Review of Library Resources and Technical Services – A. Engler
Ann Engler, LIS 450
September 24, 2013
For the Journal Review assignment, I chose to read the last eight issues of Library Resources and Technical Services. Not surprisingly given the focus of the journal, there were a number of recurring topics related to technology, such as metadata, online content, and digital preservation. The broad theme that tied the various journal articles together, however, is that of access to information and how the technical librarian can use their particular skill set to improve this access. This journal review will discuss three specific barriers to access for which discussions and possible solutions appeared throughout the issues read: first, the need for particularly formatted items to be available to library users with special needs, next, overcoming language and cultural barriers to correct poorly or inaccurately cataloged foreign language authors and texts, and finally, the expectation of many modern library users that reference databases, catalogs, and other library materials will be as easily searchable as much commonplace modern technology.
The first access barrier to be discussed is perhaps the most obvious—a person’s disability may prevent their utilization of a standardly formatted item such as a mass-produced book. In their article entitled “Revising Cataloging Rules and Standards to Meet the Needs of People with Disabilities”, authors Seungmin Lee, Tawoo Nam, and Youngjoon Nam discuss the field’s traditional focus on braille materials, which, while helpful for the visually impaired who can read braille, neglects the many other alternative formats which may be helpful to people with other forms of disabilities, such as “audiobooks, large print, and digital books”, as well as “talking books, talking newspapers […], video books with subtitles or sign language, e-books, and tactile picture books”. The authors lay out concrete suggestions for adapting current cataloging methods in a standardized way to adequately describe the unique features of alternative formats in the hopes that when such items are properly described and cataloged, they will be made more easily available to people with disabilities. It does no good to have alternate formats of items if the audience for which they’re intended doesn’t know they exist and can’t find them in the library. The trend suggests that the circle is being completed with regards to access for disabled patrons—libraries have recognized the need to acquire alternate formats; now, the task is to ensure the items the library does have available are easily checked out by special needs patrons.
The next specific barrier to access is that of language and cultural differences leading to miscataloged and therefore difficult to find items. For example, Arabic scholars have a long and rich history of works in literature, science, and religion (among other topics). Unfortunately, due to misunderstanding or lack of attention to how Arabic names are spelled and formed, a single individual may appear to be many different authors due to (oftentimes incorrect) name variations. In turn, that has led to a few works attributed to X spelling of the name, a few to Y spelling of the name, and several more to Z. For a student attempting to study the all the work of a single author, it can be very difficult to know if they have found all the name variations of that single person and therefore all their work. The Bibliotecha Alexandrina is working to verify author names and link them together in one “authority file” so that all of an author’s work may be found in one place regardless of what variation of his or her name is attached to various pieces of their work.  The issue extends beyond the Arabic language: “Many authors have criticized standard classification schemes for their shortcomings in the treatment of eastern and oriental topics and for their western bias.” Lack of understanding and/or sensitivity to other languages and cultures is another barrier to accessing information because even if a library includes such material, it may be difficult to find without exhaustive searching due to poor or inaccurate cataloging techniques.
The final access barrier to be discussed in this journal review is related to technology itself. The modern library user is so used to how current “household” technology functions that they may not immediately grasp (or be unwilling to learn) how to navigate the increasingly antiquated information systems used by many libraries. The technology a library offers patrons needs to match the technology that has become commonplace to many people. Take a Google search, for example–type in a couple words or a phrase and you’ll get a large number of results returned. Click on a tag on a blog to see other related posts related to that topic. The way people search for information is arguably becoming shallower. A general, non-researcher person doesn’t expect to pour over endless reels of microfiche; they want to type in one or two keywords and find the information they’re looking for. “End users may be using language that is more current than the controlled vocabulary, more specialized, or more targeted to the layperson.” Patrons expect texts to be available online, “but become frustrated when links to content do not work.” In order to promote access, technology must not only be easy to use without learning an entirely different research method specific to a particular catalog, that technology must, simply, work.
In conclusion, the issue of information accessibility may be somewhat obvious as a concern of librarians. What Library Resources and Technical Services illustrates is how it is a complex problem requiring a multifaceted approach. Technical librarians applying their cataloging, metadata, and technology skills can address the issue at a fundamental level by making it possible for a library patron to easily sort through the vast amount of available information to find what they need with something as simple as a keyword search. By preparing the information on the back end, technical librarians can help ensure seamless access for the end user regardless of whether they are a person with a disability, interested in non-Western works, or lacking complex technical skills.
 Lee, Nam, Younjoon Nam, “Revising Cataloging Rules and Standards to Meet the Needs of People with Disabilities,” Library Resources and Technical Services, Volume 57 Number 1 (2013)
 Magda El-Sherbini, “Biblioteca Alexandrina’s Model for Arabic Name Authority Control,” Library Resources and Technical Services Volume 57 Number 1 (2013)
 Haroon Idrees, “Library Classification Systems and Organization of Islamic Knowledge,” Library Resources and Technical Services, Volume 56 Number 3 (2012): 174
 Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, “Exploring User-Contributed Metadata’s Potential to Enhance Access to Literary Works,” Library Resources and Technical Services, Volume 55 Number 4 (2011): 222.
 Sarah Glasser, “Broken Links and Failed Access,” Library Resources and Technical Services, Volume 56 Number 1 (2012): 14.