at my library and I’m most familiar with it, so I’ll use that as the example.  The Dewey Decimal system was not designed with much room for future expansion and all newer subjects had to be shoehorned into it somewhere, and not all of these have been done well.  The books on computers are particularly awful, getting forced into the early 000’s, pretty much just because there was unused space there.  

Comics are another of these, but in this case they’re also done a disservice by the library of congress subject headings.  All comics get labeled as “comic books, strips, etc…”, and if that’s assigned to a book then it’s bound to be assigned the respective call number while undergoing its CIP (cataloging in publication) entry by the library of congress.  Libraries are not bound to use this information at all, but pretty much everyone takes it under advisement, and many have their books automatically labeled by the distributors they use, who all use CIP data.

So that’s the call number side of things, but still leaves the arguement about the best way to group these items.  My own take is actually to continue keeping all comics/graphic novels in a single location, because a lot of patrons do single them out and because they lend themselves to slightly different cataloging practices (i.e. shelve spider-man by titles instead of author), but to treat that collection as one which can be subdivided into fiction and the various non-fiction numbers (i.e. comics/920/Thompson for Blankets).  But I have thus far failed to convince anyone at my own library that that’s the way to go so make of it what you will.

So there, a long answer and not a terribly good one, but I hope it helps to show how libraries can occasionally fail to work.  But at least it’s a problem we’re aware of and which many are fighting to resolve.

Lycanthropes Need Subject Headings Too!

October 8, 2008

Finally! A perfect to defend my byline.  My favorite call number 001.942, is a catch all for the paranormal, including UFOs and cryptids.  Which brings me to the best autocat discussion in ages, “subject headings for shape shifters, lycanthropes, and other were-whatevers”.  The majority of the discussion has focused on a need for headings for lycanthropes (including were-jaguars and were-horses) and therianthropes, with one person pointing out the Changelings of DS9 fame and another the Pod People (who I’d classify as shape stealers, but not shifters as they remain in the one form once they settle on it).

But this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Shape shifting is such a common ability after all, and it takes many different forms.  The Changelings are a great example as they can shift into just about anything at will.  But then you’ve also got your Dr. Jekyll and Incredible Hulk type shifters (who change from a person to a larger person).  There’s the Thing, another shape-stealer, but one that isn’t locked into one identity.  Vampires can usually shape shift, but I guess vampirism trumps that ability.  There are the truly odd ones, such as the Quiz from the Brotherhood of Dada (who can do anything you haven’t thought of).  And then there’s John McCain (thank you Jacob for that joke).

So this is a really complex subject, and I think we need a proper taxonomic breakdown done before it can be laid to rest and we can move on to subject headings for kaiju.

Librarythingers vs. Cookery

March 31, 2008

Librarything is without a doubt my favorite website. Besides the enormous aid it was in finally get my personal catalog completed and its value as a bibliographic and readers advisory resource, it also has some of the best book forums around. And the one with the largest membership on the site is Librarians who Librarything.

You can probably expect a great deal of posts from me that will come out of this group, but today its a lively little discussion on whether or not librarians use tags in different ways from the rest of the population. In typical catalogers vs. taggers fashion this has largely focused on the warring terms cookbooks and cookery. Although the interesting twist this time is that the conversation seems to largely be librarians attempting to work out who would actually use cookery as a tag as no one in the forum would do such a thing (although according to the stats page 874 people have a total of 19,305 times).

You have no idea how much this all amuses me. Especially since I know have no choice but to use the most dreaded of all subject headings to tag this post.