So, in a name authority record, the birth and death dates of a person are often added:

Gorey, Edward, 1925-2000

For living persons, a birth date is often added and left open:

Winterson, Jeanette, 1959-

When a living person whose date has been left open dies, the death date can be added. But you need a source of information to cite in the authority record, saying where you got the death date information. Hence, a post from an LC cataloger on RadCat:

I can probably add the death date, but I have to quote something as a source. I have been known to attend funerals and add death dates taken from the service leaflets.

That is dedication and that is why I love cataloging and catalogers.

(I’d just link to the post, but you have to sign in to access the archives. The post was made on Thu, 17 Apr 2008, has the subject “date of death,” so if you are a list member, you can go look. Since the RadCat archives are closed and I can’t find a list statement of policy on quoting list posts in other places, I’m leaving the author name off.)


I think Martha Yee is swiftly becoming one of my heroes.

Anyone who writes a new set of cataloging rules as an alternative to AACR2/RDA gets props from me.

I’ve looked at her rules a bit, and I like the way in which they are written, but I haven’t had a chance to dig into them in detail. I’ve been telling myself I’ll do that “this summer.”

It is dawning on me that the number of things I have told myself I will do “this summer” has become a bit unrealistic. A serious plan is in order.


This morning I finally got around to reading Thomas Mann’s most recent essay, “The Peloponnesian War and the Future of Reference, Cataloging, and Scholarship in Research Libraries” [.pdf].

HIGHLY recommended for everyone who has anything to do with research libraries.

Recommended for anyone because just in reading it, I learned one bibliographic research trick I didn’t know before (which could have been saving me LOADS of time recently).

Basically, this essay is a passionate yet reasoned, articulate argument that the direction many researchers/theoreticians in our field and library managers seem convinced is the right one for research libraries is an assault on the culture of scholarship and the ability to conduct scholarly research.

Keyword searching, relevance ranking, folksonomies, federated search, etc are useful additions to our systems, and are obvious good solutions for the Web. But they are not acceptable substitutes for professional subject cataloging and all of the structure it brings to the catalog and the library’s carefully built collections.

It is dangerous to conflate the the needs of person doing a quick information search with the scholar doing scholarly research, who engages in an intensive process of iterative information seeking and knowledge building.

Libraries are based on principles that serve the needs of scholars. Are we ready to admit that scholarship is archaic, unnecessary, and not worth supporting in today’s world? In today’s market? It’s not sexy. It’s not quick and easy. The cash value of it isn’t readily apparent.

I think LIS educators should definitely read this, and not just those who teach subject cataloging. It is highly relevant to reference and bibliographic instruction as well.

We need to continue to teach and champion the power and relevance of the principles on which libraries are based, without either clinging to the way things have been done in the past or claiming that everything needs to change.

(and this post is an example of why i don’t blog more. i’ve spent far too much time on it and it is still all over the place and doesn’t make my point well. practice?)

favorite new/changed lcsh : March 21, 2007

150 Animal carcasses in art [Not Subd Geog] [sp2007001374]

150 Dignity in literature [Not Subd Geog] [sp2007001471]

150 Godzilla films [sp 86005141 ]
* 550 BT Motion pictures CANCEL

(A) 150 Mexican Mafia [May Subd Geog] [sp2007001375]
450 UF Eme, La
450 UF La Eme
550 BT Gangs

(A) 150 Thou (The English word) [sp2007001391]
550 BT English language–Etymology

150 Vampire films [sp 85141947 ]
* 550 BT Motion pictures CANCEL…

another talk.

Today I attended the following:

EXPRESSIVITY VS. UNIFORMITY: Are controlled vocabularies dead, and if not, should they be?
When: 1:00 to 2:00pm April 2nd, 2007
Where: Pleasants Family Room in Wilson LibraryFrom Dr. Haas: ‘Controlled vocabularies, nomenclatures, LC or MeSH subject headings have a long history in LIS. They make classification, categorization, aggregation, sorting, and other operations easier. But with the rise of folksonomy, recommendors, improved natural language processing techniques and other technologies, are they needed any more, or are they just stifling the creativity of our expression?’

Pretty much everyone agrees. We need both. Different needs call for different means. And it’ll be really cool if we can get systems that actually leverage the metadata (in whatever form) in intuitive, useful ways.

And when we get to the lovechild-combinations of controlled vocabularies and all these tags and so forth… that’ll be really nifty.

As an aside… I’m always curious at the reaction to the use of the word “control” in bibliographic control, or controlled vocabularies. As if control were automatically a bad thing, or at the very least somehow un-PC or something. Control can be a very good thing! Air traffic control! Keeping people and things from going every which way can be very important, and good. We want to know what books we have, how they are related, and where they are–this means we want them to be controlled. We don’t want to use 18 words for one concept, so we want vocabulary control. We are not talking about mind control here. (footnotebegin)I haven’t read it yet (it’s on the list), but the idea I’ve gotten from reading several reviews of Stumbling on Happiness is that it has some interesting things to say about the human desire to feel in control…(footnoteend)

This reaction is often displayed along with some discomfort with “labeling things” or “putting them in bins” or “categorizing things,” as if to do so is a) avoidable (footnotebegin)Categorizing things is a foundational part of our perception and cognition! (footnoteend), and b) by necessity negative, imposing some sort of intellectual hegemony.

Rare is the person these days who would claim that any classification, category scheme, or set of terms actually represents The True Way Things Are. Each is a just tool for a particular application, and there’s no reason why such a scheme cannot be flexible and responsive and include multiple perspectives through reference structures and such. I’m not claiming that they always are flexible and responsive (I know better), but, they *could* be.

rambly blatherings

Getting around to reading the Brief Meeting Summary of the Users and Uses of Bibliographic Data Meeting on March 8, 2007 in Mountain View, CA by Nancy J. Fallgren.

