Library Journal/February 15, 1984 (pages 322-324)

 

 

 

Must We Limit the Catalog?

 

By Maurice J. Freedman

 

THE FOUR PEOPLE generally acknowledged as the greatest thinkers in cataloging, at least in the Anglo‑American tradition, either imperfectly, implicitly, or explicitly had the same thing to say about the functions of the catalog. Rereading and study of their writings as part of a recent academic exercise convinced me that any current cataloging discussion must occur either in the framework of the cataloging ideology developed by the "holy four" or prove the deficiencies of that ideology before proposing some alternative to it

 

The "holy four"

 

The "holy four" have shaped our thoughts, to the extent that we think at all about catalogs, their function, an their organization. First on the list is Antonio Panizzi, the Italian anarchist lawyer who immigrated to Great Britain, and who was also that country greatest librarian. Charles Coffin Jewett, a second cataloging immortal, was Librarian of the Smithsonian Institution and a tinkerer with a failed technology. Fred Kilgour will be the first admit that Jewitt's ideas served as a model for the OCLC network. The third member of the quartet, Charles Ammi Cutter, was probably the greatest librarian this country has production and the only accepted cataloging theorist who had any perception that there are public libraries. The only living member of the esteemed foursome Seymour Lubetzky[1], a Polish‑Jewish immigrant to the United States, and certainly the best thinker of this century on the functions of the catalog. Lubetzky's analysis provides a definition of what is necessary for a catalog, and a point of departure for this discussion.

 

Functions of the catalog

 

Two conditions that pertain to most published materials have tended to guarantee a livelihood for catalogers. First, any given publication is a representation of a work. In other words, the publication may be one of several editions or translations of a given work. These different representations or publications each bear a title as the means by which they are identified, but there is no guarantee that these titles are identical‑even though they are carried on editions or translations of one singly identified work. The first condition, simply stated, is that a work may be represented by publications with different titles. All the titles identifying editions and translations of Hamlet illustrate the variability of titles of publications.

 

The second condition‑and another traditional guarantor of employment for catalogers‑is the peculiar human condition whereby a given author is identified in nonidentical ways. Either the author or the publisher, or for that matter anyone else connected with the publication or citation process, may choose to identify the person or body responsible for the creation of one or more works in more than one way. The multiple pseudonyms of John Creasey and such seemingly minor variants as Chester B. Himes, author of If He Hollers Let Him Go and Chester Himes, author of Cotton Comes to Harlem illustrate the variability of individual identification.

 

Since there are various ways by which a given work is represented and by which a given author is identified, it has been the traditional job of the cataloger to demonstrate the relatedness of a given work's various representations. In traditional catalogs under the uniform bracketed title [Hamlet] all of the editions and translations of the work Hamlet are entered. It was also the cataloger's job to demonstrate that the various names by which a given author has been known or identified are all the names of the same person. The techniques for accomplishing this identification of an author's various names have been twofold, depending on which catalog rules, whose interpretation of them, and/or whose catalog department prevails. One method is to identify a person by a single form of his or her name and refer to that name from all of the other forms by which the person has been known.

 

Old hands at cataloging know that this was why readers of Harold Robbins were forced to look under Rubin, and devotees of Victoria Holt and Jean Plaidy were (are they still?) directed to Margaret Hibbert (apparently a name never used professionally by Ms. Hibbert). The other means of identifying a person who has been known by a variety of names has been to relate all of them to each other by the device of the "see also" reference. Hence there developed entries such as: "Donald Westlake see also Richard Stark and Tucker Coe"; "Richard Stark see also Donald Westlake and Tucker Coe"; and "Tucker Coe see also Donald Westlake and Richard Stark." It should be obvious why, in manually created catalogs, the single name identification to which all other identifiers were referred was chosen as the rule.

 

Noting this variability we see that the library catalog, unlike finding tools such as Books in Print, had to meet specific demands. These demands went beyond informing the user whether a given publication is held by the library, or whether a given publication could be found under the form of the author's name as used in the publication when it was issued.

 

What has been demanded of Anglo‑American catalogs, and required by the "holy four" in the rules and the catalogs they constructed, was that all of an author's works be presented to the user, and that all of a work's editions and translations be presented to the user as representations of that given work. These demands for comprehensiveness, or in another way, these conditions of bibliographic control make the library catalog a toot that transcends simple finding lists, inventory lists, Books in Print (BIP), most dealer catalogs, and all trade bibliography which all take as their primary, if not always their sole focus, the listing or presenting of publications. It is not fair for us to criticize BIP for having Lord Byron's works entered under several unrelated names. We do say, however, that the library catalog is deficient if it does not tell us one way or another that The Melancholy Dane is yet another edition of the work that is usually identified as Hamlet.

As a devotee of Donald Westlake, I would be cheated of the joys of his writings as Tucker Coe and Richard Stark if the catalog did not properly discharge its function of informing the user of all of a given author's works regardless of the names under which they appeared.

