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The pressure of the staring patron… August 24, 2006

Posted by L Wolfe in Library Stuff.

The patron has already searched the library catalog for books on film theory. I am caught (yes caught, it’s not really my job, I am supposed to answer computer questions) at the reference desk and asked for help. So I try “film” subject search. “film” subject keyword search. “film” keyword search. “film directing” all of the above. While the patron taps his pencil, I am striking out. Not once do I think “motion picture” (luckily I was saved by the assistant manager, who supplied that term) I guess it only takes once to learn this stuff, but once FOR EVERY SUBJECT HEADING? Where is the LC Subject Heading thesaurus? You have about 30 seconds (if that long) to help a patron before they are giving up on you and the library as a source for information. Google is returning relevant results in a fractions of a second. Why can’t OPACs do that? According to ALA TechSource: Because they SUCK.



1. Lyle - August 25, 2006

It’s not that OPACS suck. Like any computer, it’s GIGO. Had the systems librarian and authorities librarian been in communication, AND had you the option of *browsing* LCSH, you could have typed “film” and gotten to “motion pictures.”

[typed] “film” [enter]
[scroll down and see] “films”
[and see] “SEE Motion pictures”
(time spent: 10-15 seconds)

This works great as long as someone take the time to enter the information. In 30 seconds one can do *a lot* of browsing.

2. DrumPhil - August 25, 2006

Is there a shorter version (1-volume?) of LCSH that gives just the top-level subjects and their cross-references? If so, the reference desk should have a copy handy. If not, someone should make one! It would be a good starting point when you don’t know the subject term to start with.

A way to get unstuck: find a book that is relevant to your search, and get subject headings from its record.

3. Shannon Sofian - August 26, 2006

I am currently coming up on the end of my first year at a “professional” job. Until a few months ago, one of my primary functions was cataloging. Let’s forget for a moment that my cataloging experience until then consisted of 1 cataloging class back in my first semester of graduate school. I learned enough to get me started and have just been sucking in information since then. AND I have found that cataloging has been a fantastic way to not only learn my library’s collection really well, but also to learn LC subject headings and all the quirks that make them tick. Now when I’m at the desk, I am able to (usually) figure out at least a few subject headings to get the patron started.

Not saying cataloging is for everyone (I know plenty of people who find it mind numbingly tedious), but I’m just using my time doing this as a great learning experience…

Also, I use DrumPhil’s method of finding a relevant book to actually assign subject headings when I’m stuck! Great suggestion.

Shannon S.

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