Library of Congress Genre/Form Terms (LCGFTs) and the Finding Aid

I mentioned the LCGFT finding aids in a previous post as a way to pull all your MARC records for finding aids out of your OPAC, but I’d like to talk about them a little more. The critical thing, as noted here, http://id.loc.gov/authorities/genreForms.html is that “The Library of Congress Genre/Form Terms for Library and Archival Materials (LCGFT) is a thesaurus that describes what a work is versus what it is about.”

And it goes on to give an example and explain a little more. What interests me is that a lot of these are applicable to materials in archival collections. Perusing the list (warning: link goes to PDF) at https://www.loc.gov/aba/publications/FreeLCGFT/GENRE.pdf I see Annual reports, Maps, Minutes (Records), Business correspondence, Personal correspondence, School yearbooks, Scrapbooks, Records and briefs, Death registers, Obituaries, Vital statistics, Ephemera, etc. And most of these have several narrower terms if you need to describe your stuff more specifically.

Please put your sunglasses on for this blinding flash of the obvious, but those are also series names in a lot of finding aids. Series 1: Business Correspondence; Series 2: Personal Correspondence, etc. You probably don’t have a lot of series named Wizard rock (Music) (or maybe you do, I don’t know what kind of collections you have), but I think this has some interesting implications.

Archivists have been grouping materials under genre and (I think especially) form headings for a long time, either as a side-effect of preserving original order or because that made sense to us when we were arranging materials. We just call them series instead of form headings apparently. And libraries are starting to see the use in providing access by form or genre as well (or at least they’re generating tools to do so). So it seems fair to say that patrons are interested in searching by what something is, not just what it’s about, in both primary (archives) and secondary (library) material.

One of the fun things about archives that most people will  tell you is, we’re quite often surprised about what our patrons use our records for. Either they’re using them to study something in ways we never thought of, or they’re doing something with them that the creator certainly never envisioned. So does this mean that libraries are also kind of saying, “We’re not just going to tell you what something is about (via subject headings), we’re also going to tell you what something is via our catalog records and see what you do with it.”? I hope so, that’s very exciting to me. I would love it if someone walked into a library and said, “Show me all of your Teen films.  I have a project in mind and I need all the angst I can lay hands upon.”

But it also makes me wonder why we’re not including genre and form terms in finding aids. Take a look at the list. That’s a lot of terms. A lot of terms. A lot of nuance there. A lot of them might never apply, but would archive users be better served by our finding aids if they included some of these terms as metadata in addition to existing as series headings? They’re still discoverable via keyword searches as series headings, sure, but that has all sorts of problems. Mainly that it’s pretty sloppy and will give you a lot of false positives. It doesn’t seem like it would take much extra work to start adding genre and form terms from a controlled vocabulary to our finding aids (although one problem is I don’t know what section that would be in, and it seems most closely to resemble tagging to me, which never seemed to really catch on) for patrons who aren’t necessarily interested in a particular creator’s records, they just want personal correspondence from a certain time frame, or annual reports of businesses, etc.

Thoughts? Comments? Oh, and in case you’re wondering Wizard Rock is music about the Harry Potter Universe. So I assume some of it will show up in an archive eventually.