 

Technology and function

 

The clear necessity for the library catalog to perform those traditional functions is established, and those functions follow from normal and continuing bibliographic phenomena. The question then, is what becomes of such essential catalog functions with the advent of closed catalogs, computers, minicomputers, microcomputers, and in view of the utterances of recent cataloging gurus who tell us of "revolutions" in cataloging. Even less recent gurus tell us that the mini‑cat has replaced the classical catalog. What about all the other yea‑sayers wearing the blue blazers of circulation control salespeople and consultants? What has become of the traditional and basic functions of the library catalog in this changed environment?

 

The degraded catalog?

 

Whether the catalog is a single‑entry union catalog or a PAC (the much touted public access catalog that allegedly exists) makes no difference. If the catalog is going to present all of an author's works, someone is going to have to tell that catalog (whether it is in card form or little pixels glowing on a technicolor CRT screen) that Coe, Stark, and Westlake are indeed the same person, that The Melancholy Dane is another edition of Hamlet. If the "revolution" means that these basic catalog functions are now unnecessary, then 1, for one, take my place with the forces of reaction and announce that the catalog has been degraded in fundamental functional ways.

This is not simply a Luddite response. I started working with computers when a CPU with 32,000 bytes of memory was considered a powerful beast and required a refrigerated room the size of a pool hall, a full‑time trained attendant, and dropped ceilings

 

* * *

 

. . . welcome the improvements that come with the online 'catalog,' but not . . . at the sacrifice of the essential . . . features of Anglo‑American bibliographic control"

 

* * *

 

and raised floors to ensure the proper functioning of all of the cables and refrigeration. I work with computers to this day, believe in their usefulness, and am in no way anti‑computer. I am only against the unfortunately exaggerated claims made on their behalf.

 

Making the connections

 

The catalog's assembly functions with regard to all the works of an author and all the representations of any work still require, and in principle will always require, the research to accomplish the connections. The computer will not eliminate that work, but it can facilitate it. When our new gurus tell us that the online PAC (let's call these gurus the "PAC‑people") does other stuff like use our fingerprints to call up entries, or array before us one or 25 citations which all have as the same root "westl," I say thank you and congratulations. These advances are important, but I must ask two questions: 1) Have we looked at what we left behind?; 2) Why are the PAC‑people depriving us of access to some of the works by that person variously indentified as Coe and Stark that don't show up in the "westl" array?

 

Boolean or keyword searching and all of the analytical and combining capabilities of the computer are fine. They complement the catalog's traditional functions, but they do not replace them. A finding list whether in print or online is still simply a finding list and not a catalog.

 

Computer possibilities

 

The computer can be a godsend once the cataloger's work has been completed. Instead of that traditional cataloger's system of references to establish links between all the forms of an author's name, the online computer can display or present all of an author's works under any of the variant names by which that author was ever identified or by which any user queries the catalog.

 

The linear nature of the old static forms of the catalog practically precludes the gathering of all appropriate data under each and every occurrence of a name. The size of a catalog on cards, COM, or any other static display medium, makes it practically impossible to display all of Creasey's works under each of the names he wrote. The online catalog, assuming that the cataloger has done the research and appropriately related these forms of his name, can assemble and display all of his works under each of them on demand. Only with the cataloger's help can computer technology provide us with this major advance.

 

The answer counts

 

In a similar way, but equally or even more demanding of the cataloger and the computer, a query either by the title of a given publication or by the work must ultimately be capable of assembling for display all of a work's editions, translations, and the like under, any of the individual titles or identifiers. If the user only wants to know about one particular representation there is no problem, but frequently there is benefit in knowing about other editions and translations even though they were not part of the original search. As Lubetzky has asserted, it is what the user obtains as a result, not how that user started the search that is our concern. We must know which questions the catalog user asks, but our overriding and most expensive concern as library professionals, regardless of the catalog medium, must be with the answer that the catalog provides.

 

I enjoyed Donald Westlake's first few books so much I became insatiable for his work. I did not know that he wrote as "Tucker Coe" or "Richard Stark." When I looked up his works, the catalog informed me of these other names and the works associated with them. As far as I know, few, if any, of the online PAC catalogs are capable of relating the various works of an author writing under more than one name; and none of them can do it, under any circumstances, if the links are not first established by the catalog er. The same goes for a work's representations or variant titles.

 

More than books

 

The traditional catalog since the catalogs of Cutter and' Poole has not included access to an author's articles or other works shorter than the normal book. Today's computer memory size, speed, and online storage capacity make it practical to have computer access to all of an author's works and their representations. It has been financially impossible, however, to have catalogers authenticate and link the names employed by the authors of articles in serial and other article‑bearing publications such as signed articles in encyclopedias. This limitation on the catalog is due to the lack of cataloger firepower.

