How DOES worldcat.org work grouping work anyway?

I am interested in a specific edition of something. In this case, the 1994 Jeremy Mays translation of the lyrics to Brecht’s Threepenny Opera. (Robert MacDonald translated the book to that 1994 London production says wikipedia in the Mack The Knife article; a production strangely not mentioned in the actual Threepenny Opera article. Wikipedia fail. I guess I should try to fix it myself; maybe I will by the time you read this, but odds are I’m too lazy.)

Here’s a worldcat.org record which claims to represent this particular edition:

http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/77831329

Note Jeremy Mays name included in the ‘by’ line at the top.

Note on the ‘description’ tab:

  • Notes: Lyrics only from the musical in three acts. Computer printout. Date from accompanying material. Intended for production by the Donmar Warehouse, London.

[…]

  • Responsibility: lyrics [translated] by Jeremy Sams ; [music by Kurt Weill ; original text by Bertolt Brecht].

Okay, this is the edition I want after all. I’ve had trouble finding it, I think it may never have actually been published, at least not in a mass market edition, and maybe not at all. “Computer printout… intended for production”. Okay, but this OCLC record sure looks to be what I’m looking for. So, I’m close right?

So I go to the ‘libraries’ tab, and hey, if I enter my zip code ( 21218 ) as the location, it even appears that my own library at Johns Hopkins has it. Except clicking on that gets me a ‘record not found’ from my own catalog. And attempts to find this edition in my own catalog are fruitless (not that my own catalog gives me very good tools for distinguishing editions, but I’m pretty sure the Mays translation isn’t in it).

Of the other libraries listed on the first page, half of the links are just plain broken, giving me an error from the destination catalog.

The other half give me a record… for a different edition, not the one I a intersted in.

Huh? Worldcat says it’s showing me a record for this edition. There are other records for the Threepenny Opera in worldcat.org that are NOT of this edition, that do not have Jeremy Mays listed.

Do they all have the same library holdings listed? No, they each have differnet library holdings listed. So why are the library holdings for the record for THIS edition in fact including libraries with other editions?

Have those libraries attached their holdings to the wrong OCLC record? Or is worldcat grouping doing something wrong?

Well, I’ve dispatched the request to my ILL department, making it clear I want the 1994 Mays translation, let’s see what they can with it.

But meanwhile, man, when I run into these situations, I can’t help but again think: For all the old guard catalogers think we’re doing such a great job of describing the bibligraphic universe in exactly precise detail… we are SO not.  Sure everything works fine in simple cases, but as soon as you get to a complex case, you’re in a world of incomplete and mis-information, having to do your own sleuthing to try and figure out what’s what.  I’m having more and more trouble respecting the opinion that ‘cataloging modernizers’ plans are threatening to to destroy our carefully wrought corpus of reliable data. The emporer needs a new tailor.

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4 Responses to How DOES worldcat.org work grouping work anyway?

  1. nathan says:

    “I can’t help but again think: For all the old guard catalogers think we’re doing such a great job of describing the bibligraphic universe in exactly precise detail… we are SO not.”

    Jonathan,

    I’m sure it varies from institution to institution. In an institution where catalogers are encouraged to go slowly, be careful, check their work, and even spend time researching the item in their hand – whether they are doing original or copy cataloging – you are going to have fewer of these problems.

    Now – that’s not to say that the system is perfect and this is the only problem.

    Still – its a part of it. But how many institutions are doing this? How many administrators are going to defend their catalogers when persons wonder why they are spending so much time – perhaps even an hour! – with those older materials, trying to be accurate, make them findable with good access points, etc.

    As it stands, I end up feeling guilty when I spend too much time on any one record (and if I actually have to take the time to check rules and look things up – the horror). This doesn’t excuse shoddy jobs, but still…

    I know, I know – stop crying. I will. : )

  2. Jon Gorman says:

    I’ve noticed issues with WorldCat’s way it groups editions. It is not clear to me whether it really is the underlying catalog or the interface/code. I suspect it’s a combination of both.

    Most recently, I was asked (off-hours) if I could find the nearest library with a particular volume of a manga series. WorldCat Local (via Urbana Free library) would return a page that seem to indicate it was just that edition, but clicking on links might take you to any volume in the series. I finally figured out a way to do it, but now I can’t remember what it was. I can say that it would be unlikely for anyone not experienced with the vagaries of our systems to get what they wanted in this particular case. (I think the some of the appropriate records didn’t have the volume number in this case.)

    Worldcat Local still has a ways to go in my humble opinion.

  3. jrochkind says:

    And my ILL replied, despite worldcat.org thinking dozens of libraries held this edition, the acute ILLers were able to figure out “No library is willing to supply this item. Only held by the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music, a non lending institution.”

    Oh well. There ARE cast recordings of productions with those lyrics. Maybe I’ll get one of those, and transcribe Mays’ Mack the Knife myself.

  4. Sharon says:

    I have noticed this same problem. I volunteer for a theater library one night a week. I sometimes need to steal a LC call number and use worldcat.org to take me to a library holding the item and getting back the message that the record is not found. To give them credit, I am searching for titles not in our consortium so maybe I searching for the odd items. Thanks for bringing up this problem.

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