Archive for the ‘LCSH’ Category

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

LCSH for “Yo mama”

A recent dust-up on AUTOCAT revolved around a librarian tour to Cuba for the “Havana Book Fair.” This “fully escorted” tour involved the opportunity to “get an unprecedented look into issues of freedom of expression directly from Cuban intellectuals, writers, librarians, publishers and curators,” with a rum-and-coke event at a local Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, who, besides keeping files on everyone in the neighborhood, “ensure[s] that detailed electoral information is provided on all candidates, and every vote diligently counted.”*

As you may guess, a number of posters (myself included) criticized the post. Others objected to our criticism, and a small-bore kerfuffle ensued.

It was interjected, with clever use of Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH):

“… before this detours into a “Cuba $x Foreign relations $z United States” (and vice-versa) discussion, please remember that Autocat is primarily a discussion group for cataloging, authority work, etc.”

Off-list, I suggested to someone that we could continue the argue entirely in LCSH, suggesting the (invalid) heading:

Cuba, Communist — Propaganda — Aimed at librarians!

Which was met with the (also invalid):

United States — Imperialistic policies — Social aspects


That got me thinking, if LCSH is a language (of sorts), how good is it for that most important role of languages—conveying insults?

The answer is—just great! Although LCSH lacks the term “jerk” or “dumbass” (except “Dumbasses (music group)”), it is still a rich field for insult, innuendo and invective. Consider, for example, hurling the following at an opponent:

Donkeys — Genealogy
Dill weed — Specimen

Sometimes the main heading themselves provide good insults, for example, to accuse someone of verbal diarrhea one need only employ:

Anal language — Case studies**

But it’s useful to take full advantage of the free floating form subdivisions. To tell someone they had descended to the depths of idiocy, I suggest

Stupidity — Bathymetric maps

Can anyone come up with the ultimate LCSH put-down?

*The passage goes on to note, that, “Voting booth and ballot integrity” in this one-party state is “entrusted to primary level students on voting days.” What a neat solution!
**Apparently this heading is only supposed to be used on the Anal people, of Southeast Manipur. Pity.

Labels: humor, LCSH

Saturday, November 10th, 2007

An academic take on LibraryThing tags

I just discovered Tiffany Smith’s “Cataloging and You: Measuring the Efficacy of a Folksonomy for Subject Analysis“.* It’s the first detailed academic study of LibraryThing tagging—and a very sympathetic one.

The article focus on five books, comparing their tags with their Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). The books are Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Ian McEwan’s Atonement, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and John Hodgman’s The Areas of My Expertise.

LibraryThing doesn’t “win” every comparison, but it comes out pretty well. I’ve already coopted her observations on two titles into my talks, namely Persepolis and Areas of my Expertise, both of which rate a single, very general subject. On the latter:

“How do you identify the subject of a fictionalized almanac, which, according to the Library Journal blurb on the back cover, is ‘a handy desk reference for those needing a dose of nonsense’? If you’re the Library of Congress, you call it ‘American wit and humor’, and move on to the next item on your book cart. You’d be accurate, because Hodgman is American and the book is witty and humorous, but you wouldn’t have captured the specificity of this item.”

Smith contrasts this with the LibraryThing’s florid tag cloud, sporting such terms as almanac, hoboes, alchemy, cheese, cryptozoology, eels, omens, portents and absurdities. Record-by-record these tags may only serve to amuse, but if you can’t recall the title, Hodgman’s strange work can be easily retrieved by looking for books tagged both “eels” and “humor” or “hoboes” and “almanac”. By contrast, I would not recommend wading through the American Wit and Humor subject!

I was also gratified to see the author notice an effect I’ve mentioned periodically but which has found no echo in other examinations of the topic and in the whole tired expert-vs-amateur polemic. As she writes, LibraryThing members pick up on the Napoleonic Wars element in Jonathan Strange, which LCSH misses:

“This may speak to the problem of the physical impossibility of the library cataloger reading the entirety of this roughly 800 page book to get to all of the detail. The Napoleonic element is not evident for the first third of the book and is not represented in the chapter titles, although it plays a pivotal role in the plot development.”

Fundamentally, I’m willing to concede the virtues of expertise, but there’s a lot to be said for reading the book all the way through, and library catalogers are not often able to do that.

In this connection, I’ve previously noted how my wife’s third novel, Love in the Asylum, acquired an erroneous “Alcoholism” subject, derived ultimately from bad publisher flap copy. Clearly neither the librarian nor the publicist had read the book. (My wife caught the copy before it went to print, but not before it had acquired Cataloging in Print LCSHs.) And the LCSH team also missed the topic of American Indians (Abenakis), a major presence in the book, but not touched on in the first 1/3 or the flap copy.

Anyway, it’s an interesting read. Since Smith did her research LibraryThing has grown almost 100%, and there are few things I’d quibble with*, but it’s a very good outside examination of why LibraryThing member’s tags should be dismissed by librarians interested in cataloging quality.

*”in”—as they say in academia—Lussky, Joan, Eds. Proceedings 18th Workshop of the American Society for Information Science and Technology Special Interest Group in Classification Research, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
**For example, Smith was confused why some LibraryThing works had subjects that were not present in the Library of Congress record, which she believes is our source. In fact, we get our Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) from many librares. Libraries are free to augement the LC’s headings, and many do; we pick up anything in the 600s of all the MARC records that make up a work.

Labels: academics, LCSH, LIS, tagging, tags

Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

Come and get your “Erotic Stories, American”

Here are the the top 25 most popular Library of Congress Subject Heading (LCSH) pages on LibraryThing, according to Google Analytics.

I’m guessing this makes someone at the Library of Congress blush:

  1. Erotic Stories, American
  2. Photography of the nude
  3. Erotic fiction
  4. Historical fiction
  5. Erotic literature
  6. Love stories
  7. Psychological fiction
  8. Fantasy fiction
  9. Mystery fiction
  10. Erotic art
  11. Detective and mystery stories
  12. Characters and characteristics in literature
  13. Sex instruction for gay men
  14. Sexual dominance and submission
  15. Humorous stories
  16. Symbolism in literature
  17. Murder
  18. Australia > Social life and customs
  19. England > Social life and customs > 18th century
  20. Social classes
  21. Allusions in literature
  22. Humorous fiction
  23. Sex instruction
  24. Short stories
  25. Religion

The explanation involves a paradox. Erotica does so well because LibraryThing is a non-erotic site. The top subjects all win because of search-engine referrals. Google likes a mix of sites, so that erotic searches turn up something besides erotica. (This is particularly true if you have “safe search” enabled.) And LibraryThing has relatively high PageRank (PR), Google’s measure of a web site’s authority. Put these factors together and LibraryThing turns up high for erotic searches. For example, we’re currently Google’s number one site for “gay sex instruction.” Who would’ve thunk it?*

Of course, the “bounce rate” for these pages is astronomical. LibraryThing provides no actual sex instruction, just links to books about it—or rather links to metadata about books on sex instruction. That’s not what the searchers were looking for, and they leave as fast as they arrive.

As a side note, it’s sad to see so many top-level subjects in the list. I hope the bounce rate isn’t too high. Top-level subjects are where LCSH falls apart. Take a subject like “Historical fiction,” which has almost 8,000 works underneath it and no innate relevancy ranking. There can be little doubt–people don’t want to plough through 8,000 links!

*Can we start running ads on just the erotic pages.

Labels: erotica, LCSH, subjects