Monday, December 28, 2009

RE: Wrapping Our Heads Around the New World (in answer to Mac)

Posting to Autocat

A couple of comments here:

On Sun, 27 Dec 2009 12:51:48 -0500, Heidi Hoerman wrote:

>No, what I really think it should mean is that we not try to jam the concepts of RDA/FRBR into the MARC format and that implementing RDA at this point is an exercise in futile frustration and wasted effort.

Attached to this, and one of the main reasons why I believe RDA is already dated, is that we must realize we are not in this alone--not anymore. Perhaps when FRBR was being developed, we still were more or less alone, but not today. For the good of our users, and for our own good, we cannot simply ignore tools such as the Internet Movie Database. We do this to our own
peril, much as what has happened with newspapers who ignored Craigslist and have suffered as a result. There are lots of tools and potential partners out there now and the result must not be duplicating the work over and over and over again.

> That's what we want: searchable access to the holdings of our libraries. That's the major purpose of our catalogs.

But I ask: is searchable access to the holdings *of our libraries* what our patrons want? Or do they want to know what is really available to them no matter where it happens to be? I would say that, based on the increasing numbers of ILL requests, and the boom in internet usage among everyone, patrons feel rather constrained by knowing only what is available within a
collection (although that is still important) and this feeling will only grow in the future. For example, if someone wants US government documents, they should no longer look only in specific library catalogs--there are much better places to go for government documents. The same with materials from the UN or the European Union, or many other institutions.

These are some of the very serious issues facing cataloging and catalogs. Getting rid of the ISO2709 version of MARC format would allow us to share our information more widely and would be a step in the right direction, but how the implementation of RDA will solve any of them remains a mystery to me.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

FW: Re: technology improved knowledge?

On Mon, 21 Dec 2009 07:12:31 -0600, Suzanne Stauffer wrote:

>There are several underlying fallacies in this entire argument.

>The first is that everyone in a pre-literate culture memorized everything. As Suzanne notes, there were a few storytellers/oral historians for the entire group. People memorized what they needed to memorize to get through the day, just as we still do today.
>The second is that, once we learn to read, we stop memorizing. If nothing else, we memorize the alphabet. We memorize the written word. We memorize grammar and syntax and spelling (woe to the student who relies solely on electronic checkers). We still memorize our names and the names and faces of those close to us. We memorize our favorite foods, as well as those that disgust us.
There is a difference between "remembering" and "memorizing." I can remember to call a friend when I get off work, but I don’t memorize it. I need to forget it as soon as I call him. As far as “memorizing” grammar, Noam Chomsky claims that our brains are genetically wired for language somehow, and we assimilate the rules of language in a special way, because it is impossible to memorize all of the rules for a language, and if you don’t learn them by a certain age, you will never learn them as well.

But to get back on the topic, it is well known that memories are notoriously untrustworthy. By its very nature, the human mind places thoughts into relationships with an individual’s other feelings and experiences, and these relationships naturally vary tremendously from one person to another. We see this happen even today with “recovered memories” that can be extremely bizarre and although they are fervently believed by those who have them, it often turns out that these memories have nothing whatever to do with any kind of reality.

I think our remote ancestors understood this very well, and this is the reason they came up with “memorization,” so that relatively few deviations from the original could be made. But memorization was different from our idea: there were still variants, as when a bard would sing the story of Beowulf, it was half-memory and half-creation, and he would sing it slightly differently each time using certain methods, based on his imperfect memory, but also perhaps changing it for his audience. Writing something down, as Homer finally did with the Iliad and Odyssey, turns it into something different.

We probably see this most clearly today in music, which is written down but no musician would ever say that the notes on a piece of paper equals the music itself. The music is made up of sound which must be heard and experienced during a performance, so the music is not even a record or a CD-ROM. And each musician will interpret the same piece of music in a slightly different way that others can hear and appreciate.

What is the library’s role in all of this? Especially in this day of virtual, mixed culture, creating things that could never have happened before? For example, here is Elvis Presley singing a Christmas song “with” Martina McBride, but this never happened in reality since she was only ten years old when he died: (I hope the link works)

I think the role of libraries is changing somehow, but it’s still very unclear how. I do think it will be highly interesting and exciting, and if we do it right, could be very important for all of society.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

FW: technology improved knowledge?

