Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto - OCS, 15th INTERNATIONAL ISKO CONFERENCE

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Athena Salaba, Josheph T. Tennis

Last modified: 2017-12-19


Historically catalogs of library resources have taken different forms, the bibliographic data included in a library catalog entry has increasingly been enhanced, and the way a user is

interacting with the catalog and its bibliographic data has also changed, especially since the end of the last century. Bibliographic data include information that describes and represents a resource. Throughout their history, library catalogs have served a variety of purposes. The majority of the literature on the purposes of the catalog focuses on the finding and selecting functions. Cutter, in his Rules for a Dictionary Catalog, identifies three catalog objectives: to find a resource, to show (collocate) what resources a library has, and to assist in the choice of a resource (Cutter, 1876). Theories of bibliographic control identify five main catalog functions, find, collocate, identify, select, and obtain, with the additional function of navigation included in fewer works (Svenonius, 2000).  More recently, the IFLA Library Reference Model (IFLA LRM), a consolidation of the three models, defined the find, identify, select, obtain, and explore user tasks when interacting with the information accessible through a library catalog (IFLA, 2017).


Although these have been widely-discussed functions, they seem to only address the uses of the catalog by library patrons and intermediaries who assist them with these user tasks. Often, users of the bibliographic data included in a catalog or other bibliographic data sets are the institutional users, such as staff and administration of a library who use bibliographic data for purposes related to their areas of responsibilities. These responsibilities may include cataloging and metadata creation, acquisitions and collection development and management, resource sharing, reference, and various assessment efforts, including institutional accreditation. Most often, these functions of a catalog are referred to as the inventory and management functions of bibliographic data.


Others have tried to identify purposes and functions of a catalog taking a different or broader approach.  Tennis (2006), uses a framework analysis to examine the purposes and function of information organization, many of which relate to functions of the bibliographic data included in an information system such as a library catalog. Clarke (2014) presented her study of the functions, goals, and objectives, which she uses interchangeably to mean the ends that library catalogs are or are expected to be designed to meet.


Similarly, the functions of knowledge organization systems (KOS) can be examined beyond the general bibliographic data.  Soergel (2009) identifies twelve functions of KOS: (1) support sense-making, integration of knowledge, and the discovery of new knowledge and gaps by people and computers, (2) provide a semantic roadmap for users, promote a shared understanding of a domain, support collaboration, (3) support learning and assimilating,  (4) support research practices, (5) provide classification for action and for social and political purposes, (6) support discovery, retrieval, filtering, and routing of items, (7) support meaningful display, (8) support processes of information after retrieval, (9) support for data modeling, artificial intelligence (10) support interoperability and preservation of meaning across time, (11) provide information on concepts and terms, (12) support natural language processing.


And again, we can ask how KOS can be used by institutions in service of the management and assessment of collections - that is, functions that go beyond user-focused functions?


This paper examines the uses of bibliographic metadata by a variety of user types. More specifically, this paper presents findings on 1) purpose, functions, and use of bibliographic data; and 2) functions and use supported by data deriving from knowledge organization systems (KOS), such as controlled vocabularies and classification systems.


To undertake this task we analyze the literature, focusing on the functions of the catalog, types of metadata to fulfill these functions, and user tasks related to both catalog function and bibliographic metadata.  The focus is on identifying bibliographic metadata that supports institutional purposes like collection building, collection quality assessment, marketing, outreach, and educational purposes.

We take a comparative approach to this examination, asking what is particular to user-focused tasks versus institutional uses or requirements.  Further, the universe of metadata is larger than traditional bibliographic data, and influences how we conceptualize the universe possible of functions.  To that end, we examine metadata standards that support similar information systems, but have a different remit than library catalogs.


Though purpose and function are often used synonymously in the literature, we treat them differently.  Purpose, by our lights, is the reason or motivation for why some information system is created.  Functions are the actions taken to fulfill the purpose (cf., Tennis 2006).  Using this lens, we inventory both the stated purposes and functions in the literature, build out a comparative typology, and link this to bibliographic metadata and KOS used in institutional work like inventories, collection management and assessment.


Our inventory of the complementary uses of metadata have shown that this it is valued by practitioners, but is not considered central, or foundational, to the design of systems.  By working toward a typology of these purposes and functions, we can better inform design considerations for the unsung user managing and assessing collections.



Clarke, R. I. (2014). Find, identify, select…socialize?: Alternative objectives of library catalogs. Proceedings of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 51(1), 1-5. doi: 10.1002/meet.2014.14505101076


Cutter, C. A. (1876). Rules for a Dictionary Catalogue. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.


International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). (2017). IFLA Library Reference Model: A conceptual model of bibliographic information. Retrieved from https://www.ifla.org/publications/node/11412


Soergel, D. (2009). Knowledge organization systems: an overview. Retrieved from http://www.dsoergel.com/SoergelKOSOverview.pdf


Svenonius, E. (2000). The Intellectual Foundation of Information Organization. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press


Tennis, J. T.  (2006). Function, purpose, predication, and context of information organization frameworks. In Budin, G., Swertz, C., & Mitgutsch, K. (Eds.), Knowledge Organization for a Global Learning Society: Proceedings of the Ninth International ISKO Conference, Vienna, Austria, July 4-7, 2006. In Advances in Knowledge Organization, vol. 10. Würzburg: Ergon.