Friday, March 19, 2010

The Bookcharmer is still charmed by subject headings

As with many blogs, this one has been on a bit of a hiatus. I've taken a break for many reasons, but primarily because I've been fearful that my writings about subject headings are likely to take on a particularly shrill note. I did a bit of writing for another forum about the experience of searching library catalog databases in their early forms, reflecting on my own experience of learning how to search them, and also explored what is called "The Literature" on ILS' and OPAC's. Really, it hasn't been that long since catalogs made the leap, or, rather, were flung, into digital format. There are some very nice articles in the Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science about the development of Online Public Access Catalogs and Integrated Library Systems. Remember the days when having a NOTIS catalog was the creme de la creme of catalogs?

But my bookcharmer heart is heavy because I can't seem to get it together to clearly articulate my disappointment in trends like catalog overlays that feature, and here I get shrill, that dreaded piece of fluff known as a tag cloud.

NO TAG CLOUDS. I just want to say that and be done. NO TAG CLOUDS. Give me subject headings! Subdivided subject headings!! Yes, keyword searching can also be useful, but a display of subject headings that present the subdivisions of a topic and the type of source indexed are so useful! Why throw that out because tag clouds are trendy?

I have had to endure the specious argument that "library catalogs don't look as good as" Well, of course not. wants to sell you something. Library catalogs were originally designed primarily with inventory control, rather than information retrieval in mind. Library catalog interfaces aren't as fancy as amazon's because our library institutions are spending more money on the sources than indexing them. Yes, we need to do a better job with information retrieval tools, but tag clouds aren't the solution.

So, please, indulge me. Do not molest or veil subject headings, and I'll get back to rhapsodizing about books.

Perhaps the shrillness of my tone is also due to the complete lack of structure in my recent reading habits. Usually, I have some sort, although unexplainable, system, to my reading process. It goes a little something like: the book I read at bedtime, the book I read while having morning coffee, the book I carry around in case there is a spare moment to read it, the book I am reading while I'm supposed to be doing other things. But right is not as though I am in a dry spell, as the state of my office and cottage would attest, it is just that my ability to juggle multiple narratives is not operating at top capacity. Of course, part of this is due to Spring...the long winter of reading is being interrupted by non ignorable things such as robins, 70 degree days, and sunshine luring one outside.

Happy reading, and remember, NO TAG CLOUDS.

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