As of 22 April 2009 this website is 'frozen' in time — see the current IFLA websites

This old website and all of its content will stay on as archive – http://archive.ifla.org

IFLANET home - International Federation of Library Associations and InstitutionsAnnual ConferenceSearchContacts
Jerusalem Conference logo

66th IFLA Council and General

Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August


Code Number: 133-183(WS)-E
Division Number: IV
Professional Group: Bibliography: Workshop
Joint Meeting with: Education and Training
Meeting Number: 183
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No  

Bibliographical control: self-instruction from individualized investigations

John McIlwaine
School of Library, Archive and Information Studes, University College London
London, UK


I shall be looking at the Workshop theme principally from the experience of the course for the MA in Library and Information Studies, a first professional qualification offered at the School of Library, Archive and Information Studies, University College London. Here we have always taken the view that rather than "teaching" students bibliography, we invite them to discover and become familiar with problems and sources via a personalised programme of investigation, and to discuss their findings with each other and with tutors. To concentrate on this course may seem a rather parochial viewpoint, but it does provide a "case-study" with which we are reasonably content, and shows how we try to integrate the study of bibiography into trhe curriculum as a whole.

Choosing a viewpoint

Looking at problems of bibliographic control has in the School always been closely associated with the study of cataloguing and classification. Currently they form part of a single module, "Information sources and information retrieval". A key aspect of the course is that each individual student chooses a subject discipline which he or she will then focus on throughout the course. This may be a discipline that formed part of their original undergraduate degree, it may be a subject field that was emphasised in the collections of the library in which they will have spent a year as a member of staff as an essential prerequisite to embarking upon the MA course, or it may simply be a discipline that represents a personal interest. Having chosen their own discipline they will then look at the way in which it is studied, at the way in which sources have been built up to support that study and at the access to these, and they will also look at the particular problems of retrieving information in that subject. They will for example consider in particular the problems of subject retrieval, look at the treatment of their chosen subject in the major general classification schemes and verbal retrieval systems (DC, UDC, LC, LCSH) and in any appropriate specialised classification schemes, subject headings lists and thesauri that may exist. The intention is not to make the students experts in the bibliographical control of a particular subject, although obviously they will gain considerable proficiency in this: rather it is to get them to look at the whole way in which communication is effected, and how institutional and documentary sources and services have grown up to support a subject in which they have a personal interest. By extrapolation from their experience they should be better able to discern the patterns of communication in other subject fields that they come across professionally; and of course throughout the course they will be sharing their investigations with their fellow students, some thirty plus, and hearing and learning from the experience of other students in the group who will all have chosen other subjects.

The underlying assumption is that in any particular discipline, there will be particular patterns of communication, a particular range of sources, and a particular range of institutions that have grown up to support the study of that discipline. The patterns, the format of the sources, the nature of the institutional support will change over time, not just because of advances in technology although that will naturally be significant, but because of intellectual, and social developments in the subject itself, and it is important for students to get a sense of these changes and of the reasons for them.

With investigating any source (directory, encyclopedia, bibliography, index, whether paper based or electronic) students are invited to concentrate on the two dimensions of content and of presentation. Regarding content they need to ask questions such as: what does this particular source claim to contain? Is this policy made clear? Is the method of compilation of the data made clear (who writes the articles in an encyclopaedia, is there a copy of the questionnaire used included for a directory, what sources are checked by a bibliography?) What are the specifically acknowledged inclusions and omissions (e.g. with a bibliographical service, what are its policies in relation to language, format and date-span of material included?). What are the major unacknowledged omissions? For this of course although students will do their own checking they will also need to be aware or, and to consult, the literature that reviews bibliographies and other reference works. As regards presentation they will be considering the ease with which they can navigate around a source: the layout and structure, the presence of an adequate explanation of the layout and content, the nature of the searching devices provided (are there structured subject sections, what indexes are provided, how adequate is keyword searching, the most likely expedient to be provided in the online environment). How often is the source revised or updated? If relevant, what are the significant differences in presentation and searching between the same source in print on paper and in electronic form?

