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Mac less

June 21, 2016 Leave a comment

Sad news in the world, J McRee Elrod has died. I thought about writing “shuffled off his mortal coil” or something witty but, I just cannot.

Mac was an incredible man. I met him via the AutoCat list serv. Mac consistently, kindly, and with aplomb answered all questions that came across with his gentle, but firm southerness (he was not shy about expressing his opinion). He founded the Special Libraries Cataloguing. His cheat sheets helped me many a time. When I was a cataloging trainer, these were always on my resource list. When I organized an online RDA conference back in 2011, he was one of the first people I asked to speak. He very graciously did.

There is quite a bit out there about Mac, some written by Mac and, most recently, an attempt for a Wikipedia page about Mac. All can be boiled down to … a wonderful, kind and knowing man who was glad to share his knowledge. I never had the pleasure to meet Mac in person but still hold him in my heart.

Mac will be missed by cataloging community and, well, everyone who knew him.

ARN: 44330

A question for the ages

September 29, 2011 Leave a comment

AutoCat (yes, I still lurk about), recently chatted about author birth dates in the authority file and then into the MARC Bibliographic 100 tag, subfield d. You can read the conversation by going to the AutoCat archives for the 4th week of September and looking at the string “Objection to author’s birth year” (I think you will need to register for AutoCat to read it).

I have found the thread fascinating. I can understand the author not wishing easy access to information that could be used in identity theft. Heck, as I accumulate years I really understand not wanting my age readily known (but still want birthday presents, thanks).

The, ahem, “discussion” began with a request from an author to remove her birth information from the files. The individual receiving the request could not do it and thus asked on the list. Then it began. “Everything is already out on the ‘net”. “Information is needed to differentiate names”. For each statement, a counterpoint is posted. OK, actually many, many counter points (we catalogers are not silent…on list servs).

I like Mary Mastraccio’s remarks and the idea of using perhaps “active” date instead. That is, the dates in which the author was most prolific. When I’m looking for other works by an author, I usually am searching for the author, genre, and within the same basic time frame (that is, not 20+ years apart – Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City excepted, of course).

Someone else noted using a pseudonym would “solve” the problem. Uhm, not really. Not only are current ‘anonymous’ authors outed regularly.  Then there was the Diana episode of History Detectives in which the solution was found at the Library of Congress card catalog (am I the only one who’d like to go spend a day roaming thru those cards?).

What is going to happen as we have more robust Authority Files? Gender? Physical Address? Family Information and more – look at the new RDA enhanced fields. Is Occupation needed in all cases? My friend, the brilliant Lucy A. Snyder, is a award winning author but her day job is really not relevant to her writing.  Is it useful to the user? Or should we do as some suggest, record it but use it only in the background to link to authorized versions of the name?

If authority files only worked like they are supposed to…but I’ve nattered about that plenty already.

MeSH turns 50!

November 1, 2010 Leave a comment

Hmm, not a RT or a RB but a LSP-to-B (List Serv Post to Blog).  One of the (far too many) list servs I am on sent the following message. I am posting the entire email. I plan to attend. I heart MeSH.

(Oh, and there are a TON of other great medically oriented videocasts to see! YAY!)

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50th Anniversary of Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)

On November 18th, NLM marks the 50th anniversary of MeSH with a talk by Robert Braude, PhD. The talk entitled MeSH at 50 – 50th Anniversary of Medical Subject Headings will be videocast with captioning at http://videocast.nih.gov/. The event is scheduled from 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm [that’s USA Eastern time, same as if you were in Bethesda Maryland USA]

MeSH was first published in 1960; in 2010 we observe 50 years of this subject control authority. The seeds of MeSH were planted in December 1947. The Army Medical Library, the NLM predecessor, sponsored a Symposium on Medical Subject Headings in 1947. Participants, who included Seymour Taine, Thelma Charen, and Eugene Garfield, considered the challenges of the bibliographical control of publications. It was noted that the increasing complexity of scientific literature necessitated increasingly sophisticated approaches to organization and access. The participants recognized that the issue of a subject authority was not an academic exercise. Rather, subject cataloging and the subject indexing of journal articles were acknowledged as the essence of bibliographic control. The needs of the user of scientific information was to be always at the forefront in creating a set of medical subject headings that were made equally for subject description of books and for indexing of journal articles.

