Tuesday, November 10, 2009

FW: [NGC4LIB] FRBR WEMI and identifiers

Ross Singer wrote:

<snip>
It is my recollection that pretty much every cataloging client works by a person typing into a text box next to a display that reads something like "100 ‡a". In this box they enter all of the ISBD punctuation, by hand, to signify the specifics of the data.

Now, is this more or less correct?
</snip>

To a certain extent. One of the points I try to make is that when examining a bibliographic record, what appears to be difficult to a non-expert is actually rather simple, and what seems to be simple is actually quite difficult. Let me give an example. Let's say that I have a title of a resource and I want to add that information to the record. (This also goes for any other part of a bibliographic "record"). Here is a record taken at random from LC: http://lccn.loc.gov/2008022443
The title is displayed in the OPAC as:
Main Title: Marxism, fascism, and totalitarianism : chapters in the intellectual history of radicalism / A. James Gregor.

The MARC coding in the cataloger display is:
245 10 |a Marxism, fascism, and totalitarianism : |b chapters in the intellectual history of radicalism / |c A. James Gregor.
(The underlying ISO2709 format is too terrifying to behold!)

What appears to be difficult here is the coding: all of those numbers and those strange subfields. But this is a misperception, just like someone who looks at, e.g. a text in Russian and believes that the hard part is the alphabet, but anybody who tries to learn Russian quickly understands that the alphabet is the easy part. Once you learn that, *then* it becomes difficult.

So, the rules for determining what the title(s) are and how to input them in a standardized manner go on and on. Is it a text? or a serial? or a movie? or a graphic? Where do you take the title from in each case? ISBD devotes many pages to it. The rules in AACR2 go on and on, and from there the LC Rule Interpretations go on. To see some of the complexity, look at: http://sites.google.com/site/opencatalogingrules/aacr2-chapter-1/1-0--decisions-before-cataloging---rev/1-0e--language-and-script-of-the-description---rev for the LCRIs and http://www.ifla.org/files/cataloguing/isbd/isbd-cons_2007-en.pdf#page=37 for the current ISBD rules. To a non-expert, all of this may seem to be so much superfluous fluff whose only purpose is to provide some dubious employment, but in actuality, these rules exist to provide a level of standardization *in the bibliographic data itself,* not the coding.

[Since I am the inveterate historian, I can't resist an example of how this same thing was done in the past. In the Princeton catalog of 1760, the librarian, Samuel Davies, cataloged one book as "Baxter's Call," found under the "B" Octavos section of that catalog, See it at http://infoshare1.princeton.edu/rbsc2/libraryhistory/1760_Davies.pdf (p. 9, pdf. p. 17). The title is actually "A call to the unconverted to turn and live, and accept of mercy while mercy may be had : as they ever would find mercy in the day of extremity from the living God / by his unworthy servant, Richard Baxter." See the record for a variant edition at: http://lccn.loc.gov/00511076]

As a result, a modern bibliographic record is a highly-standardized creation conforming to many rules and norms (or at least, it should be), and something like
100 1_ |a Twain, Mark, |d 1835-1910
becomes far more complex than the non-librarian suspects.

<snip>
If not, ignore the rest of what I'm about to say.

If so, it seems like this is exactly what we need to be moving away from. If ISBD/AACR2 rules were as simple as confining these things toa single subfield, well then the machine could probably figure things out enough to keep the status quo for data entry. But that's not the case. This says to me that some retraining would need to be done just to overcome the roadblocks that current practice throws into the path.

Now, maybe there's a happy medium. I don't know. Really, in the end, the interface should work this out anyway (IMO).
</snip>

While I basically agree, I think this allows me to point out another difference between the practicing cataloger and the systems person. The idea of "data entry" is not equivalent to the act of cataloging something according to agreed-upon standards. Yes, there are some similarities between the two (someone must physically enter data into the correct fields), but this is not the same as cataloging. Cataloging consists of the creation of 1) standardized descriptions of different resources. This is done so that there is a certain amount of guaranteed understanding among those who examine that description, i.e. the title is entered in a single way, taken from the same source, etc., the publication information will be the same, the extent. There are many purposes for this ranging from record sharing to inter-library loan; and 2) organizing the description(s) made in step 1 so that it/they can be found in multiple ways by multiple people.

Tremendous efficiencies can be realized today in step 1, if everyone concerned (a huge number of completely disparate bibliographic/webliographic communities) will agree to cooperate to standardize their work. (This is part of the purpose of the Cooperative Cataloging Rules: to find some common ground for eventual cooperation, and not all dictated by the library community). Concerning step 2, organizing the descriptions, I think there is much less need for agreement and standardization. Certainly, as far as our users are concerned, the traditional library methods of organization are being left behind by the web2.0 and web3.0 capabilities. Nevertheless, I believe there needs to be a level of "guaranteed areas" of access, just as there is a "guaranteed understanding" in the descriptions as dictated by ISBD, since otherwise, access becomes entirely unpredictable.

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