budget cuts for staff = books lost forever

Books are getting lost. When they’re lost people don’t check them out. When people don’t check them out, we think people don’t like them. When we think people don’t like them, we sometimes weed them (if we can find them). Why is this happening? Bad cataloging, especially in books written in non-English languages. What’s going on, and how is rampant copy-cataloging making the problem worse?

Recently, [researcher Joyce] Flynn checked Harvard’s less-than-25-year-old computer-based catalogue system, and discovered that many – perhaps most – of the Gaelic and Irish books with Na … titles are miscatalogued and so, in this odd way, are half-missing. That catalogue system is now the only way the public can access titles in the Harvard College Library collections.

“The issue goes beyond just Harvard’s Widener Library,” Flynn says. “Because Widener is often the first North American library to acquire and catalogue an obscure foreign language title, Widener’s cataloguing data frequently become the standard for libraries that acquire the book later.

4 thoughts on “budget cuts for staff = books lost forever

  1. Of course, a better keyword/relevenace ranked search and RFID would REALLY help alleviate this problem…

    Just sayin.

  2. yes, I thought this was terribly sad. and a cautionary tale; this story is “the smoking gun” that needs to be brought out any time an administrator/whoever argues that “there is no need for a cataloger…anybody can do that copy-and-paste…” copy-cataloging should not be an excuse to not verify records


  3. Okay, I read the article and while I do agree that poor cataloging leads to lost books, I don’t think the information in the article is accurate, or maybe it isn’t current, or maybe the author is a lousy catalog searcher. A keyword search of a library catalog will pick up a title whether the initial article is present or not. So, even if the Harvard library’s catalog records incorrectly indexed “na” as the first word of many titles, a keyword search for the subsequent words would still get the title. It wouldn’t work for a title browse search, but lets face it, most people do keyword searches, or if their title browse search doesn’t work, they move to a keyword search.

    I just tested this out at the Harvard library catalog and titles that began “na” search just fine as keywords. So, yes, good cataloging is a good thing, but no, things are not as bad as this author reports (at least in this instance).

  4. I think the ‘Na’ issue is a problem when you use common words. Because if you search for Hamlet and it isn’t under H, most of the time you don’t scroll down to T just in case. Particularly a problem if you rank the results in alphabetical and seperate pages (like most databases do with periodical titles) because it isn’t at all intuitive.

    Searching for stuff when you know it’s there is not the best way to test the useability of a search, particularly the way the results are presented.

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