To Autocat

On Mon, 21 Dec 2009 09:31:23 -0600, Guinn, Suzanne wrote:

>Thus we have this scenario --
-Someone postulated a theory or thesis and wrote it down. (Sorry, Socrates).
-The next person has a question about what was said and writes a response.
-A third person has a question but doesn't know the answer, so he looks for more written responses.
-The Information Facilitator, (!) networking with other "IF's" finds the recorded response and gives access to the third person still seeking answers.
-Along the way all have used some form of technology to accomplish the task. It doesn't necessarily make the knowledge better or worse, but at least accessible, faster to obtain, and able to be distributed to an even wider audience than those within earshot of the speaker.

Perhaps the Information Facilitator sums up very well what I think will be the task of libraries in the future (and by extension, of library *catalogs* since they will be more and more the initial and only point of contact between the public and the library's "stuff" and services). We have facilitated some of this in the past by employing headings that go beyond any present limitations, e.g. people can find disquisitions on Aristotle's Ethics written during all times in history; and with citation indexes, which use citations so that if you have an article from 1958, you can find other, later articles that cite your article. (You can do this same thing in Google Scholar, by the way)

While this has been a step in the right direction, there are still problems with it. For example, if I were interested in later discussions of the section from the Phaedrus I cited earlier, a mere citation found in a book of the Phaedrus will probably be of little use, because Phaedrus is a
wide-ranging dialog and the sections about writing are only a small part of it. Again, there may be small parts of books or essays by Abelard, Dante, Hegel, and many others that deal with Socrates' argument about writing, but these small parts get lost because they are all contained in much larger works. Of course, getting this level of control is far beyond the capabilities of the library community, but it is one place where the public can help, using the Web2.0 tools.

There is a part of me that thinks that in 30 or 40 years, people may look on the physical book in quite a different way than we do now. I remember when I went through Hartford, Connecticut and stopped at Mark Twain's house. Apparently, he had one of the first telephones in the country and it occupies a prominent place. Of course, it no longer works today and even back then, it was connected to the no more than a dozen or so other telephones that existed. Perhaps people in the future will look at a book in a way similar to how I looked at Twain's primitive, disconnected telephone: as a self-contained unit devoid of the context that the online resources
provide, linked and inter-linked to varying types of resources all over the place and that opens a world of possibilities. While Twain's telephone opened up his world, it is woefully inadequate today.

A few thoughts on an interesting topic.

Monday, December 21, 2009

FW: technology improved knowledge? (was Friday humor; was A book of possible intersst)

From Autocat

On Sun, 20 Dec 2009 13:50:09 -0700, Laurence S. Creider wrote:

>What we are doing is outsourcing our memory and knowledge (literally). Because we can store knowledge and the results of experience outside of our own heads, we can devote more mental activity (and "space"?) to discovering new things. Further, our knowledge need not die with us. Sowhat we individually remember is only a small portion of the accumulated knowledge. So this is outsourcing we need.
>There are losses. No one in western culture since at least the 12th century can know and integrate all knowledge. We have gradually moved from knowing a small number of texts deeply and through many encounters to racing through massive amounts of information (the so-call reading revolution of the 18th century from intensive to extensive reading). I think these developments make the acquisition of wisdom harder and rarer.

Socrates discusses this in the Phaedrus. Sorry for the extended quote, but I can't figure out a decent link. Socrates talks about it by describing a wonderful Egyptian myth of the discovery of writing (Both quotes from

"SOCRATES: At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old god, whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis is sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters. Now in those days the god Thamus was the king of the whole country of Egypt; and he dwelt in that great city of Upper Egypt which the Hellenes call Egyptian Thebes, and the god himself is called by them Ammon. To him came Theuth and showed his inventions, desiring that the other Egyptians might be allowed to have the benefit of them; he enumerated them, and Thamus enquired about their several uses, and praised some of them and censured others, as he approved or disapproved of them. It would take a long time to repeat all that Thamus said to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts. But when they came to letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit. Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality."

