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Crisis in Cataloging Revisited: The Year's Work in Subject Analysis, 1990
James Bradford Young
The integration of mainstream American library traditions of subject analysis
with modern indexing and classification theory and their adaptation to
an online environment are bringing about a revolution in the practice of
subject analysis. The research literature published in 1990 in the following
categories is examined: subject cataloging classification, classification in
online systems, subject access, indexing, the online environment, special
materials, and special subjects. The literature gives evidence of a second crisis
in cataloging, which will require a reconsideration of conceptual foundations.
For some time now, those who follow events in subject analysis have observed a parallel to the crisis in cataloging articulated by Osborn in 1941.  Yee has reviewed the period in which reorganization at the Library of Congress (LC), attempting to deal with perceived "crisis in cataloging," set the stage for profound changes in cataloging theory and its application.  The absence of an event in subject cataloging parallel to the historical development of descriptive cataloging standards is intriguing. The portions of Cutter's Rules for a Printed Dictionary Catalog  that were concerned with description and access gave rise to successive expansions sponsored by both the library of Congress and the American Library Association (ALA), while the portion for subject entry has had no such official successor. An understanding of certain important events leading to the development of Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules might aid an understanding of the absence of a similar development in subject cataloging. Osborn's 1941 article "The Crisis in Cataloging" dramatically galvanized widespread dissatisfaction into a call for action. In response, a penetrating analysis and distillation of the essence of the Anglo-American cataloging tradition was found in Lubetzky's Cataloging Rules and Principles.  LC's commitment in commissioning and supporting this work over many years as part of its reorganization recognized the fundamental role of thoughtful research in library management. International agreements, embodied in the International Conference on Cataloging Principles and the International Standards for Bibliographic Description, emerged as a result. Pondering the potential for a parallel process for subjects might be instructive. Who will be the Osborn and the Lubetzky of subject cataloging? Who can mandate and sustain the work needed to comprehend the past and envision the future of subjet access?
There are multiple roots to the current crisis in subject access to library materials. Most immediately apparent is the aging of the mainstream systems, which may be compared to a declinging infrastructure of the common intellect, requiring periodic reinvestment and renovation, as do bridges and highways. The standard subject analysis tools for American libraries, Library of Congress Subject Headings (LSCH), Library of Congress Classification (LCC), and Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC), all took shape over a century ago. They represent an accumulation of great wealth but also, in some cases, of inconsistency. Miksa has made a thorough analysis of ways in which this accumulation has undermined the effectiveness of subject headings.  All three major tools have been both enriched and burdened by the passing of time.
Recent theory has not been well integrated into the existing systems. Indexing and classification theories have experienced a dramatic revolution in the last quarter century. These advances were not readily incorporated into the structures of standard library tools. Their widespread use in other bibliographic systems now creates a highly visible and unsatisfactory comparison, which contributes to the sense of crisis.
Rapid movement into an online environment seems to have been accompanied by a shift in expectations for subject access in the library catalog. Application of online search techniques, such as keyword indexes and Boolean operations, has exposed the weaknesses of traditional tools as much as it has enhanced their use. Indeed the potential for their improved use online is widely perceived as having dramatic implications, while the impact on their inherent structure remains unclear.
The expanding scope of subject analysis has also undermined the acceptability of conventional methods. Library subject analysis techniques are being applied to an ever broader range of materials and topics. Just as with descriptive cataloging, the need for an effectively inegrated approach has become increasingly apparent. Attempts to resolve the resulting tensions have demonstrated that subject cataloging and classification lack a sufficiently broad conceptual foundation to support adequate acess to a wide range of material in a single integrated system.
Most recent work reflects at least one of these issues. Contributions to subject analysis work in 1990 are analyzed here in relationship to these concerns as aspects and evidence of a second crisis in cataloging. The focus of this study is research, which includes all types of refereed studies, published in 1990. Some 1989 publications not included in the previous review for Library Resources & Technical Services are also included here.  Some other activities of importance are documented through news items and published reports. The scope is traditional library subject analysis work: subject headings, classification, and subject access through library catalogs as a primary focus. Some related fields, such as indexing and information retrieval, are represented if the research has important implications for the above. Relevant material is identified, cited, and, as much as possible given the parameters of this study, synthesized in relation to the four issues stated above.
