Library Research Models: A Guide to Classification, Cataloging, and Computers by Thomas Mann

15 April 2008

I’ve long had an interest in libraries and how they work, so when I saw this book on a research trip to the Library of Congress, I thought it would be sensible to do a bit of reading to learn more about the theoretical side of library work.

Library Research Models: A Guide to Classification, Cataloging, and Computers by Thomas Mann

Most people who do research (myself most definitely included) tend to have set ways in which they search for information. I grew up at a time when the standard card catalogue was on its way out, but I can still remember going to the library in my childhood and learning how to search for the books I wanted by flipping through the racks and racks of little off-white, typewritten cards. As I grew older, searching for journal articles involved several large volumes entitled The Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, or larger guidebooks on similar subjects. With the advent of computerised and finally online catalogues, searching for books and information became a matter of typing in specific words. But searching in these set ways often restricts the amount of information one can locate, and leaves entire avenues of available information unexplored.

The author of this book worked as a general reference librarian in the Main Reading Room in the Library of Congress, and his experience with how people go about their research seems to be put to good use in this book. Library Research Models describes several different set ways of thinking often used by researchers, examining and weighing the pros and cons of using each library research model. In doing so, Mann also explains how libraries are organised and books are arranged on shelves — understandably, the bulk of the explanation is given over to the organisation methods used by the Library of Congress and other large libraries that operate on the same principle. The different ways of conducting research can produce rather different results, and Mann takes the time to show just how a individual researcher’s mind might work, and what alternate methods might be tried to produce improved research results.

The only fault I can find with the book is really no fault of its own; having been written in 1993, there are more than a few sections that are…well, more than a little out of date. The sections that deal with computer technology reflect the fact that the book was written in the early 1990s, and a revised edition would surely have quite a bit more to say about the use of the online catalogues and the use of the Internet in information location. A revised edition might even have to split into two parts, one to deal with traditional methods of searching and one to focus solely on the use of the Internet as a point of reference. But as an introductory point of reference, without getting into the changes caused by the computer and the use of the Internet, Library Research Models seems a decent place to start. It certainly made me think more closely about how I go about looking something up in a list or a catalogue, and what kind of productive use I make of my time when I’m actually browsing deep in the stacks.

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