Some thoughts pop up, not even necessarily about bibliographic control…

1. The need for good, browseable representations of domains of knowledge that can be incorporated into our systems. This is triggered by the quoted stat that 77% of users that are novices in both the system and the domain in which they are searching. Because you have to know what you are searching for before you know how to search or make judgments about what you have found. I start thinking about the domain analytic approach (footnotebegin)Hjørland, Birger, and Hanne Albrechtsen. 1995. Toward a New Horizon in Information-Science – Domain-Analysis. Journal of the American Society for Information Science 46, no. 6: 400-425.
Hjørland, Birger. 2002. Domain Analysis in Information Science – Eleven Approaches – Traditional as Well as Innovative. Journal of Documentation 58, no. 4: 422-62.(footnoteend) and how it could be applied. If we could generate outlines of domains, incorporating links to authoritative overviews and most cited works. The historic development of the domain, including the development of new schools/theories and schisms in thinking and etc. The basic topic clumps covered, as the domain defines them. (footnotebegin)I’m kind of primed on this right now, being in the early-ish stages of delving into a new topic, the boundaries of which go far outside my own disciplinary knowledge and areas of expertise. I’ve been fantasizing about the tools I wish existed.(footnoteend) Kind of like a pathfinder + encyclopedia article on steroids. Or maybe you just work on improving the Wikipedia article and pull that into the system/link to it. But mostly, just thinking on how to push on incorporating good domain representations into retrieval systems… including some of Burke’s points mentioned in the report.

2. It warms my heart to see the importance and need for good/better authority data mentioned several times. In a former life, I dreamed of being an authorities cataloger, you know…

3. How the ever-increasing speed of knowledge generation highlights the need for “a balance …between more authoritative assertions and assertions that might be made through a diverse range of sources, including users.” This is definitely true. But. Yesterday on the train, Josh and I were discussing some of the difficulties in finding such a balance. How to handle the editing/versioning of bibliographic descriptions when you have multiple user groups (expert, item creators, end users, etc) being able to edit the data? Whose edits win/persist? And more… I can’t help but think that it’s going to be a hard (impossible?) sell to get Librarians to want to trust/have anything to do with records that have been created/edited by Joe Schmoe on the Interweb. I have big trouble with the idea, despite my desire to embrace it.

4. What would really, really be cool is to harness citation information in all sorts of bibliographic systems… this is necessary to do stuff like identifying inter-textuality and the strands of work in a domain, and the historical development, and who/what have been the landmarks. There’s ISI, but don’t get me started on them right now. Still, pretty much all the rich citation data in books (pretty much where the humanities happen) is all locked up, to my knowledge. Switching focus a bit, I of course go back to my old rant about all the work to be done on citations and managing them and reusing them in a sane fashion, in the individual information environment, shared groups, etc.

5. There’s a mention of scholars tagging each other. Terrell?

6. This goes on to mention one suggestion to eliminate “LCSH in favor of keywords and social tagging by faculty and subject selectors, experts in their fields.” Um, what are you going to scrape off the faculty’s collective plate so they can have time to do the library’s subject cataloging work? Oh, it’s just going to be another thing faculty are expected to do? Hmm… Will our volume/quality of content tagging count toward review/tenure? No? Where is the motivation to make this work?

7. Is MARC too complex? It’s a dinosaur as far as encoding information goes, but… if you really want to be able to exchange bibliographic data between all levels of stakeholders, you need all the data there, and MARC’s complexity stems from the myriad bibliographic situations that need to be represented. It can probably be streamlined and specified in such a way that the data are easier to work with, but think about the bibliographic universe for five minutes and it’s obviously incredibly complex. There need to be easy/automated ways of collapsing complex bibliographic data into friendlier user representations, or simpler records for applications/organizations that don’t need the full deal. But the whole representation also needs to exist in an interoperable format if all the different needs of different stakeholders are going to be met.

Andrew Pace says that Bibliographic Control Has a Future. I hope so. What we do know is that it has a working group.

I am, of course, very keen on harnessing the power of computational analysis of data to create richer, better forms/methods/systems of bibliographic control. But I have a hard time believing that computational analysis will be able to replace the human analysis of authority data with an acceptable level of control. I am not that much of a technological optimist.

I’m not willing to cede the importance of striving for Cutter’s collocating objective (recall). I don’t want to lose the structure of the catalog. I want it to be augmented with all the cool things we can do now, but I’m too much of a pedant to be comfortable with doing away with series control, or trusting that algorithms are going to be able to accurately disambiguate and reference between names, bibliographic identities, subject terms/tags/headings, titles, works, etc. The more you think about these problems across the reality of the bibliographic universe, the more complicated and messy they seem to become (which is a large part of the fun).

I like the idea of large, distributed groups handling the work that humans do best. In one sense, we already do it through OCLC, but that has its own nest of problems. LibraryThing has shown that this is a viable and useful way to handle authority work out in the open. Lots of people in librarianship are thinking/dreaming/working in this general direction. I think it’s obvious this the way it’s going to have to go. I’m curious, hopeful, nervous about whether we are going to get to “The Future” without losing too much of what is valuable in bibliographic control. Or ending up with more corporate/proprietary control over the results of the work of catalogers (librarian or not).

Anyway, I look forward to following the activities of the working group. Karen Coyle made copious and excellent notes on the meeting on Uses and Users, though I haven’t yet had time to really digest them. Her summary is here. Preceding posts detail individual presentation.