You make some good points. I can see that you are suffering in some ways from administrative pressure to use LCSH. However, I think this goes to one of the important points about librarianship. It’s the librarian’s job to help people find a way from one thesaurus to another. I think one of the big problems in our current library environment is the assumption that somehow, we can computerize everything. Could it be that you have a reference librarian who is not doing his job?
I remember I worked at a library that used LCSH but had a large aeronautical collection. I suggested they should add the NASA Thesaurus to their catalog. It provides much more specific terms for aeronautical concepts than LCSH. They were considering adding MeSH, too, and I discouraged that, because sometimes see references in LCSH are the same as main headings in MeSH. But NASA Thesaurus terms very seldom look like LCSH terms.
But the point is, if they had added NASA (I don’t know if they ever did), there would still be work for reference librarians to help people navigate the differences between NASA and LCSH. I think it’s still a valid point that LCSH could lead people to very general works on aeronautical topics.
Pete and Founders.ILL, since I work in a medical library and use MeSH at this time, I’m not aware of the deeper issues with LCSH. I did do a search for Amusements—economic aspects and found some books. Here is one that seems like a good example: OCLC# 221784803 for Comedy business Australia. It might work.
UAB Lister Hill Library
I do think Performing Arts is an outdated term if it’s meant to apply to the entertainment industry in general.
Chris wrote: “So many of you seem to dwell in an a-historical, pre-Darwinian universe where we are back with Aristotle and static things like the Great Chain of Being. What do you make of things like industrialization, modernization, secularization; of ‘one thing leads to another?’”
The point I was trying to make is precisely the opposite. “Performing arts” is not outdated at all. See, “Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.” What I meant by its being “archaic” was that it is relatively ancient, not crude. There is more continuity between modern drama and its Classical antecedents, whether of Western or Eastern varieties, than difference. Rather, evolution, or something more like deliberate hybridization in animal and plant breeding, takes place when performing arts are crossed with “business” or “industrial” methods developed in other fields. Further, such processes are not instantaneous and take place in different sectors at different times, so much so that they are not generally recognized until a lot of speciation has taken place. I think one could be able to objectively fix the steps when an “entertainment industry” began to diverge by noting when bundling began movie studios and theater chains, between radio networks and recorded and broadcast music, when Disneyland opened, and when the first multimedia conglomerates appeared. I also didn’t mean that you actually had to do such an exercise to understand that going to a symphony hall is significantly different than downloading something from a modern media distributor. However, that exercise is where the proof is, not in an appeal to dictionary definitions or literary warrant.
I think you have to be conscious of what the purpose of cataloging is. It is practical, not theoretical. In other words, it is to help people find books. The categories we use to organize them will of course be more helpful the more they correspond to the real nature of things, but they don’t have to be absolutely perfect.
“ … to help people find books” is precisely what I have trying to make clear all along. To expect such a system to do more, such as providing even minimal biographies or institutional histories or lawyerly precision may be asking too much. By adding all those extra RDA fields in authority records, you may be asking too much of people who may not be trained in writing biographies or in judging the relative reliability of sources. In our department, we expect everyone to have those skills. There is also the matter of time. Most library sources come already organized. Most primary sources don’t, in the sense that they need a lot more description and a lot more detective work, akin to a lot of other realia such as fine art objects and archaeological finds.
Absolute perfection is, of course, beyond us, but there is more precise and less precise. Generally, primary sources are by their nature more precise, and people who need them for whatever reason generally need more precision or more particularity. If I want the specs of an Eames chair, I don’t want a Saarinen chair or a Bertoia chair, even though they are all Modernist icons. If you had to categorize, for example, annual reports or books about the Walt Disney Company or Time-Warner, “performing arts” doesn’t quite fill the bill, especially if the resource in question is more about their business aspects and profit margins. I don’t think you would treat them the same as a history of the New York Philharmonic. Furthermore, RDA calls for us to categorize actual people, corporate bodies and things, not the books written about them, and that also may be asking too much.
Another problem is that LSCH is not a true hierarchical thesaurus. Categories are added in reaction to what is being published, so in this way it is lopsided. If it were a true hierarchy, then maybe more precise definitions might emerge as a matter of course. One would perhaps be forced to confront the fact that while “industrialists” are the evolutionary spin-offs from “manufacturers,” they are not the same species, and there are still plenty of “manufacturers” around in the realm of small business. That is why, in their specific domains, the Art and Architecture Thesaurus or the Defense Industries thesaurus are in many ways superior in making distinctions. But it would be extremely difficult to make a hierarchy of everything that could be written or spoken about.
Chris, in a past posting you suggested that catalogers and archivists might be wise to part ways. You seemed to say that archivists have much more rigorous standards and attention to detail. But as a person who also has training in history, it seems you may be missing the distinction between primary and secondary sources. Archives collect primary sources, libraries mainly collect secondary sources. Primary sources are better for giving you the facts, and secondary sources, for giving you a broad picture of things. I doubt many library theorists have ever expected libraries to take you directly from secondary sources to the facts in primary sources. That’s the job of the researcher to look for relevant primary sources after she gets a good overview of her subject.
I am not missing the difference between primary and secondary sources at all. It is what I have been saying all along. I think for most of history archives and libraries have been separate. Certainly the contents of the Vatican Library and the Vatican Archives or the British Library and the Public Record Office are quite different. There were earlier moves to impose library-like methods on archives during the French Revolution, and the rejection of that became the basis of modern archival theory. Our Library and Archives Departments were entirely separate when we were founded 50 years ago. However, since then automation has been creating a kind of forced marriage or colonization by the imposition of library vocabulary to describe non-library things. I am almost certain that library theorists never expected to take you directly from the secondary to the primary, just as archival theorists never expected to provide a route from the primary to the secondary, an issue compounded by the fact that many users of primary sources, including the ones that come through our door, arrive there via direct experience and not via getting an overview from secondary sources. But here we are being blended into a universal catalog, in our case, under rules not of our own making.
Hagley Museum and Library