Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Library catalogs and fiction

The U. Chicago Magazine recently had an article called "The Problem With Metadata" - a topic close to every librarian's heart. The author talks about the inadequacies of the Library of Congress Classification System in finding subject terms to describe fictional works. These terms are meant to distill the "aboutness" of a book; not easy to do elegantly when you are trying to describe a novel in a few words. But the author also points out that the more expansive brave new world of using keywords as metadata to help locate fictional works has its problems as well. He's been following how the New Yorker attaches keywords to its articles to make them findable: "On a weekly basis, I’m amused and baffled by the metadata attached to the short stories on the New Yorker’s website... The task of trying to reduce the ineffable qualities of fiction to streams of keywords feels at once charming and childish, like trying to capture moonlight in a jar." As an example, he says, "The three keywords for Alice Munro’s “A Wilderness Station” (Canada; Letters; Murder) are comically insufficient at summarizing a story about guilt, accusation, and suppres-sion that stretches across decades."

No comments: