Lost in the Computer

Here’s  some background on my blog entry about my deep disappointment with complete inability to search up an admittedly extremely obscure citation I needed for some job application situation. The document I wanted is now scanned and online, dammit, for good or ill:

Talley, David. Lost in the Computer. Colorado Libraries 19, no. 3 (Fall 1993), pp. 8-12. Full text in pdf

The crux of the issue addressed is the disappointing ability to turn up resources relevant to a subject of interest using computer search and retrieval systems provided by the public library in those days. A user unsure of the subject taxonomy applied to content had to guess how unknown experts might have classified the resource to use retrieval systems based on subject keywords. Also, multiple systems with overlapping scope seemed to treat the same materials in different ways, with strange omissions between them. This set of gaps leaves users in a quandary as they wonder whether no one has ever written anything on their subject (highly unlikely) or how existing resources may have been categorized.

The paper calls for a departure from previous cataloging techniques in favor of full-text search driven by rapidly developing and ever-cheaper computer technology. I was basically asking for Google back in 1993 — too bad in retrospect that I didn’t have a little more follow-through. Even sadder is the realization that, 15 years later, libraries continue to resist the user-centric model of full-text search, preferring to continue polishing the overly structured and underperforming systems familiar in their own Inner Circle.