Thursday, 4 August 2011

Cataloguers and wikipedia

Cataloguers and wikipedia? What is their relationship?

A colleague has just alerted me to a report from the Primary Research Group entitled: "Libraries and the Mega Internet Sites". An abstract of the report is available, but the report is essentially about how and why librarians use some of the big internet sites, like wikipedia, Google, YouTube, etc..

Personally, I haven’t got $89.50 to spare to buy a copy of this report, but in the Primary Research Group newsletter of 2 August 2011, there are a few juicy extracts from the report itself. Naturally, I gravitated to this one:

"Wikipedia was most popular among librarians working in technical services and cataloging; 71.43% of these librarians found it highly useful."

And found myself wondering why this should be the case! I came to the following conclusions, and I admit there are probably a hundred more reasons that I haven’t even considered:

1. Cataloguers who are classifying new bookstock often deal with subjects of which they may have little or no knowledge, and what better starting point than wikipedia, after all, it’s not as if we are writing essays to gain qualifications or that people are marking our work! The “facts” presented by wikipedia, if used in conjunction with the text in hand probably represent a fair interpretation of what the book is about and therefore leads to a relevant classification number being assigned. Usually. And besides, it'll always be found on OPAC, wherever we classify it!

2. One of the other reasons cataloguers are using wikipedia is in an attempt to provide users with greater and easier access to useful resources. Here, think using wikipedia for creating/controlling authority data . Here’s an example of a link to wikipedia in a German authority record (very bottom left of the screen). Have a look at allthingscatalogued for a more in-depth discussion on the German/Austrian approach. Mining the information held in wikipedia is also within the remit of a Tech Services department; have a look at the wikipedia miner site to see just what is possible, and then take a look at a blog post from a cataloguer who has just seen the light - do read the comments too, as they are most interesting! OCLC has also been doing work with wikipedia to include OCLC name authorities in wikipedia articles, see the wikipedia entry for Abraham Lincoln: Right at the bottom of the entry, the LCCN (Library of Congress Control Number) links to the LC authority heading for Abraham Lincoln. (dare I say this looks a little more aesthetically pleasing than the LC authority search results page?)

3. Cataloguers are also talking about mapping wikipedia articles to LCSH

Of course, one has to be careful when presented with isolated statistics:

Ok, wikipedia was most popular with Tech Services librarians and cataloguers at 71.43% , but maybe there was another group of librarians with whom its popularity was 71%? And how many other groups of librarians were there? Oh, one could go on and on, but at least it proves that Tech Services librarians and cataloguers are not the dinosaurs that they are often imagined to be! We do use the internet, the “big” sites, and are interested in mashups and providing our users with access to all sorts of useful resources.


  1. Just call me your blogging muse....

    And never dinosaurs.... Tech Services staff & cataloguers were using metadata long before the Internet came into being.

  2. Well, not only are we dinosaurs, there are also some great fossils of us over at ... wait for it ... wikipedia!

  3. This is interesting - I do entirely original cataloguing, including assigning subject terms from a thesaurus, and I do use wikipedia a lot. Mainly like you say when coming across an unfamiliar area and needing a clue as to which subjects I should be assigning. Our thesaurus is also fairly dated and technical, so occasionally I need to check a meaning (eg to confirm that yes, 'onchocerciasis' is the same as 'river blindness'). I'm sure I should know all this stuff by now, or at least rely on something a bit more sophisticated than wikipedia, but it's undeniably handy!

  4. Thanks for your comment, Archel. I read somewhere (but like all disorganised librarians managed to loose the citation somewhere) that wikipedia was a good starting point but not a good finishing point, which I think is an entirely accurate supposition. In these days of doing more with less, I think we (cataloguers)need all the help we can find, and the ease of use of wikipedia makes it, as you say, handy. Sounds like you are working in an interesting area; what classification scheme do you use?

  5. I work at the British Library for Development Studies - we don't have a classification scheme as such but for subject headings use the OECD macrothesaurus specific to economic and social development. It's pretty interesting - we hold a lot of grey and/or unique documents so very often I'm cataloguing 'blind', and as you say need any free help I can get!

  6. Wow, that sounds like a brilliant area to be cataloguing in; I love grey stuff, so much more challenging than the average textbook! Good luck with cpd23 - I'm miles behind, sighhhh!