Conflicts of Semantic Warrants in Cataloging Practices

Wan Chen Lee


This study presents preliminary themes surfaced from an ongoing ethnographic study. The research question is: how and where do cultures influence the cataloging practices of using U.S. standards to catalog Chinese materials? The author applies warrant as a lens for evaluating knowledge representation systems, and extends the application from examining classificatory decisions to cataloging decisions. Semantic warrant as a conceptual tool allows us to recognize and name the various rationales behind cataloging decisions, grants us explanatory power, and the language to "visualize" and reflect on the conflicting priorities in cataloging practices. Through participatory observation, the author recorded the cataloging practices of two Chinese catalogers working on the same cataloging project. One of the catalogers is U.S. trained, and another cataloger is a professor of Library and Information Science from China, who is also a subject expert and a cataloger of Chinese special collections. The study shows how the catalogers describe Chinese special collections using many U.S. cataloging and classification standards but from different approaches. The author presents particular cases derived from the fieldwork, with an emphasis on the many layers presented by cultures, principles, standards, and practices of different scope, each of which may represent conflicting warrants. From this, it is made clear that the conflicts of warrants influence cataloging practice. We may view the conflicting warrants as an interpretation of the tension between different semantic warrants and the globalization and localization of cataloging standards.

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