Thursday, February 07, 2008

I Know What [Boys] Want

While reading the intrepid Cataloging and Classification Quarterly this quarter (which is an awesome one, by the way), I was intrigued by the first article, and the recapping of a report by Karen Calhoun (the recapping was done by Deanna Marcum). Two things really caught my eye.

Now, let's be fair; I didn't read Calhoun's report, because I was reading what Deanna thought of Karen's report. But it seems pretty fair, all things considered. Oh, but first, the title of the report is "The Changing Nature of the Catalog and its Integration with Other Discovery Tools."

So, moving along, I thought two things were interesting enough to make little comments in the margins.

The first thing that caught my eye was her assessment of the hurdles to expansion of library catalogs. Calhoun says that the obstacles to expansion are actually coming from the unwillingness of catalogers to change. Apparently we're resistant to simplifying cataloging procedures, and administrators have an "inability to base priorities on how users behave and what they want."

Ouch! We sound like Luddites.

The other thing that I found interesting was her analysis of Google's relation to cataloging. She sees a huge opportunity for things like Google Book to integrate catalogs with open Web discovery, but then says that "finding and obtaining items from library collections on the open Web is not a practical alternative for students and scholars."

I think this is hilarious. Now, I'm keeping firmly in mind that this report was written almost a full 2 years ago. However, I think most librarians probably still feel this way. That online search engines just couldn't possibly be good enough for users to find online books and such. But this is contradictory, because she just said up at the top that cataloging departments could really benefit from "simplifying" their cataloging. So we have to ask ourselves, do we really know what users will and will not use? Students especially will go to the ends of the digital Earth to find something online rather than physically walk into a library. It's like when I was starting college back in the late '90s, and the thought of using a paper periodical was like the most horrifying thing I could imagine. I would do anything to avoid making copies of dusty old bound periodicals.

So do we know what users want? Or do we just know what we think they want? Is this one those "father knows best" scenarios, where we deride new technology (again) while we continue to push our own ideas of what "searching" is supposed to be? It's discouraging that even the people who study the most about user behavior and organizational theory...are subject to their own biases about what constitutes "good" and "bad" and "real" search strategies. Our users will just push on without us, you know. And someday, even the Great and Powerful Google will be left in their dust.

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"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.