In the 15 July 2006 issue of Library Journal, Jeffrey Beall writes a passioned defense of metadata against the forces of keyword searching. Much of what he says is valid, and I agree that metadata is necessary for effective storage and retrieval in the electronic age.
However, near the end of his essay he states:
There is also the problem of synonymy. For example, if a searcher needs information about plant science, but the best resources call it botany, then the searcher will likely be unsuccessful in his search. Our language is rich, and we often use many precise terms to represent a single concept. Full-text searching, however, is inherently imprecise in its execution.
This, to me, actually strikes me as one of the greatest challenges with the use of metadata: the need to know a controlled vocabulary. The average library user doesn’t necessarily know that botany, or cookery, or numismatics are the proper terms for subject searches, as opposed to more commonplace words.
Modern OPACs have plenty of “see” and “see also” examples, but this is only truly useful if the effort has been made to make the connections as complete as possible. I tend to use subjects only through the links available through results… results that I usually have reached by a keyword search. I like to tell patrons that, once you find a good result, track the subject headings to find other items, then check the shelves in each of the call number areas in which you found results.
The essay is well worth reading; we have a tendancy to forget the power of a controlled vocabulary and metadata, and it would be a shame to toss them aside in favor of the broad stroke of the keyword.
article discovered through Catalogablog