FW: Open Reply to Thomas Mann

A continuation on Autocat

On Thu, 17 Dec 2009 14:45:32 -0600, Brian Briscoe wrote:

>I believe we may have a difference of view on what a libary “is.” I manage the catalog for a public library district that is funded by the taxpayers of that taxing district (in our case, a single county). As such, our mission is to collect, catalog and make available resources for those taxpayers.
>As such, we have chosen to purchase certain materials (print, digital, audio, etc) that are meant to serve the needs and wants of those taxpayers. That means that there are a lot of “things” that we have not selected. Bookstores may provide those. The internet may provide those. Schools may provide those. And finding those resources outisde of the library can be (and always has been) unclear and more difficult for our customers to find. But they fall outside the purview of our library. We don’t catalog them because, even though they are in the universe of information available, we have not made a conscious effort to add them to our library collection.
>The internet and other information providers are part of the “information universe” but not part of any specific library until they have been selected.
>Should librarians try to “catalog” the internet to make it more useful to searchers? Great idea! Go for it!
>But let’s not confuse the larger information universe with a library. That it is not.

These are some excellent points, but I have discussed this before. As you mention yourself, the materials need to be selected. Selection is a primary library task and should become far more important in the future, but it has not been much of an issue for cataloging, and perhaps this will have to change. In any case, physical collections will continue for a long time (I hope!) but they will be less and less at the forefront of the information world.

Yes, the very idea of “selecting” the internet is an appalling notion, but seen in another light, how would the idea of selecting books seem *if* there were no supplementary tools such as Books in Print, book jobbers and library profiles, plus all of the other tools and entire industries that have been created over the years (and sometimes centuries) to help us? What if the only way of doing it would be to look through all of the book catalogs we receive more or less randomly every day, and search them over and over? This is how I see the task before us concerning the internet: we don’t have the supplementary tools we need.

I will agree that if these supplementary tools are not created, selection on the web cannot be done in any kind of fashion other than ad-hoc. But the question immediately arises: Who is going to create these tools? Private companies have done it in the past, but I don’t see many efforts in this direction. I think we will have to make these tools ourselves. There are already some major sites doing this that I use for my own selection of internet resources and I use a page I created to search them easier and faster: http://www.galileo.aur.it/opac-tmpl/npl/en/pages/news/latestwebsites.html
Some of these tools are better and some are worse, I’m sure I’m missing a lot. What exists is anything but comprehensive, but it is better than no help at all or only word of mouth. As one example, I discovered something through these tools that I think is useful. See my “experiment” at http://www.galileo.aur.it/cgi-bin/koha/opac-detail.pl?bib=24173, where I tried to make a “quick and not so dirty” method for accessing Paris Review interviews.

But even beyond this, I think that selecting the internet is beyond the capabilities of librarians alone and we must enlist the help of others, just as selecting books is beyond the capabilities of libraries alone and we have enlisted various companies to help. Today, this is very possible in a Web2.0 world, where we could enlist the help of library selectors around the world, but also interested scholars and experts. In this way, selection could become very broad very quickly and overwhelm any kind of local cataloging which would demand other solutions. Cooperative selection implies cooperative cataloging which in turn implies cooperative catalogs. Before,
technology allowed only rudimentary possibilities for this, but there are many more now. What all of this portends is a matter for debate.

But, let’s ignore all of this and say that “only” the Google Books agreement is accepted and your library buys it. Your library is now paying for 7 million books with lots more to come, all selected by a library somewhere, and the ball is in your court. What do you do? Roll up your shirt sleeves and start with book #1? Do you “re-select” from the whole? Who and how? We could be facing this in a matter of months.

But I think at base, there is a difference in our respective “world-views” of the information universe. I do not think it is wise for our patrons, i.e. the future (or actual) taxpayers and administrators, to connect us with “printed stuff” or even “library stuff.” It is much better for them to connect us with the “important information relevant to my needs.” And that
opens things up.