Collection Development, School Libraries

Keeping busy, part III

Honestly, dealing with the call numbers is so much easier than dealing with subject headings! As we know, some have become controversial. Others, well, let’s face it: these mostly date back to the days of the card catalog and use language that doesn’t reflect how students think about things. We’ve been working on this project for three years and I suspect it will take another three before we’re happy. Or, at least, happier.

Let’s start with the “unnatural” language. It definitely makes sense to the catalogers but no student is going to look for books using these subject headings:

As I said, I get why this was created Back In The Day, but today? Students will look for Viking Art or Renaissance Art. That “thesaurus brain” isn’t in their wheelhouse. Other examples?

Seriously? Even adults are going to look for “Lake Victoria” and “Saint Joan of Arc“. So clearly, those types of subject headings need to get changed.

Our ILS is a bit finicky (it’s Booksys’ Atriuum, in case you’re wondering). Obviously spelling errors will result in items not being found easily, but in Atriuum, punctuation and capitalization also counts. For example:

Yes, if you don’t search for “Drama.” you won’t see 12 results. “DRAMA“? Those four can’t easily be found either. And then there are dates. Have you ever gone back and indicated a death date? Clearly, we didn’t:

Each of them will bring up different results.

At this point I should also say that it’s not just about searching for “Kennedy, Edward M.” as the search term, it’s also about clicking on a subject heading and finding other books covering that topic that might not otherwise come up. Don’t we all tell students to do that? And yet, there can be impediments that we haven’t cleared up. I can’t count the number of times I’ve told a student “we have many books on that topic – just click on the subject headings to find them” and it’s only been within the past few years that I’ve realized the cataloging is part of the problem.

More problems?

Why is this subject heading in our catalog?

That’s really not going to help my secondary school students. And then there’s this:

Can you imagine how many titles will come up if a student clicks on that? Another personal favorite is “History” as a genre (yes, we have several thousands).

If you copy catalog, or use a vendor’s MARC records, be careful. Sometimes an export from another system will result in this:

And finally, there are those books with an overabundance of subject headings. If our goal is to make information as accessible to students as possible (and it should be our goal!), then this will just confuse them and quite possibly turn them off from finding the best sources:

Notice the repetition… the foreign language… the different styles… and also the headings that ultimately aren’t going to be helpful like “1800-1899” or “USA“. Wack ’em all. I’ve deleted over 5,000 subject headings this year, some by combining the spellings or punctuation/lack of punctuation, some by deleting because no student is going to look for “Bildungsroman“.

Once that clean up is complete, we’ll tackle the ~50% of the subject headings that only relate to one book. Sometimes, as with a person, we might get more books (or as we find brief records and expand them) on that person. But for others? We had a fiction book with “Scottish Travellers (Nomadic persons)” and I know that won’t be the reason a reader takes out that specific book.

Earlier, I said this part of the project could take another three years. It’s not just that we have other things we need to work on beyond cleaning up the collection and catalog, it’s that we’re also looking at the fiction for a diversity audit. About which more, later.

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