Book Metadata Lagging Behind Journal Articles

Searching for information within a book chapter when you don’t own the book is a pain.  Medline and other online databases have spoiled me.  I can easily hop on to Medline and verify a citation or do a funky search for a specific keyword in the abstract, it is second nature to me.  But give me a list of 5 book chapters that I need to verify the correct page numbers and it turns into a royal pain in the butt that can take me several hours to do.

Why have we librarians allowed books to be indexed and organized so poorly?  This was our bread and butter for so long, yet we fell asleep at the keyboard.  Catalogers strive to add all sorts of information such as the size of the book whether it has illustrations or bibliographic references, but there is no system wide requirement to add the table of contents in the catalog.   Honestly that is some of the most important information.  The table of contents often more accurately reflects the contents of the book  than some of the subject terms that our catalogers so painstakingly assign. 

Yet when I search for the book Female Urology, Urogynecology and Voiding Dysfunction in LocatorPlus, WorldCat and, guess which place has the table of contents on their site? Click on Search inside of this book on Amazon and voila the table of contents.  Neither LocatorPlus nor WorldCat have the table of contents.  It is only after I clicked on the fourth library (University of Western Ontario) listed on WorldCat was I directed to a catalog record that contained the table of contents.  (WorldCat lists results are according to proximity.  Those closest to your current location display first, so depending on where you are your results list may be different than mine.)

Why is it that we librarians require the size of the book in the cataloging record but we can’t require that the table of contents be added to our local or national catalogs? Frankly I find it quite sad that the National Library of Medicine’s LocatorPlus doesn’t have the table of contents for a medical book but sure does. 

Now doesn’t have the table of contents for every book.  When Amazon doesn’t have it and LocatorPlus, OhioLink, and the libraries within WorldCat don’t have the table of contents I do some deep digging within Google to find the information, or I end up calling or emailing a library that does own the book asking them for a special favor to pull the book from their shelves to help me verify the correct chapter information. 

Why is it that almost every recent journal article in PubMed has an abstract that can tell us more about the article but we don’t seem to have that for books in our catalogs?  Do I need point out that has this? This should be built into our catalogs.  Having the table of contents and the abstract to the book is WAY MORE IMPORTANT than the size of the book which is in many cataloging records.  What user cares that the book  is 27cm?

And librarians wonder why users are using Google or instead of the catalog to find books. 

There are arguments back and forth about the death of the library and trying to grab users on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc.  But if we as an organizational group can’t get our own national systems like LocatorPlus better and providing helpful information, we are going to have a real problem.  The reason I say it needs to be national systems is because many librarians download the records from NLM.  Additionally, when you do a search on Google for a medical textbook, results from LocatorPlus should be listed right up their with 

I am not a cataloger I am not hip to all of the things that go on with ILS.  Perhaps something is a foot that me and the users don’t know about.  I would love to hear a cataloger’s thoughts on some of this.

6 thoughts on “Book Metadata Lagging Behind Journal Articles”

  1. I agree – finding book chapter information is much more difficult than it needs to be. I also rely on commercial sites like Amazon and especially Google Books. Google Books has come in handy several times now for reference questions about chapter names, authors, pagination, etc.

  2. Agreed as well! Would love to see this more consistently applied. Maybe initiatives like OpenLibrary will help since we as users can edit the records there? I do wonder how long it would take to reach a critical mass of TOC content?

  3. I think tables of contents are really just the tip of the iceberg. I usually tell my users to search Amazon first, then verify the books they find against our catalogue, for a few reasons:

    1. The Look Inside feature provides not only tables of contents, but also the index and a good chunk of the content.

    2. The customer feedback is often very useful; particularly for clinical titles where the feedback is provided largely by health professionals. Some take considerable time to outline the merits and drawbacks of the book, or compare it to other books on the same topic. Why can’t our library catalogues have this enabled? I think users would love it.

    3. Library catalogues are really hard to search. Most people do not, and never will, know how to use subject headings, and even if they do, they aren’t in possession of the thesaurus; why can’t catalogues do a better job of linking to preferred terms, as Ovid Medline does? Or even better, of doing it all behind the scenes, as PubMed does? We need to realize that most users will never have more than Google skills to apply to searching, and give that group a simple search option that works for them, while enhancing advanced search capabilities for those few who do take the time to learn them.

  4. You’re right about the relatively consistent size data priority compared to other metadata. We don’t even use the size data in any meaningful way (such as adjusting shelf height based on average size within a subject area). Why have data that we don’t need?

    But the problem obviously relates to the amount of work involved (book size is usually easily communicated from the publisher and is usually pretty standard anyway) and who’s doing that work. There’s a growing disconnect between the people cataloging (very few) and those using the catalog (professionally or otherwise). No one values any amount of true organization within the library or information sources now (if anyone ever did). Everything now is search engines and discovery layers and federated searching. Even if these can be made to work, more metadata can only help them work better.

    What I would like to see is not just TOCs but actual cataloging of individual chapters as if they were standalone entities (which they sometimes are and are at least often treated as such). Data like chapter title, author, subject headings, etc. would be great in navigating at that level of info. But someone’s got to do it. Instead of relying on NLM or OCLC for this kind of data file, perhaps a more open-source/wiki kind of project is required. Meta-wiki! That would be great.

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