Cataloging Errors

A bibliographic instruction quiz we used to use asked students how many of Dan Brown’s books could be found in our catalog. The idea was that attentive students would dutifully search by author for “brown, dan,” get redirected to “Brown, Dan 1964-,” and find three books. Indeed, the expected answer was “three.”

As it turns out, my library has all four of Dan Brown’s published books, including the missing Digital Fortress. The problem is that three books are cataloged under the more common Brown, Dan 1964-, but Fortress was cataloged under Brown, Danielle.

The problem is that cataloging is imperfect.

Yeah, it takes some marbles to say that, but the fact is that cataloging is a human endeavor. Humans make mistakes. The challenge we face is to build systems that tolerate error, and then make it easy to fix those errors when discovered.

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