That first edition of MeSH represented a departure from the then usual library practice. MeSH contained 4300 descriptors, and it was designed to be used for both indexing and cataloging. It is likely the first vocabulary engineered for use in an automated environment for production and retrieval. MeSH continues to evolve and grow. The 2011 edition contains more than 26,000 subject headings in an eleven-level hierarchy and 83 subheadings. Annual revision and updating are ongoing to assure that MeSH remains useful as a way to categorize medical knowledge and knowledge in allied and related disciplines for retrieval of key information. MeSH is 50 years old and new each year.

The speaker: Robert M. Braude received his Masters of Library Science in 1964 from UCLA. In 1965, he attended MEDLARS training at the National Library of Medicine and his talk reflects on his 45 years of life with MeSH. In 1987 he received a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from the University of Nebraska and he was Director of the Mid-Continental RML. His career included positions as director of three academic health science libraries and he has served on many NLM Committees and Panels such as IAMS Review Committees, the Planning Panels on Medical Informatics and NLM Outreach Programs, and the Biomedical Library Review Committee. He is a past Janet Doe Lecturer, a Fellow of the Medical Library Association and Fellow of the American College of Medical Informatics.

The talk is co-sponsored by the Division of the History of Medicine and the Medical Subject Headings Section, NLM

Categories: Authority, MeSH Tags: ,

Evergreen, Authorities and MeSH

September 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Dan Scott at Coffee Code posted on AutoCat this week about his work in Evergreen on Authorities. He put out a call for help, information, input, etc.  He said this past summer he had posted a longer, more detailed posting about his work which I totally missed (a girl can only read so much a day).

I wrote back to Dan and volunteered my services.  I am happy to discuss authority and even more happy if I can contribute anything to help improve the state of authority.  I have posted about authority as well as ILS (and lots of other miscellany).  Dan kindly replied he’d soon post on his blog details of his authority adventures. I look forward to reading it (and attempting to understand, I am way behind the curve on programming but if he starts talking about the drinking kind of java I’m so there).

Ivy over at From the catalogs of babes replied to my authority post with shocking (to me) information. She said:

I just this very evening learned why this never happened. Lynn M. El-Hoshy, 2001, “Relationships in Library of Congress Subject Headings” explains that basically, LC never recorded narrower terms for tracing in authority records, “because of the extra work that would be involved.”

Why was this shocking? Because tracing narrower terms is so very basic to the idea of authority control.  Back in the olden days when I was a medical librarian I had to learn about “trees”.  No, not foliage but the way in which Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) are developed. It is BRILLIANT (as are many things in the medical librarianship world). 

Basically MeSH takes medical terminology and categorizes it in a hierarchical structure.  From broader terms to narrower terms to related terms, they are all there. Plus MeSH includes ‘scope notes’ to explain what exactly that term means to MeSH.  Oh! Oh! And MeSH dates the terminology (no, not dinner and a movie).  Like terminology in every profession (cataloger to metadata specialist) medical terminology changes over time so MeSH tracks the changes.

BTW, did I mention MeSH is free?  Ohh those medical librarians!

Databases such as PubMed or Ovid’s Medline (or EBSCO’s Medline or any other company’s Medline) takes the MeSH and uses it in the searches. One of the best uses I’ve seen is Ovid’s Medline (or so it was when I last gazed upon it). Older versions of Ovid’s Medline forced the searcher to use their terms – this ensured a focused search.  You had to search using the MeSH terms. There was a definite learning curve to using Ovid’s Medline (not only in knowing the terminology but also how the terminology functioned in Ovid’s Medline searching) but it was very worth it since the search results almost always included exactly what you wanted/needed.