Overall, students need to remember that no source exists in isolation: for any particular aspect of information in a subject field, there will be a number of sources, and they need to compare these one with another (and it idetify comparisons made by others), to assess how they complement one another, to judge which might be preferable for particular approaches to information retrieval and for particular user groups; which might be first priority in terms of cost/quality/audience to a library wishing to buy, subscribe to or bookmark on screen.

Conducting the study

The study has a progressive structure. Having chosen their disciplines, students first investigate the nature of those who are interested in and concerned with the discipline (the "research constituencies", the "user groups") and this most readily done by investigating the institutional sources which have developed to promote the study of their subject. Depending on the subject chosen, this will include for example: institutions in the educational sector such as university programmes, research institutes; institutions in the government sector, both national (relevant ministries, departments, programmes) and international (e.g. United Nations and its agencies); professional associations; industrial and commercial institutions. To identify these will involve searching a variety of directories, print and electronic. Familiarity will be gained with the nature of the institutions that are important in any particular subject, and the roles they play. One of these roles will often be to maintain a collection of source materials (libraries, archives, museums, galleries); another will be to act as publisher, often for journals and bibliographic services. So in addition to becoming familiar with the study structure of their subject and with some of the key players, students will also become aware of the major source collections and will begin to see the communication structures within the subject and the means of access to these. They will be invited to visit some of the major institutions that they have identified: both physically, given the fortunate fact that University College is located in Central London with an immense range of institutions in most disciplines within easy reach; and in the virtual world via appropriate web-sites. They will have discovered appropriate general gateways such as SOSIG (Social Science Information Gateway; http://sosig.esrc.bris.ac.uk) and ADAM (Art, Design, Architecture & Media Information Gateway; http://www.adam.ac.uk) and will soon find that many key institutions in their chosen field will maintain excellent and ever expanding gateways: two from my own university are those maintained by two postgraduate institutes, the Institute of Historical Research (http://www.histinfo.ac.uk) and the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (http://www.ials.sas.ac.uk/eagle-i.htm).

The second broad area to be investigated is what might be called the factual content of the chosen subject. What topics do those involved in the subject field actually investigate and write about; and more particularly for the librarian, what are the needs of users for "quick reference material" and how well are these needs met by the sources that exist? Students are encouraged to assess general reference sources, e.g. Encyclopedia Britannica by looking at how their chosen subject is treated by them, and of course in the case of a work like EB they take the opportunity to compare searching strategies and speeds of both the printed and electronic versions. They then seek out the most significant quick-reference sources for their specific subject: encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks; concordances; gazetteers and cartographic sources; statistical sources; whatever is appropriate to the specific information content of their subject. Parallel to this exercise in the "Information retrieval" part of the same module they are investigating the structure of their subject and its treatment in formal retrieval systems such as classification schemes. Both parts of the investigation highlight the particular problems of terminology, of choice of search terms for consulting indexes to a reference source, or for a verbal retrieval system.

The third element to be investigated is bibliography in the narrower sense: in other words access to the "literature" of the chosen subject field both current and retrospective. Based upon their investigations to date, students should have been able to have formed a picture of the relative significance of the major sources to those concerned with their subject field and of where the emphasis on forms of communication in the subject lies. Is it a field, say historical or literary, where archival and manuscript sources remain significant (and where many may well now be digitized and available electronically), where the printed monograph, academic thesis, annual conference and quarterly journal are still important channels of communication? Where there is a continuing tradition of long-standing, comparatively traditional, though probably now available in both print and electronic form, and comparatively infrequently updated bibliographic services such as Historical abstracts, and the MLA bibliography? Or is it a field where much of the debate takes place on electronic discussions lists, and in research reports, and where emphasis is on retrieval, often of full-text rather than merely of bibliographical references, from frequently updated databases? Having postulated the nature of the sources and the communication structure in their subjects, students then build up a picture of the major sources which exist, in whatever medium, to provide access to both primary and secondary material.

