Response to the question: "Is all of this worth it?"

by David Miller

I'd like to offer some remarks vis-a-vis the "Is All of This Worth It?" statement which you discussed a couple of weeks ago, according to your agenda.

The primary thought which the statement brought to mind is that what we're about ("we" who are working on this set of questions in our different ways) is not primarily "implementing 655" or "implementing subfield v." What we're doing, more fundamentally, is extricating access to form and genre from subject access. The former has been buried inside the latter, illogically and inconsistently, for centuries-as can be confirmed by looking at the "subject access" provided by old librarians' and booksellers' catalogues and lists. Librarians have for centuries responded, in many different ways, to the felt needs of patrons for access to -types- of materials, as well as materials on different subjects. But recently we have begun to realize that this form of access deserves to stand on its own, and to be as fully explicated as subject access. We are realizing, for example, that phrases such as "form subject heading" express neither an intelligible idea of subject nor of form, but primarily our own professional confusion. We are also realizing, more immediately, that heading lists and thesauri which provide access to some forms and genres (on an apparently anecdotal basis) but not others mislead patrons. At the same time, forms and genres have become, in this century, objects of study in and of themselves, as can be seen from the rise of genre studies in many disciplines and the comparatively recent cross-disciplinary studies of morphology and structure. This is not to mention, of course, the continual demand by the general public for works in specific genres, a demand only partially met by printed lists and librarians' memories and personal reading. (Are all reference librarians required to be voracious readers of fiction?)

The anxiety this transition understandably causes us in librarianship stems, I believe, from the fact that we are establishing a -fourth- primary type of access. We are realizing that the author/title/subject structure is no longer sufficient for access to many kinds of materials. However, since our existing bibliographic mechanisms, from cataloging codes to thesauri and OPACs, have been built assuming the traditional author/title/subject structure, we must do a great deal of reinvention to bring form/genre access to birth. And birth is generally difficult.

All this is by way of saying that I think we distract ourselves by trying to determine "who is behind the push to implement 655." This is a movement which is much bigger than MARC tagging-however complicated it may be to implement a new tag-and which cannot be pinned, if you will, to particular constituencies such as "theoreticians" or "catalogers." It may very well be that those with a theoretical bent are able to first articulate an emergent need. It is certainly true that many catalogers (some of whom have an interest in theory, some of whom -also- work the reference desk!) will have ideas as to how this need can be mainstreamed alongside author/title/subject access. But I feel strongly that, to regard 655 or $v implementation as problems in and of themselves, and then wondering who's responsible for those problems, is basically a red-herring approach.

I know that I'm speaking generally here and not backing up my contentions with citations from the literature. It would be possible to do so, since the evidence for what I'm saying lies easily to hand, but I'm doing my best to keep this message relatively brief! For what it's worth, I will provide one first-hand story. When the library at Curry College implemented its INNOPAC system last year (our first automated system), I proposed to the rest of the librarians that we index the 655 field separately, as a form/genre index. Curry College is a small institution, so the rest of the librarians are all reference people, including the ILL librarians and the director. There was not an instant of anxiety, no lengthy theoretical debates. The good sense of providing a separate index was clear and intelligible.

I won't presume to address the difficulties that the Library of Congress faces in implementing new thesauri and changes in tagging. I will conclude, though, with a comment on the statement that "tagging the same LCSH term differently according to its application is insane." This is indeed a strong statement.

Let's take the established heading: Giotto, 1266? - 1337 (pulling a book at random off the shelf). Well, is this a "100/700" heading or is it a "600" heading? We don't know outside of context, do we? It's never been suggested to me that tagging names differently, according to whether the entity named is the author or subject of the work, is a sign of mental instability! Nor, by the way, has it been suggested that using the same heading twice in a record for an autobiography, as both author and subject, is redundant and unncessary. On the other hand, these seem matters of rudimentary professional common sense. Similarly, virtually everyone can tell whether the book they have in their hands is a work of science fiction, or a critique of science fiction. And what of the book which contains both works and critiques? Well, what do we do with autobiographies? There will, of course, be cases when determining which is the appropriate type of access will be more difficult, but answers will always be available. The main thing is to eschew panic (and I don't mean that facetiously).

Well, this message is long enough. I hope it's of some interest to the Working Group.

David Miller
Levin Library, Curry College
Milton, MA 02186