Catalaloguing and the Librarian

May 19, 2006 at 11:11 am Leave a comment

In my job, I deal a lot with databases and categorisation of things. And I watch how books are catalogued and ordered and identified. And I'm all too aware of the many frustrations that arise from the shortcomings in software design and in the history of book categorisation. I'm also aware of many of the things that are happening on the net in terms of taxonomy and search, and the arrival of tagging that first appeared on sites such as del.icio.us.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing when dealing with rare books (and perhaps with other books as well) is the problems related to cross-categorisation. Traditionally, in a library, books would be categorised according to the Dewey system and then where a book was relevant to more than one category, a dummy pointer card would be entered into the system to reference the same book. Very few software systems (at least in the rare book trade) seem to do this sort of thing. And yet, increasingly we are caught in situations where books belong to more than one category. A travel book that describes, in beautiful detail, somebody's travels around Africa may also be illustrated with numerous colour plates and possibly belongs in a number of categories as a result. Technically, the tagging approach seems to be one of the best ways of dealing with this. Frequently we simply rely on a number of keywords and hope that our built-in search engines are going to find the items in question.

Unfortunately, our book stocking system is never going to cater for this cross-referencing that I would love to see. And moving our stock to a new system would turn into a mammoth task. But I would love to see developers of book cataloguing and stocking systems starting to take these things into account.

An excellent starting point for these sorts of ideas with relation to the book trade and written by a library student is at http://washtublibrarian.blogspot.com/. Have a wander over and check out some of the things he has to say. He links to some fabulous articles and good discussion areas and certainly has his own opinions on things. 

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