I really could not disagree more.
Firstly, books are a single category of items and the main fields that they
are catalogued under are fairly straightforward and agreed. Most people who
use Libraries catalogues tend to use author, title and some relatively
simple keyword descriptions of the content to access the information they
I won't insult librarians by saying its straightforward and simple but rigid
cataloguing rules have been able to be imposed because of the fact that
books (although very diverse in content) are a single type of object.
I completely disagree that curators are a couple of hundred year behind but
it is important to understand that Libraries began systematic cataloguing
earlier and began computerisation earlier. They began computerisation in
the bad old days of the mainframe where the main model for computerisation
was similar to a stock control system. Simple and rigid fields in
hierarchical arrangements - the relational database providing a little more
flexibility later on - but the data had to be shoe horned into the structure
the computers allowed for it.
The point I'm getting to is that computers are now much more flexible and
the rigid syntactical control that was necessary for early computer systems
is becomming increasingly unnecessary.
Early Museum Documentation Association system syntax control system showed
comprehensively to me that a rigid control syntax is a barrier to
understanding and that the vocabularly control excercised by natural
lingustic laws learnt in childhood are far more effective in conveying
complex and subtle meaning than anything a systems analyst can come up with.
Further my fairly extensive experience of museum documentation also shows
that the data museum curators need to record varies enormously depending
upon the focus of the institution. There is no way that a system set up
with a local museum in mind will be work both for it, a national museum
controlled by leading subject experts and for example a museum associated
with the trade or profession that made or controlled the object.
Similiarities exist but major differences of outlook and use mean that the
level of information required can be vastly different.
A global museum information structure would be, in my mind, as relevant to
modern information science as stalinist collectivism.
Much better to embrance text retrieval systems with flexible field
structures and to utilise the internet, and the hyperlink, and the power of
search engines to unlock the meaning to be found in real language systems.
Secondly, Librarians, largely don't try to comprehensively catalogue
----- Original Message -----
From: "carol primrose" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Friday, March 16, 2001 10:08 PM
Subject: Museums and Libraries - grasping the nettle.
> Looking in from outside, it seems to me, as a librarian, that museums are
> at the stage libraries were at a couple of hundred years ago. Each one
> wants to list the material, including all manner of details and describe
> the content, while using terminology of its own which may or may not be in
> common use. No-one appears to want to consider the possibility that
> co-operative measures to establish uniform classification, terminology and
> description could be applied to museum collections, just as they have been
> applied to library collections. Yet I believe this is your only way
> forward, given the pressure on resources which is universal today. I
> attended a demonstration in Edinburgh about 3 years ago of just such a
> computerised system (unfortunately I do not have the name of the company
> hand) applied to museum collections. It can be done. It would require
> individuals to accept a standard which might seem inadequate and/or alien;
> in libraries we've had to accept American dominance because they are so
> much bigger and richer than the UK, and in places we don't like it one
> but the consequence is that all academic and national library
> catalogues in the UK and the US, plus a great many others in the rest of
> the world, are now accessible to anyone via the internet.
> I get the impression from the various posts that some of you are trying
> to produce a catalogue raisonnee and failing, understandably enough,
> because it is a huge undertaking requiring deep resources and great
> expertise. A much less detailed finding list would be more achievable and
> consequently more useful. Readers of books don't expect the catalogue to
> tell them the contents in detail, they get a rough idea from the class
> number and then look in the book itself for the details.
> To answer a couple of specific points from recent posts:
> <The reason that books are easier to catalogue, sort etc. (on top of the
> reasons already expressed by other britarchers) is for the simple reason
> they have a title and an author, and a subject. Books (and manuscripts)
> 'predigested' in some way in order to be easily catalogued. Many libraries
> by their catalogue info rather than generating it themselves as it is so
> standardised (I have worked in both, so have seen both sides of the
> 'the reason that books are easier to catalogue' is because cataloguers got
> together and produced 'rules' - The Anglo-American Cataloguing code. The
> application of these rules causes unhappiness to traditional cataloguers
> because they can't now do it their own way, but it does mean that many
> problems are systematised. Books don't always have an author, but where
> they do, you have to decide what his/her name is. Take someone most people
> on this list will have heard of - Guy de la Bedoyere. He's English (I
> presume) and so his name in a catalogue should be De la Bedoyere, Guy. But
> if the cataloguer thought he was French he would appear as La Bedoyere,
> de. The current AA code has 80 pages on the form of a surname. It is NOT
> <Questions of origin and terminology are generally where archaeologists
> begin to disagree> Sit down and agree a classification scheme. It won't
> please everyone, overall it won't completely please anyone, but it allows
> you to organise material in the same way as other places do, and thus
> scholars can judge whether your collection is going to be useful to them
> <In terms of cataloguing books - a book is one object to record...but
> librarians are not required to catalogue what's on every page or
> what the text is trying to say or how important it is within it's
> field.> Actually, special and academic librarians are expected to have
> that sort of knowledge, both for classification and dissemination
> Carol Primrose