Point being, if you want to improve your authority look to what has happened traditionally in medical databases. They already use the structured language in ways we dream our catalogs of today would.  This is not to say there is no room for improvement. There is! There is! But please, look at how journal databases use structured vocabularies (remember ERIC? I do. I remember having to figure out their thesaurus in order to find the right microfilm…opps, I mean, I read about it in history books, er, blogs).

Respect my Authority (files)

March 26, 2010 6 comments

Ana over at Open Source Software and Rhetorical Questions about the Internet’s Future keeps making me think (ow! ow!)

Ana and I were having a little chat between Scrabble games about standardizing data and I wondered “Is she talking authority files for subject headings or the metadata entry types (such as we have in cataloging for Title, Alternative Title, Author, etc.)?” Because using something like LCSH (Library of Congress Subject Headings, sometimes called red books) for standardizing terms is one thing, having standardized entry points is another…

First let’s look at Authority Files.  As it is now, only catalogers really use LCSH (and not all use LCSH, as a medical librarian I primarily used MeSH and there are other controlled vocabularies such as Sears) – and use them to standardize the terms used in the catalog.  What authority files SHOULD do is auto-refer when someone types in a “see” or “see also” term.  Tragically in most ILS this does not happen.  The primary thing the authority file is utilized for is the cataloger to standardize language and know which term to use. What a waste…

Many (look at the RDA list archives, summer 2009) are talking about LCSH identities and using URIs in the future for subjects. It’s a good idea but needs to be expanded. Check out http://lcsh.info/ and read the info listed there about the attempt for the semantic web.  The idea is to create URIs for the individual subject terms so you can link to the term rather than hard code the term.  I like this but it is not enough. It needs to work more like current search engines (such as when I type into yahoo or google and it asks ‘do you mean’ when I misspell BUT to also include alternative terms). Or link to something like the WorldCat Identities project which serves a page with information on that term and links to more – you know, a definition of ‘automobile’ and then alternative terms, etc.  WC Identities is not nearly that far along but I think this is the intent. They are currently only doing this for authors (so you’d get information on Mark Twain along with what he wrote, what was written about him, etc.). It is not yet comprehensive and still needs work – I see this as a work that will continue forever and ever, like a Wiki.

OCLC has resolved some of the authority file issues with “controlled headings”  in WorldCat.  Basically this is a link between the LCSH (names and subjects) to the Authority file. It only works on LC headings and it is not yet perfected but the idea is sound. They will use this link to automatically update headings when the headings change – it will globally populate all the affected headings in all the bibliographic records (as linked). This again is a step in the right direction and should have been happening pretty much ever since we were able to link information. But it is a beginning.  As far as I know, there are no ILS that do this currently. Also, the only way we know a heading has changed is by reading the weekly list from LC then going into our own ILS and making the change.  Very manual and it should not be.

Finally, there are such projects as VIAF http://viaf.org/ out there trying to consolidate and organize all the various world-wide authority files.  Again, a good step in the right direction.

Now, about standardized entry points … have you seen http://metadataregistry.org/? This is trying to define the types of metadata and what would go into that, for lack of a better term, field. Check out the SKOS for describing vocabulary. This is another great effort out there trying to standardize the terminology we use so that we all have the very same definition of “title”.

Funding is a MAJOR issue. There ARE great projects in the pipeline – OCLC is doing quite a few and there are independents out there (Open Library, The Registery, etc.). To make it all work we all have to back one or another and work on it and find a way to fund it. It needs to live on several servers (lots and lots of redundancy or all is lost) and someone or something has to PAY for it.

What an interesting world we’re in! I feel sort of like the librarians of the 1960s/early 70s who developed and worked on MARC and early OCLC.  Such exciting times!

Categories: Authority Tags: