Presentation (PDF)

Name of presenter: Karen Coyle

About the presenter:

Karen Coyle is a librarian with nearly forty years of experience with library technology. Karen has published dozens of articles and reports.

Her most recent book, FRBR:Before and After, an analysis of bibliographic models over two centuries, is available as open access at She has served on standards committees including the MARC standards group (MARBI), NISO committee AX for the OpenURL standard, and is currently on the W3C Shapes working group for RDF validation.

Intended audience: General – both technologists and non-


The move from the card catalog to the computer-managed catalog obviously had many advantages, not the least being the ability of users to search the catalog data by keyword, as opposed to being limited to a linear, alphabetically ordered browse that required discovery through left-anchored strings. What we lost, however, was the bibliographic context provided by those headings, and the information that context provided to library users. Oddly, no changes were made to the library catalog data model, in spite of the fact that search and retrieval in a database provides a significantly different user experience from the card catalog.

I will show what these differences are, and will compare current catalog results with the stated goals of the catalog. I will argue that catalog users are poorly served because of this loss of context, and yet we cannot return to the card-based methods in order to recover that facility. We need to reinterpret the goals of the catalog to be in line with the technical capabilities we have today, and develop a new set of goals that give users a 21st century view of the library collection through the catalog.