Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Dodgy Stuff

I am with Alice.....I did not like Chris Dodge's Utne Reader article at all. I didn't disagree with all his points but I definitely did not like how it was written.

It's all well and good to revere Sandy Berman and the work he did at Hennepin County Library (and continues to do on his own) but to use that as an optic for a supposedly big picture article on the future of public libraries is a bit much--and disingenuous.

Ordinary people do not search subject headings, Berman or LCSH. They search key words. Using Dodge's example of "menstrual cramps" (whaa-aa? Couldn't he think of a better phrase than this?) as a bound phrase in the keyword index of WorldCat, I got 29 records, not the one German-language item Chris's subject search revealed. Using the "libraries" limiters on Yahoo! and Google I still found 10 items (Yahoo!) and 18 (Google) served up through Open WorldCat.

So, I say Chris Dodge should have done his homework instead of indulging in low-level scaremongering. Mind you, Utne lost my respect and my subscription back in the late 90s when they published a booklet on how to survive Y2K that was full of the silliest, most uninformed drivel about the "potentially enormous and unknown global challenge ."

I am much fonder of this vision of the future of libraries which includes "Die Bibliothèque d'amis: an intimate public library for friends, which provides space for a good conversation about literature."

Addendum @8:35pm EDT: My husband--bless his pragmatist soul--pointed out that few ordinary people would be searching for whole books on menstrual cramps. A researcher or scientist would use the formal term and those of us who might suffer would be looking for much more immediate information than could be found in books.


jessamyn said...

Ordinary people do not search subject headings but when faced with an interface where the options are title/author/subject/keyword many of them will gravitate towards "subject" because they are fairly certain they know what it means, even if they might be mistaken.

I'd be really interested to know which parts of this article you think are "scaremongering".

Everyone is jostling to have their view of the future of libraries be the accepted metaphor for how we move forward and many people have many different dogs in the fight that are closely wrapped up with their professional identities. Dodge has staked out his social justice angle as an important area of concern as we move towards whole new [often fee-based] models for information delivery and I think his message is an important one.

Anonymous said...

subject headings add useful keywords to records that otherwise wouldn't be there. Certainly when all texts are online in 3050 we won't need them, but until then, they are quite useful still. Whenever I hear about libraries of the future I think, "Um, like, I still read books, and I've had a computer for 10 years, so..."