I had to take a step back and think about what I learned from this small group activity. I suppose the most obvious thing was just using the Red Books. I’m familiar with LCSH and have used both OCLC and LoC Authorities for a variety of cataloging and classification tasks, but I’d never even seen the Red Books before last week. I was also impressed by the breadth of information contained in the books and disappointed by how inaccessible most of it seemed. Looking through so many subject headings, I was struck by how unnatural much of the language is and was continually thinking to myself that a novice library user would have a very difficult time (if they even bothered) finding what they were looking for. Although some things seemed fairly intuitive, others seemed very obscure and arbitrary. Maybe this is the natural product of something that attempts to classify the length and breadth of human knowledge. Another thing that struck me was the implication that layman don’t do their own research. As a librarian, I’m pretty used to books filled with gibberish that pass for professional library and information science publications. The LCSH doesn’t scare me, even if it leaves me wanting at times. For someone, even a serious academic, however, to be confronted by the Red Books, seems like a true injustice visited upon the library user. More than once I said aloud…if only we could use the computer. I think the overwhelming nature of LCSH has also been a driving force behind the development of completely different search mechanisms, specifically free text searching. All that criticism aside, I did find something relaxing about searching through the index. As I would search for one thing, I would find hundreds of other things. Searching through the Red Books was much like searching the shelves at a library or book store. Even if you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for all the time, you WILL find something. Of course, sometimes nothing else will do. But sometimes, the stuff we find serendipitously is better than what we looking for (not in the case of a class assignment, however).
On a completely unrelated note, during this activity, I found myself playing the part of a peacemaker between classmates who don’t really like each other (can you imagine? librarians not getting along?). Although it was admittedly uncomfortable, it was nice to be able to put into practice some things from other classes and actually feel like I was accomplishing something management related.