They are encouraged to look particularly at bibliographical control of the serial literature, both at the level of retrieving information on titles and on articles. This investigation links across to work that the students will be doing simultaneously in another compulsory module of the MA, namely "Collection development" where they will be looking at serials control, developments in the electronic journal, issues of "ownership" versus "access" and the whole area of document delivery, and becoming familiar with the concept of searching for the reference and securing the text of the selected reference becoming increasingly a seamless exercise. The comparative costs, speed and usefulness to particular clientele of choosing one among competing routes to the same source will be assessed. Other forms of material to which attention is specially drawn are theses and dissertations, official publications, conferences and "grey" literature in general. Students in whose chosen subject fields one or more of these categories loom particularly large prepare seminar presentations about the nature of the bibliographic control available.

The wider context

It is of course necessary to provide students with a wider context than that they may be able to investigate on their discipline based approach. This begins with lectures on "forms of communication" in which changing patterns of the relationship between authors, publishers, libraries and readers are explored. There are lectures on wider issues of bibliographic control, using the precepts of IFLA's UBC programme as a basis to discuss issues such as legal deposit, production of current national bibliographies, and the creation and maintenance of bibliographic standards such as the ISBNs, Names of persons and so forth. There is a more detailed look at the development of national bibliography in the U.K., the STC, Wing, ESTC, NSTC continuum, and the work of the BNB. There is an outline of the history of some of the world's major library catalogues from their printed past to their electronic present: the British Museum/British Library, the Bibliothèque national de France, the Library of Congress and the National Union Catalog, and students are encouraged to locate and examine, once again looking at content and presentation, the catalogues of major national collections around the world and of special collections relevant to their chosen subject fields, both printed versions if they exist and electronic versions identified from such sources as Libweb: library servers via WWW http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/Libweb/; Webcat: Library based OPACS, http://www.lights.com.webcat/; HYTELNET: telnet access to library catalogs http://www.cam.ac.uk/Hytelnet/ and Gabriel: Gateway to Europe's national libraries http://www.portico.bl.uk/gabriel/en/welcome.html

Additional reinforcement for investigating bibliographic control comes from yet another compulsory module, "Information and technology". An important component of this module involves practical work in searching databases, practising and comparing techniques such as Boolean and free-text searches. Lectures and practical sessions in this are co-ordinated with those in the "Information sources and retrieval module" so that the students will be doing directed searches on factual databases at the same time as they are investigating factual sources for their subject fields, and they will be carrying out work on for example OCLC Firstsearch, the British Library's BLAISE, and the Science, Social Science and Arts and Humanities Citation Indexes at the same time that they are investigating the bibliographic control of the literature of their chosen subjects.


It has always been impossible to "teach" about all aspects of bibliography, even before the coming of the computer. Our approach at UCL has been to encourage students to learn by choosing a disciplinary context that is familiar and of personal interest, and then investigating the way that those involved in that context study and communicate, and the structures that have grown up to support that study and communication. As methods of study and of communication change over the years, so the students naturally reflect this in what and how they investigate. The framework remains largely the same: there is a discipline, there are those who study it and produce "literature" as the result of their studies; there is an institutional structure which supports and promotes this study in various ways, and there is the need to communicate the "literature" to others who are interested. There may be very significant changes over time in any one of these elements: the content of the discipline, the approaches and expectations of those who study it, the nature and activities of the supporting institutions, the way in which the literature is communicated, but the framework remains largely intact, and by looking at the framework in their chosen context students naturally learn about both the current "information system" in place in that subject and how it has developed. Rather than setting an agenda for teaching about bibliography and having constantly to change it, successive students each year set their own agendas by choosing specific disciplines, and then asking themselves a series of questions about the content of the discipline, the needs of the researcher, the services available. Which is why the textbook originally written to support this course, Introduction to subject study, by Ronald Staveley, Ia and John McIlwaine. London, Deutsch, 1967, although hopelessly outdated in terms of the examples it quotes from nearly forty years ago, and hardly mentioning a computer from start to finish, still remains a valid introduction to the thinking behind learning about bibliography.


Latest Revision: July 14, 2000 Copyright © 1995-2000
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions