Why can’t Barnes & Noble just have a catalog?

So I went to Barnes and Noble last weekend to buy a book for a baby shower. A very specific book. This book, actually:

(The dad of the baby is definitely a geek. He will love this book.) But the problem is, it can be very difficult to just walk into a Barnes and Noble and find exactly the book you want. How do you know where it is? It is in the “Children’s” book section? Is it in the adjacent “Parenting” section? Is it the parenting section under “Single Parents” or is it on display in some unknown place? Could it be in the “geek” section, if there is such a thing?

I couldn’t find the book – even after thinking intensely about the “aboutness” of the book. (The “aboutness” of a book, or an item, is  a concept they teach you in library school that should help you catalog. It basically means that you think about, or list, all the things you think the book is about, consider the form as well, and then using some other guidelines narrow down where you think it should be cataloged. Or for everyday catalogers, you look it up in WorldCat and it tells you where everyone else put it. Then you put it there.) So, I had to do the thing that I assume every librarian hates to do herself, but really likes it when patrons do. I had to ask for help. From my experience and talking to other librarians, we don’t really like having to ask for help in libraries. We figure we can find things ourselves since we know how to think about aboutness and metadata and use search strings and Boolean operators and all that stuff. But sometimes, there aren’t any signs in the library or you’re in B&N and there’s no freaking catalog.

It wasn’t the end of the world. The woman I talked to found the book quickly and I happily paid and went on my merry way. (Well, somewhat merry. Baby showers are not my favorite.) But I couldn’t help but think that it would be nice if Barnes and Noble just had a catalog. Then I could have found it on my own and I wouldn’t have had to talk to anyone! That’s the dream! But it’s a different model of layout and, I suppose, cataloging.

In fact, some libraries have been thinking about/have already implemented changing their cataloging system to a “bookstore model” in order to allow for better browsing and bring in more people. (The irony of copying the tactics of a print bookstore with real printed books on real paper in 2012 is not lost on me, nor on Borders, I would reckon.) Sometimes this makes sense and it can be really great for browsing. Case in point:

Picture from Flickr user WordShore

But here’s the thing about changing libraries from a Dewey or Library of Congress System to a bookstore model that makes me chuckle: the point of the bookstore model, as far as I can tell, is that it makes browsing easier because all the books on the same subject are together.

Wait. Isn’t that what all (or most) cataloging systems do? Put like books together? Couldn’t our library monies be better spent educating patrons on how to use the catalog, read call numbers, and understand the system we use, rather than re-cataloging and re-processing every item in the building? I think so.

So that’s my little cataloging rant and here’s a book review:

172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad. Remember that terrible seeming movie “Apollo 18” whose tagline was something like, “The real reason we didn’t go back to the moon…” This book explores the same premise, but brilliantly instead of terribly. (My friend Adam, who watches all the terrible horror movies so everyone else in the world doesn’t have to, said “Apollo 18” was indeed awful.) Three teenagers are selected by lottery to take a trip to the moon and live on a secret moon base left there by the Americans in the 1970s. What they don’t know is that some pretty crazy stuff happened while constructing the moon base and in all the Apollo missions that touched down on the surface. And the crazy stuff starts to happen again. So imagine the atmospheric and 1970s horror of the first Alien movie, add some government corruption and secret coverups, plus a dash of Japanese horror film imagery, and you’ve got this book! It’s good writing and only occasionally marred by a few strange translations from the Norwegian. So scary I had to watch 30 minutes of cute kitten videos to be able to fall asleep after I finished!

Now I’m reading World War Z, which will probably also give me nightmares. Cheers!

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