Thomas Mann, continuing to rock

June 21, 2007 at 7:49 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Thomas Mann (the LC guy, not the Magic Mountain guy) has written previously about the “crisis in cataloging” these days and the apparent attacks on controlled vocabulary and full cataloging, and he seriously rocks.  Library Juice points to his latest effort, “The Peloponnesian War and the Future of Reference, Cataloging, and Scholarship in Research Libraries.” The whole essay is great and while it covers what is familiar territory for Mann–the difference between scholarly research and “quick information seeking” and the tools needed for the former, and value of traditional library strengths such as controlled vocabulary, high-quality cataloging and reference, patron education–one especially nice touch is the inclusion of specific examples of these concepts in action.

There’s so much information in this essay I really can’t do better than recommend that everyone read it, including library administrators, reference librarians, catalogers, digital librarians, advocates of faceted searching and tagging, etc.  Here is my favorite snippet to pull out, however:

If our goal is to promote scholarship, then “least effort” on the researchers’ part means “most effort” on our part, in our acquisition efforts, in creating high quality cataloging, in providing proactive reference service, and in assuring the long-term preservation of our material.


I hope that this will be as widely disseminated as Karen Calhoun’s and Deanna Marcum’s recent reports which completely ignore Mann’s points about the very complex searching needs of scholars, which are entirely different from the (also legitimate) needs satisfied by sitting down and typing a couple of keywords into a “single search box.”



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  1. Mann the barricades… sorry.

    I couldn’t agree more except that one must keep in mind the potential of automated systems to implement the use of controlled vocabularies and cataloguing mark up of some kind. The future will probably be more collaborative and ‘open’, where XML records will have controlled access fields and at the same time have user-defined tag style fields. With the latter you would want some kind of daemon running on your system that checks and updates the non-controlled keywords in real time or over night, checking for duplicates, mis-spellings and maybe referring to some kind of controlled vocabulary.

  2. groan….

    Yes, I definitely agree about *also* including user-defined tags of some type (which would have to have some kind of control coming from the library…imagine the kind of tags that some patrons might assign to materials on abortion, for example, or the Holocaust; I doubt that most libraries are going to be comfortable implying that they endorse certain viewpoints by letting the tags remain in their catalogs). And if there are automated tools to help with all of this–bring them on!!

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