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Why Do You Ask?

From asking questions that require an answer To asking questions that require a conversation.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Media Specialist classes and Subject Headings

I am taking a class on Cataloging for Media Specialist certification purposes in the state of Georgia. I could complain about the rules for Georgia certification in the field, but what's the use. Suffice it to say at this point, Georgia has some of the most restrictive avenues for certification, and yet state test scores are 46th in the nation. Seems to me, the state Professional Standards Commission would welcome training from some other state prep programs. But that's just my opinion.

Anyway, I finish reading Everything in Miscellaneous by David Weinberger this summer. The book's title is not as accurate as perhaps Everything is Personal would be. It is not so much that information is categorized under miscellaneous as his point was information has personal meaning, and we should be learning how to categorize information for personal retrieval purposes.

So, I am "struggling" with the traditional methodology of school library cataloging practice, and the idea that our students (middle school - shoot -- k-12 really) could not care any less about how we classify information and what headings are acceptable and which sub-headings can be used, and what order is correct. I understand the idea of consistency, really I do. But my question is, when information can be so personalized, and all students can write reviews of books in our Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC), why are we so hung up on a "proper" way of organizing Subject Headings, and how can one way of organizing be consider "better" or more "correct" than another?

We are using the Sears List of Subject Headings. The Library of Congress uses their own Subject Heading List. Bloggers use their own way of tagging information. I noticed this evening that Vicki is tagging things with an hz08 tag to organize her Horizon Project 2008 material. I'm sorry, Vicki, but that is not an acceptable Subject Heading ;-)

So where are we? I'm getting a brain-full of information on how to categorizes, catagorize, and organize material based on a past paradigm. I am not saying there is no value in it. I am asking how valuable this paradigm will be for our students, or for that matter, anyone.

I seldom have students (okay never) ask me what is the correct Subject to look up when they want to find out about spiders. They conduct a generic search on "spiders" to find the books call number.

Students ask me everyday if we have a book like another book they have read. It seems that there could be some value in tagging books with an "other books like this one" list, instead of comparing subjects.

As an example I will give you this one from last week.

Student: Mr. Murry, do you have any other books about spiders?

Me: Sure. Let's go over to the non-fiction side (in the 595 area), and I'll show you what we have. [We arrive at the books]

Student: No, not those kind of spider books. I just finished reading a book to my little brother about the spider who spins the web on the farm. Then she dies at the end. He wants me to read him another one like it.

Me: Do you mean Charlotte's Web?

Student: Yeah! That's it. Do you have any other books like that one?

Me: Sure. Let's go look over on the other side of the room.
The subject headings from WorldCat for Charlotte's Web are:
Animals-Fiction (over 15,000 books on WorldCat)
Pigs-Fiction (over 2000 books on WorldCat)
Farm life-FictionFantasy
That means if I go to our OPAC, search for Charlotte's Web to see if there is anything like the book, I would have to search by those subjects. Not very likely that many middle school kids will take the time to search through all the books with such broad subjects. They will get too many books that are too young, and others too mature, that they will just go home and tell their little brother they couldn't find one.

But what if the student could begin a way to classify their own information with the help of friends, teachers, librarians that created a list of similar books instead of subject headings? Would that help? I think so. It would be personal, but useful to others if they wanted to look at the list. Shelfari works this way. It is a social network for book junkies.

I am trying to work all this stuff out in my brain. I know that what we are doing now does not seem valuable to the students (and teachers). Finding information and material is not as difficult as libraries try to make it. Most book orders we get come with full MARC records as a file we add to our OPAC, and if I can't get it that way, I can copy the information from some other library's OPAC. I just think it is work that is unimportant in a connected world. It seems like busy-work at the graduate level to me. Or maybe I'm just tired of going to school. Who knows?

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At 6:58 AM, Blogger Vicki A. Davis said...

Actually, hz08 is from THE Horizon Report -- I am on the advisory committee and that was handed to me by the committee.

The tough thing about tags is that if you use something that is too common,you get extraneous information.

I think the matter is having a standard and one that is slightly differentiated -- like if it is being done by librarians precede the tag with lib_ and then whatever the topic.

IF you look at the Horizon Wiki you'll see how they aggregate the information based on the tag. It is really very useful and the tag doesn't have to mean much as long as you aggregate it on the back end into your wiki for example.

Best wishes!

At 3:58 AM, Anonymous Kim Cofino said...

I'm in exactly the same boat!

As an experienced technology facilitator new to the administrative side of libraries, I am also struggling with the cataloging system.

As an individual who has grown up surrounded by technology (not so much as the kids, but my parents worked for IBM, so I like to consider myself a bit closer to the digital native side), I honestly can not fathom any reason why any student would care (or need to know) how we categorize books. They just need to know how to find them - and that can be a very personal thing.

I also just finished Everything is Miscellaneous and loved it. The future of information retrieval is clearly personal, not hierarchical and not dominated by 100 year old thinking. I'm just wondering where to go from here in our Learning Hub...

In my opinion, libraries need to adapt the best features of bookstores and Amazon in order to really remain relevant. I wonder if they can catch up?

At 1:47 PM, Blogger daverino said...

Thanks for mentioning Shelfari (even if it's just a little mention at the end of a post). :) I do appreciate it.

At any rate, we just launched a new blog widget at www.shelfari.com/widget

Try it out and let me know what you think.



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