 

Access to nonbook publications, or to serial publications and other sources of articles have traditionally been excluded from library catalogs. As with authors and titles, catalogs must not discriminate among the media forms and formats that the publication of a work may take. The filmstrip‑cassette kit of Where the Wild Things Are is another edition of Sendak's book by the same title. Limiting the catalog to books alone, as libraries have traditionally done, has separated books from the other information‑bearing media, and has violated the essential and traditional assembling functions of the catalog. It is also true that such comprehensiveness is not possible in the local catalog, whether it is an online PAC or an old-fashioned one.

 

In short, the integrated all works catalog is not possible if we require that it offer universal coverage, comprehensive inclusion of articles, chapters, and shorter than book‑length publications as well as book‑length works,

 

Subject access

 

Traditionally, the catalog has been required to gather and present every item on a given subject. The control problems are similar, if not identical, to those related to authors known by several names. Subject concepts have been expressed in several ways, for example: "Psychology of Children," "Psychology, Child," "Children, Psychology of." In the traditional library catalog, regardless of the variety of ways a concept can be expressed, everything held by the library on a given topic is presented to the user directly or via supplementary references. Despite a running battle over the selection of terms to represent a given topic (the LC way or the reality of the rest of the culture, to oversimplify), there is agreement that regardless of the term selected, the library catalog‑unlike SDC, Lockheed, BRS, keyword, etc., databases‑must present everything on the topic to the user under a single heading or set of explicit, connected, and related headings through "see" and "see also" references. The user of the library catalog should not be confronted with separate files of publications under "butterfly," "butterflies," and "lepidoptera." In even some of the best library catalogs, the user may be directed to look under different, but linked by "see also" terms to find everything on a topic. The linking, albeit clumsy, does ensure that the catalog displays all the library's holdings on a given topic. The PAC‑people's catalogs hold the greatest potential for improving subject aid to library users. Libraries (in large part because of their slavish adherence to LC) have been stuck with a subject terminology and structure which frequently causes disservice to the user. Such "end‑arounds" as title keyword, Boolean, and other searches using textual and fixed‑field information found in the catalog record can improve the user's success at finding works on all kinds of topics from "hospices" to "punk rock." Even if all of the library's works are not found in the individual search, access is usually better than that achieved by direct subject heading searches under the LC accepted forms for such current topics.

Being able to search a catalog through the use of word or name fragments and to combine given words or data elements on an interactive basis is clearly an advancement and will yield information to catalog users that traditional catalogs or traditional cataloging practice will not. Libraries must take advantage of these enhancements. The library system for which I work does this kind of subject searching for the users of its member libraries.

 

Must catalogs be limited?

 

From an ideological, professional, and traditional standpoint, there can be no retreat from the demand that a catalog present to the user the complete works of an author, all of the various editions and representations of a work, and all of the library's holdings on a given subject or topic.

 

We must treat users better regarding nonbook media. When someone searches our catalog for the poems of Dylan Thomas, recordings of that poetry ought to be presented along with the books. This long‑standing unwillingness to integrate nonprint with print formats in library catalogs is neither technically nor professionally defensible, despite our print origins and the prejudices they created. Nonprint formats are being cataloged and they are finite, unlike the infinitely expanding universe of journal articles.

 

From the standpoint of practicality, in terms of cataloging resources the funds to pay for it‑there are obvious limitations on the ability to integrate serial and monograph data in local and even network catalogs. Technology notwithstanding, such an integrated catalog is not practically possible for a library of any significant size. The technical problems are probably as difficult to solve as the problems of controlling and searching such an awesome catalog.

 

The "unlimited" catalog

 

It is not necessary to put new limitations on the library catalog. The traditional card catalog satisfies the requirements of the great thinkers in library cataloging, at least it has until now, warts, blemishes and all. Certainly the great "improvements" and the "revolution" claimed by the PAC‑people with the advent of online catalogs ought to be able to accomplish what the failed technology did.

 

We can welcome the improvements that come with the online "catalog," but they should not be made at the sacrifice of the essential and traditional features of Anglo‑American bibliographic control. We must not accept, for example, limitations like those in one of the new online "catalogs" in which no more than six subject headings can be assigned to a given work. We must not shape or limit our catalogs to fit current technological fashions.

 

I hesitate to call the PAC's "catalogs" because, in addition to other defects, many (even most) do not rigorously control or link the variations present in basic, normal bibliographic representations of works. Indeed, they put limits on the number of data elements that can be assigned to a work. It is an Orwellian redefinition of the term "catalog" when you simply put a holdings list online and call it a Public Access Catalog. It is not a catalog just because we call it a catalog.

 

We must not give up almost 250 years of Anglo‑American cataloging service for technological sizzle. We not limit the catalog. We must exploit the new technology to enhance its proper performance of its essential, historic, and traditional functions: the provision of full access to and control over the library's materials.

 

LJ, February 15, 1984, pages 322-324.



[1] As of this posting, December 26, 2000, Seymour Lubetzky, is alive and well at the age of 103. He has endorsed my candidacy for President of ALA.