Perhaps this year's most significant trend is that many studies with divergent topics and methods reconceive the framework of subject analysis. In a masterful review of bibliographic control's research agenda and lacunae Svenonius writes:
The computer has brought to cataloging
potentialities and difficulties. . . . The development
of expert systems. . .is clearly
emblematic of a trend. It is a trend that
promises not only to ease the economic
burden of bibliographical control, also
to rationalize its conceptual foundations
and improve its effectiveness.  The consideration of a single year's work in a segment of library science, while helpful, might impose narrow limitations on its perspective. Equally important is the recognition of a cyclical cross-fertilization in subject analysis among various discliplines. Lancaster, Elliker, and Connell, reviewing subject analysis likterature, note:
Substantial progress has occurred in the
past 25 years. . . . This progress has been
accompanied by the increasing convergence
of information science and library
science. . . . Much of the progress in information
retrieval occurred through the
efforts of scientists, engineers, lawyers,
and others who were not information professionals.
These individuals were not
familiar with the literature of library science,
and some reinvention of the wheel
occurred. Today a reverse situation may be
occurring, with members of the library community
reinventing methods that were developed
(and perhaps tested and rejected)
outside the community many years ago.  This process has a highly extended time frame. Commenting specifically on this aspect, they continue:
The field of information science seems to
have a short collective memory. We know
of work done three or four years ago but
are unaware of, or have forgotten, work
done much earlier. . . . [Annual review] is
of immense value in providing a review
and synthesis of research in broad areas
performed during relatively short periods
of time, but it does not obviate the need
for longitudinal reviews, covering perhaps
20 or 30 years, on more specific topics. 9
Given the parameters of breadth and length noted above, it must be understood that this review often examines only a narrow slice of the issues identified.
The role of subject cataloging through controlled vocabulary clearly remains a central concern of library service. McCarthy, with a reference librarian's view of the online subject catalog, perceives a need for more extensive and consistent use of subject headings. She suggests subject specialists monitor their development and use. Murdock perceives the failure of subject cataloging as a crisis resulting from inadequate communication among public and technical services staff in providing library service responsive to public needs. Svenonius (B) presents a highly original synthesis, across several disciplines, of the current state of knowledge in controlled-vocabulary design, including its purpose and role in information retrieval, sources and selection of terms, nature and degree of syntactical and semantic relationships, problems in compatibility and structural design, and evaluation and effectiveness of controlled vocabularies.
Frost reports a study to assess the value of title terms as entry vocabulary to controlled lists by analyzing frequency and type of matches among title and subject heading terms. Further study is suggested to determine the value of linking mechanisms. Whitehead details the rationale and techniques for mapping subject headings into the Art [and] Architecture Thesaurus (AAT), which recognizes the need to provide effective interfaces among existing standards and the emerging discipline-specific controlled vocabularies. Reynolds discusses, in personal terms, the difficulties of planning a research project in subject cataloging, including relating practical concerns to a theoretical foundation.
The concept of a subject code continued to elict comment in 1990. Studwell (B) advocates preparation of a subject cataloging code and considers whether it should be a description of current LC policy or a set of broader principles and if it should cover applications as well as formulation LCSH. Chan (E) provides a brief analysis of questions to consider: What is a subject code? Do we need it? Is it currently feasible? Who will develop it?
Library of Congress Subject Headings
The Library of Congress Subject Headings, the most widely used subject analysis tool, is undoubtedly also the most often maligned. Carlyle prepared a taxonomy of user vocabulary matches to LCSH used to analyze transaction logs from keywords supported systems in an online public access catalog (OPAC). She suggest poor LSCH performance and details needs for further investigation. Calderon, in a frankly polemic piece, considers vested interests versus the real needs of an information society. He documents widespread dissatisfaction with LSCH and attributes the failure to achieve improvements to a political failure of the profession, its national institutions, and leaders.
Discussion of …