And then he continues with:

"SOCRATES: I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus, that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence. And the same may be said of speeches. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them, the speaker always gives one unvarying answer. And when they have been once written down they are tumbled about anywhere among those who may or may not understand them, and know not to whom they should reply, to whom not: and, if they are maltreated or abused, they have no parent to protect them; and they cannot protect or defend themselves."

And this makes sense. Whenever you are trying to understand something, questions must arise in your mind if you are listening intently: "Do I understand the argument correctly?" "What about...?" "This part doesn't make sense" and so on and so on. You want to ask questions constantly if you are an active listener.

With face-to-face communication (dialogs) this can occur but you cannot ask questions of a written text. This is why Socrates told his students not to write (which Plato among a few others, didn't follow, thank goodness!). But Socrates' criticisms have always remained true because a printed text is fixed and it is ridiculous to ask questions of a book. The way this has been "solved" is with other published materials. There undoubtedly will be later books or articles that raise interesting questions, correct errors, and so on, but that is difficult, and is a main aspect of research. Some of the experiments with new technology attempt to get around this. Two
that I can think of immediately are the book Gamer Theory at:

and I believe a more successful attempt is with Lessing's Golden Notebook

The commentaries and updates are held within the same item and in effect, solves the problems of Socrates. Who knows what there will be in the future?

Friday, December 18, 2009

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:
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, 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.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

RE: Open Reply to Thomas Mann

A continuation from Autocat

Ted P Gemberling wrote:

I think there is little reason to fear that librarians in North America and elsewhere in the developed world will fail to keep up with change. They seem pretty obsessive about that. There's nothing you hear more often at library conferences than "the only constant is change." Every now and then, we need someone like Thomas Mann to speak up about the enduring values of our profession.

Please realize that I am not saying that individual librarians are not keeping up; it's just the reality of the situation for libraries as a whole: the tasks of selection and organization, and libraries themselves that are not keeping up (I am leaving out description, maintenance, conservation, reference, and other library tasks here). Where do we see libraries in the forefront of information discovery? True, libraries are putting massive numbers of scanned books online... mainly through Google Books! Many wonderful manuscript collections have been placed online, oral histories, statistics, publications from international organizations and think tanks. But almost the only way to access them is through Google and Yahoo. Only now are libraries really beginning to deal with Web2.0 possibilities. Web2.0 is premised on sharing information and metadata, while libraries have done relatively little in these areas.

But I am not finding fault, merely describing the situation as I see it. These are not simple matters, and change has always been very, very slow in the library world. Now that the rest of the information world is changing much faster than ever before, changes in libraries must also happen much faster, otherwise we will be doomed to fall farther and farther behind. I understand that change is difficult to enact in highly bureaucratized environments where there must be this thing called "consensus," and it is not easy to broaden the gaze of the selectors, catalogers, other librarians and, let's not forget administrators, from looking only *inside* the library to include more fully what is *outside* the library. That is a basic change in world-view. The question: How much work do you do to catalog a freely-accessible item on the web that might go away or change radically tomorrow? I can understand concluding: very little, but this essentially ignores the directions our patrons are going. It is difficult to reach agreement on something like this.

Yet, that is exactly the beauty of Web2.0 tools: you don't need consensus. Just put your "stuff" up in a format that can be shared, while you always keep in mind that everything you create is a work in progress. Therefore, the focus should not be on creating "finished products" but much more on making something better than what you have today. Next week, you will make something better than you are making now, but that still doesn't mean that you shouldn't make the improvements now, today because in a year, you may have something entirely new. Maybe you can even let your patrons take over some things. Today's public can handle change and expect to see it.

Finally, I pointed out in my open reply that Thomas Mann's essay is an excellent statement for the values of traditional librarianship.

