Monday, December 3, 2007

Controlling controlled vocabulary

I have to give a big "thank you" to Nicole at What I learned today for pointing me to the LCSH browser.

Created by Universit├Ątsbibliothek Braunschweig in Germany, this tool allows users to browse LC subject headings. A user can browse through a list of headings or create a "browse" by searching in one of a few indexes. Once a user has found the term he or she desires, the user can take that term into a search in Worldcat.org, Google, LibraryThing, or Open Library.

One thing that has consistently slipped out of my grasp is the understanding of how well (or how poorly) our users understand and use controlled vocabulary. I don't work directly with our users, but I would guess that a novice searcher would have trouble constructing a search that is complex as LCSH strings can get. It's why tagging has always made sense to me, not as a replacement for controlled vocabulary but in addition to it. Given users to the tools to "discover" complex search strings seems like a neat way to give them a way into our library catalog.

I like, also, how a user can connect directly from a search term into a catalog. Theoretically, if your user was signed into his or her WorldCat.org account, clicking through to WorldCat.org would give users a list of items in your library that had that heading.

It's a neat idea, I think.

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