Just how important is description?

I mentioned in a post I did last week that I’m working on some local Civil War research. I am finding all kinds of goodies! It is crazy the amount of things out there just waiting to be found! Just today I found a map of my county from 1858! I’m still I’m awe. I can’t stop looking at it trying to place the present day buildings on it.

Anyway last week I found a website full of videos of people in a nearby county recounting memories from their childhood. It was being shared in the CONTENTdm platform which we have at my library but I haven’t had the time to explore very much. But I know a tiny tiny bit about. So there were maybe 20-25 videos at an average of 30 minutes each and they were in an interview format. One person sitting off camera asking questions then the on camera person answering and telling stories. I was quite excited to find these thinking maybe there would be stories of their grand parents or great grand parents and the civil war.

But…these videos had no descriptions. It just gave the persons name, the date, and the location. All very important yes but where was the information regarding content? There was nothing else. Now I don’t know the whole story maybe this place didn’t have the staff or the time to add any more metadata. There could be a lot of reasons. But now I’m stuck. There could be something buried in those videos that we could use and I have no way of knowing unless I sit and listen to them all.

The more I thought about it the more passionate (or infuriated) I became.  Even if they would have put a list of keywords from the interview as a description that would have been a tremendous help! But no. The information seeker has nothing. I know CONTENTdm runs off controlled vocabularies but it is also possible to input your own list of controlled vocab. That’s how we will digitize our old pressed plant collection. So I know it’s possible.

So I started thinking about “regular cataloging” (haha there is no such thing I just mean books). And how when using MARC how descriptive catalogers can get. If we take the time each piece of information has a home. Whether that is in it’s specific field or in a note field. It all serves a purpose to help people locate it. So one will know what it’s about and if it might help them. I just can’t see how something could not have a description.

I ended up sending the link to my library director and asking her to please remind me of this when I finally had time to start working on our CONTENTdm site. “Please remind me of just how important descriptions are. Not just for catalogers but also how helpful they are to the patron.”

Lesson learned? When in doubt, being overly descriptive is better than having no description at all.

Do you have any questions for me? Tweet me or leave a comment! I’d love to hear from you!

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2 thoughts on “Just how important is description?

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