Sunday, October 09, 2005

Burn the Catalog

Timothy Burke's rather scathing comment on the state of the Online Catalog. It's worth a serious read. I suspect his experience mirrors that of many, thought they don't often express it as articulately as Burke...
"Electronic catalogs, wherever you go in the academic world, have become a horrible crazy-quilt assemblage of incompatible interfaces and vendor-constrained listings. Working through Tripod's article and specialized subject indices, in a relatively small collection, you still have to navigate at least five completely different interfaces for searching. Historical epochs of data collection and cataloguing lie indigestibly atop one another. The Library of Congress subject headings, which long ago slid into uselessness, now actively misrepresent existing nodes and clusters of knowledge in many academic fields. Or sometimes, the LC headings are so insanely specific that they are inhabited and may always be inhabited forever and ever by one or two monographs, using subject headings that could never be found intuitively by a researcher, but only by someone who already knew about the one or two monographs anyway. At their outer reaches, the categories sometimes become positively Borgesian, as if they're part of the planned expansion of human knowledge to some infinite point of universality. "