by Aaron Wolfe Kuperman
Library of Congress
At the AALL conference, most discussion of how foreign and international law is cataloged took place at meetings of the Technical Services SIS, rather than the FCIL SIS. The only major exception was the discussion of the new JZ/KZ schedules for public international law. With a few exceptions (most importantly, Jolande Goldberg), those who catalog foreign materials are not active in FCIL; FCIL members tend to be users rather than creators of cataloging data. This article discusses some of the things the TS SIS did that affect FCIL (at least those using LCSH and LC classification, though in the age of international access to OPACs, that includes virtually everyone).
Changes in classification and subject cataloging are routinely discussed. Whereas changes to descriptive cataloging require a multinational consensus, the Library of Congress can change subject cataloging and classification policies on its own, and in areas that affect primarily law cataloging, the support or opposition of the law catalogers within AALL carry tremendous weight.
One change affects the subject heading treatment of constitutions. For users, the most important change may be the encouragement of subject headings based on the actual title of the constitution in the original language. For non-English speaking countries this will increase access when a user knows the name of the document, but not necessarily that it is the constitution. In the past, LCSH had tried in some cases to make an artificial author-title heading using the English word "constitution" rather than the original language term (in addition to topical subject headings, which are always in English).
Another change discussed would have made the subject subdivision "law and legislation" into a free-floating subdivision. The change was favored by LC's law catalogers (who have to manually add it to LCSH each time it is needed for a new subject), as well as many non-law catalogers outside of LC. The idea horrified the catalogers assembled in Indianapolis, who are concerned that non-law catalogers don't fully understand what constitutes an "inherently" legal heading is and would use it inappropriately (which, among other things, compromises the quality of the records used as a basis for copy cataloging). Anyone working with foreign law is especially nervous about copying someone else's record unless it is someone known to have adequate subject and language expertise (ever try explaining the difference between a statutory order, a statute, and a regulation to someone used to working exclusively with U.S. materials).
Led by Jolande Goldberg, an attempt is being made to simplify the "form subdivision" tables used in the LC classification tables. The tables are used to subarrange books that are classified under a given number, e.g. to keep the statutes together, rather than interfiled with cases and treatises. Each LC schedule has distinct form tables distinguished by slight but annoying differences. While this has only a minor impact on someone working almost exclusively with American law, someone working with non-U.S. law has to deal with several dozen different tables. This is a nuisance for catalogers (nuisance means lower productivity). The impact on public services is growing since the large LC data base and large multilibrary data bases are increasingly used for reference searching. Automating the LC classification schedules has created an incentive to simplify and standardize the tables (as if inefficiency for catalogers and unfriendliness for users wasn't enough incentive).
So far this hasn't gone as well as it might. Ideally, LC should have used one table for all countries, but too many substantial changes would result in some numbers being recycled in ways that result in unrelated forms (e.g., conference proceedings and case reports) being put in the same number. The consensus among the catalogers was that LC should make as many changes as possible as long as it doesn't combine unlike types of materials. This does leave room for minor shifts and cosmetic changes, and combining some tables, but not for the adoption of a single uniform table.
The LC classification schedules are finally going online. Two vendors were displaying prototypes of online classification schedules (but a lot of work still needs to be done). Once the schedules are online, the LC classification system will be an increasingly powerful tool for retrieval. It will be highly advantageous and technically possible to customize the schedules to reflect the terminology of individual countries, and undo some of the mischief created when LC was forced to develop one master schedule for use for all non-common law countries in Europe, Africa, and Asia (except for France and Germany). However, adding online connections from (as an example) the Italian or Japanese term for torts to the appropriate place in the schedule would require some sort of cooperation between LC and "the rest of the world," and the basis of a new cooperative project was laid in Indianapolis whereby non-LC librarians will help revise and supplement the terminology of the classification schedules. Unlike existing cooperative cataloging projects, this will create something of great value to our profession that would be impossible if we relied on LC (which lacks the staff and in many cases the expertise).
Various catalogers, not just LC employees, were "pitching" participation in the Program for Cooperative Cataloging, by which the Library of Congress gets other libraries to contribute records to LC's catalog, and through LC to the de facto national (world?) bibliographic data base. This helps LC tremendously (after all, LC is getting someone else to do work for them) and enriches the LC database, since it thereby includes reliable records for works not owned by LC. Incentives for libraries to cooperate with LC vary. By including a name or subject authority in the "national" database, one is certain that no one else will use the heading in an incompatible way. Participation in the PCC is seen by many as a certification of a library's competence and as proof of one's professional responsibility. Building up the national database helps all libraries. So far, law library participation in the PCC has not been overwhelming.
The foreign law specialists are potentially the biggest beneficiaries as more law libraries get involved in PCC activities. The more books cataloged for LC, the more time LC has to catalog books that no one else in the United States has copies of, and such books are disproportionately likely to be "our" (foreign law) books. Also the greater the particpation in PCC by law libraries with expertise in foreign law, the easier it will be for the LC law cataloging team to continue to resist pressures to engage in shortcuts that might undermine the quality (i.e., usability) of catalog records. The biggest challenge is in recruiting libraries with expertise in foreign law to participate in PCC, and perhaps in finding and recruiting non-U.S. libraries as well.
Closer cooperation between the TS and FCIL groups would benefit both. Catalogers are often most aware of what a library owns (we see every book coming in). Catalogers routinely look for data to use for "copy" cataloging and should share their expertise with public service librarians. The cataloger who discovers a large Italian law library with American style cataloging should share that information with the reference librarian, and vice versa. FCIL should encourage catalogers to participate in FCIL activities (and especially in the region-specific working groups).
This is not an official communication of the Library of Congress. The views are the author's.
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