using the catalog

Roy Tennant says that “No one in their right mind wants to use a library catalog,” and I must, respectfully, disagree.

I agree that he’s right in some situations — if you just want to look for a mystery or a cookbook and you want go to the library to do so, then no, you probably don’t want to use a library catalog. But not every library user in every library is after a casual browsing experience, and not every user wants to use the library that way.

I know several people who go to the library only to pick up holds they’ve requested. You know how they request those holds? They use the catalog. When I was in college (when I would not have been caught dead consulting a librarian) doing research for a paper, I did not want to tromp all over the library looking for things; I wanted to have a list and go after it. You know how I got that list? I used the catalog (which, helpfully, listed both subjects and sub-subjects–I was a literature geek, so whenever I hit –History and criticism, I knew I was good). Sometimes I want a book but I can’t think of who the author is. You know how I find that information out? I use the catalog. One could, of course, use Amazon these days, but for much of my library-going life, that wasn’t an option.

We all know catalogs could be much, much better. But I’m not ready to throw them away entirely.

4 thoughts on “using the catalog”

  1. yes–and I miss the old card catalogues, where a whole lot of stuff would be in the same drawer (or 3, if you were doing a Shakespeare term paper). And the random interesting things you could come across just because they were next to Shakespeare. Can’t do that on-line. Of course, I actually had to go to the library to use it, but I forced myself once or twice a semester. love from your mom, also a literature geek.

  2. I agree with you. I know I’m at an academic library, so lots of our students and faculty are searching for subjects rather than known items or authors, but I really see the catalog love from our many public patrons. They also want to see what we have on a topic or by a particular author, and they really don’t want to wander our six floors of stacks to do it.

    What we really need is a catalog that provides a good user experience with little to no learning curve. I’d embrace that sucker with open arms.

  3. Oh my God,
    What now? Who now? WHO doesn’t use the catalog? (I’m saying that like on Seinfeld: “Who doesn’t want to wear the ribbon?!?!?)

    I LOVE my library catalog. Sure it’s clunky but it sure gets the job done. I order what I want, I check out an author’s work, I use their monthly “new in the catalog” lists, even now and then I browse (and request!) weird titles that just happen to sort around a title that I’m searching for.

    And, p.s., Amazon blows for that sort of thing. And I hate their new feature with the related titles and the weird arrows that let you scroll from side to side–it takes twice as long to load the page as it used to. Bleah. That’s too much technological advancement, if you ask me.

  4. I agree; the catalog is an essential good. Just because it hasn’t made as much progress as it should doesn’t mean we should (or can) throw it out.

    I’ve been hearing of a few libraries abandoning classification schemes, and just grouping subjects together intuitively. The catalog becomes less useful then. With a Dewey Decimal code + author’s last name you can go right to the book on the shelf after looking it up, but if there’s no organization you can’t. Even shelving the books by barcode number is better than nothing, though no one does that because it would make you completely dependent on computers to find anything.

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