This is an issue that came up today. I find that a lot of our work requires balancing classification and access with what frontline staff, managers and librarians request. Access is tricky.
I catalogue the bulk of our multilingual materials. Recently, a large number of Chinese novels have arrived for cataloguing. A reoccuring characteristic is that one novel is contained in 2 large volumes. Unlike encyclopedias, generally catalogued on one bibliographic record, I viewed this item as a two part work and accordingly, catalogued each volume on a separate record.
I can see both arguments for access in this. To catalogue them on a separate record, the patron has the ability to place a hold on each individual volume. This was my thought as I am constantly thinking about access. However, the second volume isn’t a stand alone work, so arguably, the two volumes should be placed on the same bib record. This presents a challenge because our system will not allow a patron to go into that record and place a hold on a specific volume. If they are unaware of this, they may continue to receive the same volume when they place a request.
There are a few considerations. If patrons are aware they can receive help from staff, staff can place the hold on the specific volume. For many of these patrons however, English is a second language. Their computer skills may far surpass their language skills. In the alternative, many multilingual patrons may require staff assistance because they have no computer skills.
This is a tricky access issue. I believe at times we underestimate patrons’ computer skills and common sense. On the cataloguing side, I see a potential for frustrated patrons who want the ability to place volume specific holds, but instead continue to receive the same volume over and over. These same patrons may not be the assertive type who approach a staff member because of language difficulties.
However, there is good reason from frontline staffs’ point of view to place the volumes in the same bib record. This leads to interaction with patrons and a personal relationship with the library.
I believe interaction between staff and our patrons is vital. But I also believe that we need to credit patrons with some technological skills and provide the tools necessary for them to experience the library digitally, without assistance from staff.
It reminds me of an editorial I recently read in one of the library journals. When a librarian opened the library one morning, she had to inform the patrons that the computers were down but the library was open. Almost all of the patrons left.