Cataloging for users and usability

A few days ago I ran across a presentation by Emily Clasper, entitled “Cataloging for usability” (which should be preaching to the choir, shouldn’t it?). It deals with the question: “Why do we need multiple bib records for one title?” She argues that a lot of times, there are clues that may lead to a separate record – but it’s not a matter of blindly following the rules. Rather, it’s important to use your common sense and keep in mind how the user searches for and retrieves information about the item s/he wants (also considering display on mobile devices).

This reminded me of the article “User-centered serials cataloging” by Wendy Baia in Radical Cataloging (2008). One of the practices she criticizes the most is “successive entry cataloging” which creates separate records for things like title changes or change in corporate body name, potentially resulting in the user having to look through endless lists of titles which could conveniently be combined into one record. However, Baia wisely mentions the conflict between your own local practices and consortial or national standards: “It is important to distinguish between the positive benefits of creative solutions to problems in one’s local catalog rather than problem-causing creativity in a cooperative national or consortial database in violation of agreed-upon standards.” This is a dilemma I face time and time again myself: tweaking rules is far more difficult if you catalog into a consortial database which has to adhere to a set of agreements and rule interpretations so as not to cause confusion and inconsistency. I just can’t quite “do what I want” in this environment (even if I was consistent in not complying with standards). Yet I try to be guided by usability and by what retrieval via the OPAC/discovery layer looks like for the user when I make decisions within the scope of shared cataloging standards.

After all, “every decision we make affects how people experience the library. Let’s make sure we’re creating improvements” (Emily Clasper).

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