Class and Design

This weekend I have been mainly working on two assignments, one on classification, and another on Web Publishing (involving HTML and CSS). As a consequence, I have been thinking about connections between the two and the relevance of each to the new Information Professional.

There are basic overlaps that might indicate why someone predisposed to the cataloguing side of things would also take on the world of HTML. Both are wrapped up in rules – detailed and sometimes seemingly complicated – but logical in the majority of cases. You either love or hate those rules; and strangely I find myself appreciating their order. On bad days I sometimes think that struggling through a HTML exercise will only serve to teach me good attention to detail and discipline. However, slowly but surely, I am beginning to see that the relationship between a good catalogue and good code is far more important. There are clues in terms like ‘inheritance’ coming up in classification and in CSS, and of course it is all about making a human input machine readable. But what about that human input being both machine readable – and human usable?

Creating a good catalogue record and classifying an item is crucial in serving the library’s main function – to aid the user’s access to information. This is well established and much work goes into making sure cataloguing is of a high standard and responsive to user needs. Where the cracks start to appear is in making a catalogue a user friendly access point for the untrained library customer. This is where the requirement for both a deep knowledge of the layers of information within a catalogue and the possibilities in web design play a critical role in the future of the library interface.

One cataloguer writes in their blog about their implementation of RDA in the catalogue being somewhat hampered by the limitations of the OPAC’s design. The Cataloguing Librarian warns against rushing in to simplify design at the risk of sacrificing the richness of functionality required in the catalogue (far more knowledgably than I could). I read an account of Paul Deschner, a software developer, who highlighted the importance of collaborating with cataloguers to meet software needs. He also speaks of the “connective possibilities” of underlying data in information discovery and the necessity of human analysis to make this possible. This could also be said of the marking up of content in HTML5 to define what is in each element.

Making the catalogue, or more specifically the interface for it, a more user-centred experience depends on both design and content and therefore involves input from both a cataloguer and a software developer. If these two are to work together successfully they need to have a mutual understanding of what the other does, which I hope I am beginning to achieve through my current assignments. Librarians have traditionally prided themselves on being user-led, and as the user is approaching services via an OPAC, we need to learn how to serve their needs accordingly – and this must encompass a fluid design. In some ways, I would have thought that this point was redundant and that we were living in a time where these elements are already completely integrated, but judging by current discussion on-line and worries of Google-migration, we still have a way to go.

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Posted in Cataloguing, Information Profession

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