Monday, May 17, 2010

LCSH and VC's VS

I spent two day this past week in scenic Eugene, OR taking a course on LCSH. The course itself is excellent - great information taught by incredibly knowledgeable people. Sitting there, I realized how lucky I am to have had a fairly strong grounding in the subject from LIS 531. Still, I learned a ton. The course spent much more time working with authority records than anything else and I'll surely be using all of that during my usual authority work. While the course material was incredibly useful, when trying to parse the complex strings and stumbling to figure out where the damn geographic subdivision belonged, I couldn't help but think about the limitations of LCSH as a whole. It's another one of those legacy products built in bits and pieces and updated in chunks for nearly a hundred years. While the strings, once properly formed, can be incredibly expressive, I can see how much of a pain they are to break apart for something like faceted searching or other types of reuse. Simply assigning identifiers to more pre-coordinated strings doesn't feel like a solution either.

As we've been discussing on the boards for LIS 539, so much of LCSH depends on the context of the subject string, located with in the context of the record. This lack of context, or rather lack of explicit context, seems to be a continual issue in trying to move catalogs to be more in line with modern technology. Is it that the library community never dreamed of having to break thing apart? Is it that we, as a community, never dreamed that we could be supplanted as information leaders and thus took the reasonable step of saving time and energy by relying on our shared systems/methods/records to carry the burden of context? I doubt in that position I could have foretold the world in which libraries must function. But to see the same issue crop up again and again, it makes me wonder. As usual, I feel I've not spent enough time in the field to say "Well, let's scrap it and start again!" Scrapping LCSH would be a waste and LC does seem motivated to make significant changes when called on (adding a subdivision for form and fixing all of the inverted headings just to start). Still, it will be interesting to see where this all winds up as libraries seem to inch ever closer to the Semantic Web... whether we like it or not.


I received an email today from a Vassar student asking me to contribute my memories of the Victorian Studies program towards a project she's developing in conjunction with the college's 150th anniversary. I have a Word doc open right now where I've been dumping my memories of the program. I can remember when I first decided I declared. I can remember my first end of the year dinner. I remember feeling relieved that the program had left me well prepared for my MA. I remember chiding actors for wearing white tube socks during a production of The Invention of Love. It's still strange to realize I've been out of Vassar for nearly 6 years and that I've been out of high school for nearly 10. It feels alternatively that so much and yet so little have happened in the intervening time.

And on that note, sleep.

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