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[ARSCLIST] Digital "catalogry"

On Thu, 12 Oct 2006, Steven C. Barr(x) wrote:

> Well, here it seems to me that you are confusing the two "similar
> but different" uses of databases (be they digital or drawers full
> of cards...). On the one hand, we have the "catalog," which is
> simply a collection of data listing (and describing, to the
> necessary/desired extent) the physical items (of given sorts)
> that an individual, institution or set of institutions have in
> his/her/its/their posession.

For me, when the are no physical items and the information is digital, I
believe that the process of cataloging could/should be redundant.

The purpose(s) of this data is/are
> (at least) twofold...to provide information to thase accessing,
> or wishing to access, the listed collection so that they can
> determine if the item (or, in some cases, some information)
> is part of that collection...and to provide information to
> the entity that owns or controls the collection such that
> said entity can makes informed decisions on acquisition
> (or disposal) of items. For instance, a good example would
> be a Sears & Roebuck catalog...which listed the items they
> offered for sale (as of its date) and augmented that with
> information about the items (description, price, etc.).

For me," A catalog is a compilation of records describing the
contents of a particular collection or group of collections."

That is not to say that is all the information a catalog can include.
As I write this I can see that my problem is that I too am still subject
to the old linearity of paper. What I am trying to express is the notion
of data access which obviates the need for cataloging, even if there is
some prioritization provided by the various search engines.  The Web is
not cataloged, it can't be for, at least from my perspective, any attempt to
do so would be self defeating. What I guess I am thinking about is the
notion of access points.

> The second type of database (and this seems to be what you
> were thinking of) is a collection of data concerning EVERY
> known item of a given type (for phonorecords, this would
> be a "discography"). If this data collection exists in
> digital form (as it should) then an application can be
> created which would search the digital file ("query" it)
> and return a listing of all data records in the database
> that meet the condition specified in the query. This, in
> fact, is exactly what "search engines" do, except that
> they are usually querying massive sets of data records!

I am not against cataloging. I believe that there is a place for it, but I
believe the current modalities are self defeating. While on one hand I
would like to see a replacement for MARC (one that is user friendly and
could stimulate the production of "wiki" catalogs-a project I would love
to see ARSC attempt), I am also thinking about a more fluid information
environment like the web.

For example. I can type Beethoven Symphony No.5 into google. I will find
within the first ten hits, a free recording, a discussion of the work,
musical examples, etc. I did not look at any catalog.

While I know I can find multiple recordings of this work, plus books about
Beethoven, etc. by consulting a "catalog," my basic information needs were
answered by just typing a few words. Granted, this "search" did not lead me to the
Nikisch recording or Liszt's arrangement or a facsimile (however, adding
the word facsimile to my search got me a facsimile of the first
page...finding out that I could get a complete copy with a copy of the
first edition, etc. for $629.)

My point is, that the organization of digital
information should be appropriate to the digital environment and open to
the non-linearity offered by that environment.

> Now, because (or, should I say "if") a catalog database
> often contains a substantial amount of information about
> a fairly large set of objects held in a collection, it
> can also serve as an informational database. The drawback
> is, of course, that all (AFAIK) collections are less than
> complete...so its catalog will only provide information
> on the subset of items in the applicable collection.
> There is, of course, always the possibility that the
> collection may contain one-off items that are otherwise
> unknown (like my strange Radiex disc which seems to be
> promoting Grey Gull's electric recordings?!) But, the
> MAJOR function of a catalog database is still to
> list the items that the collector possesses!

Again, I read your observation as being a applied to physical objects.
Those discs become electronic/digital when played and when stored in a
purely electronic/digital medium.

One can consider that a tape recording is similar to the electro magnetic
storage of a hard drive, however, an analog tape recording differs in that
it can only be accessed in a linear fashion. A file, stored digitally on a
hard drive can be accessed in other ways. One can, for example, do a
keyword search which will look for specific words or word streams within
all of the available files. I think of the power one would have if say
google were to not only do image scans of all of the books, but convert
those texts into ASCII files. The potential to produce search streams and
then look at the bulk of the printed word would be an incredible
resource, opening the door to much of the sum total of human thought and
ideas that have been buried due to limited indexing of books, or just
simply the vast quantity of information that one cannot have time to

Consider the same potential for music retrieval...a world where one could
hum a tune, type in a few notes, or the name of an artist, and then pull
up the recordings...and indeed there are many people working on such music
retrieval...the email list of music-ir.org can be good reading.

While these notions might be rather utopian in nature, I believe it is a
better use of our time to move in those directions and to try thinking in
those terms, than it is to think about objects. I suppose one can catalog
a hard drive, but I don't see the point, nor am I suggesting that is your

> However, per your (and other ARSCLIST) comments about the
> state of cataloguing and collection documentation, it
> appears that a lot of institutions have even less knowledge
> of what they own and where it's kept than I do...and at
> least I have an excuse. That is why the purpose of my
> "suggestion" was only to see if there could be a way
> to make cataloguing faster and simpler!

I could not agree more. When I consider the vast quantity of "uncataloged"
material here at our University, I cannot help but wonder what it must be
like at other institutions. Yes, indeed, simplification is the only way
that makes sense to me. I am reminded of one of our brain dead
administrators who wanted to do MARC records for one of our recorded sound
collections. If it ever happens...well, if we were to start today with
about 3 new full time music catalogers...I doubt it would be finished in
five years...why do it that way...and why do it when they are unwilling to
let staff reformat and preserve the material first.

I sincerely believe that we need to change priorities and simplify what is
done in libraries if libraries are to truly fufill their responsibility to
preserve and provide access (in that order), to history and recorded sound
in particular.


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