On Whose Authority???

Scenario: a 5th grade student rushes into the library media center desperately needing to locate everything on the consequences of the Civil War. (Aren’t all searches by 5th

graders desperate?) She logs on to the OPAC, grabs her trusty pen, and prepares to quickly record all of the call numbers so she can complete that assignment that is due tomorrow. (Aren’t they all due tomorrow?)


Now, let’s see if we’re smarter than a 5th grader. Obviously, she’s going to key in “Civil War” since that is, after all, her topic. She’ll locate many titles, but she may miss some of the most useful, depending upon a few varying factors.


  • IF the OPAC deals with “See Also” references, and the library media specialist has set up the system to cross list, then that will help our foraging student to find more resources.
  • IF the library media specialist has taught a collaboratively planned lesson with the Social Studies teacher, and our student understands that Ms. Minnie Earl Sears placed those books under United States – History – 1861-1865, Civil War, then resource identification will be swift.
  • IF the studious student has been introduced to Mr. Melvil Dewey and knows that 973.7 is the call number for the U.S. Civil War, then she can walk over and physically scan the shelves for appropriate titles.
  • But, IF our student has the great misfortune of none of the above advantages, she may simply do what comes naturally, search by the most common term that makes sense: Civil War.

How do we deal with issues such as the one presented in this scenario? What sort of authority control do we have in our media centers, and what sort do we need? With Web 2.0 opportunities growing by leaps and bounds, what does that say about how we teach students to analyze and locate information?


There is no question that we need some method of organizing and categorizing our materials. A dependable system is mandatory for all patrons who need access to information in our centers. However, an emerging issue in the library world addresses the idea that a static method for retrieving library materials may no longer be the only manner in which we should identify content in those materials. Some very large public libraries and others are moving to a system for classification that is truly different. Some large libraries are using tools such as LibraryThing as their sole system for authority control.


As Judi Repman mentioned in an earlier blog posting, LibraryThing is an awesome way for students to share what they’ve read and to organize their books. But, furthermore, this tool is a method for locating titles that have been assigned subject headings (tags) that “make sense” to the student. Being able to create your own tags for materials brings an element of common sense to the table, without having to rely on specific terms that many students may not even consider as they search for information.


As I ponder authority control issues and the online tools that allow for tagging of materials (LibraryThing, Shelfari, flickr, del.icio.us, etc.), I wonder how we need to incorporate, or IF we need to incorporate, this type of identification, sharing, and retrieving of materials for cooperate use in our library media centers? (Screen shots of these sites follow.)





I have no definitive answer. But, I do know that without a uniform, standard method for access to materials in our library media centers, such as Sears and Dewey, chaos would reign. I am not convinced that an open tagging system is better, but I also feel that these Web 2.0 tools should be considered for some type of application as we attempt to equip our students with as many tools as we can for information location, sharing and access. Maybe our next generation of OPACs will allow for student tagging of items so searches can be performed on the standard subject heading and student/teacher assigned tags as well???


Throw away your Sears and Dewey…I don’t think so! But expose and excite students about the tools that can give them authority to think outside the box and develop and share their own worlds of information management…absolutely!

Phyllis Snipes, University of West Georgia

Posted on February 24, 2008, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I think we are only looking from our point of view. Instead of ‘teaching’ our users on how to search, we should instead ‘learn’ from them on how do they search. This is perhaps the central concept of Library 2.0. Apart from Sears and Dewey we should also focus on S.R Ranganathan’s five laws. The fourth law “Save the time of reader” is most appropriate here. I wonder if Google actually thought any body on how to search – yet it is popular among our library users.

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