I wanted to comment on a couple of things you said in your last message:

"Just as "no man is an island," no library collection can be seen as separate, either. This makes a huge difference in the work of every single librarian, and sadly, lowers the value of the traditional catalog as well.
Somehow the catalog must change to find web materials more uniformly. This is a huge undertaking and, I think, demands other methods. The materials on the shelves of our libraries cannot be considered separately from materials on the web. They are all of equal worth and that means reference librarians will be expected to know (and are expected to know right now) the materials on the web just as well as they know the materials on their shelves, but there are no tools for the web that are in any way comparable as those we have for printed materials."

I believe in your Open Reply you spoke of the internet as a library. But I think that's like calling television a library. On both the Net and television there's lots that is of value, but I wouldn't call them libraries. A library is a collection of resources that have been selected and organized because they've been recognized as having enduring value. It's not just a conglomeration of accessible things. So it's questionable that any real catalog can or should find web materials "uniformly." No one needs to say there are valuable things on the Web as well as television. The statement of Mann's that you responded to is a Web document.

But I think Mann would agree that no library is an "island" in a total sense. But islands can mean a lot sometimes. This reminds me of a recent TV documentary on Christopher Columbus. Columbus and his crew were desperate to find an island when they made their first trans-Atlantic voyage. It was terrifying to be out on the open sea, and they almost turned back. Of course we know they completely misinterpreted the islands they did find. Perhaps we can extend the analogy a little and say that, because of its vastness and comprehensiveness, the Library of Congress is like one of those big islands we call "continents." At times, looking for things on the unorganized Web seems rather like embarking on a voyage on the open sea and clinging to every little bit of land one finds. If you have a map like the LC catalog, you might have a better chance of finding your way to the continent you're looking for.

You have hit on a point mentioned in my open reply, but I'll put it in different terms. I view the web as a huge, growing library that is in a state of near chaos. That means it needs at the minimum, selection and organization for retrieval. Either we leave this to the Googlies or try to get some level of control over it ourselves. It has been predicted that within 10 or 20 years, we will be able to carry the equivalent of the entire LC collection in our pocket and we seem to be on target. Already, I have seen that there are 250GB flash drives! When an Ipod for books appears (and it may be here already) these developments will have huge ramifications for us. It is regrettable, but in such a world, the materials not digitized will in effect, simply not exist. The reason will be that there will be plenty of easily accessible items to keep practically everybody completely occupied. This has happened before, when printed books first came out. Before the printed book, manuscripts were the only choice, which was a real pain, and people preferred the ease of printed books and it turned out that if a manuscript was not published, practically no one paid it any attention.

It is my concern and deeply held belief that we concentrate on these "islands" to our own peril. Sure, these islands will continue to be needed, but they will become less and less important to the lives of the vast majority of society. Perhaps the great islands will be the last to go, but they will still be left behind. The way to save them is to digitize them so that they will be used and thereby gain in importance, perhaps more than ever before. For instance, this happened with JSTOR which made many older journals far more accessible and useful today than their printed versions ever were.

As I concluded in my open reply: it is time to move on. I'll add though: If we do it right, the new world can be a great one.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

FW: Open Reply to Thomas Mann



Thank you so much for your very thoughtful replies. I appreciate and enjoy Thomas Mann's analyses but when I see what I consider to be problems, I feel I must reply. Whether I am right or wrong is for each person to decide.

I want to start with your final item:

5) One last point: we should recognize that Mann's statement is really just about the Library of Congress. He's really only making an appeal for cataloging not being cut there. It's quite a savvy piece, because he's found a way to pit James Billington, the Librarian of Congress, against Deanna Marcum, since some of her statements conflict with Billington's. I think we will all benefit if Mann's argument is successful, but some of the points you made about costs are probably quite true. Probably lots of libraries will have to save money and may have to cut cataloging in some ways. But if LC doesn't do the same, we'll all be in a lot better shape!

I tried to deal with this at the beginning of my open reply. Now that the web is here to stay for better or worse, and the numerous resources found there makes it rapidly becoming one of the great research "libraries" in the world, and since this "web library" is immediately accessible to everyone, this makes it a completely different entity from anything we have had before, totally different from the libraries at Columbia University, LC, Illinois, Princeton, Harvard, etc., each with its own respective experts. There is and can be, no comparable "Internet/Web Librarian" where we can send our patrons. Today, no collection that has access to the web can consider itself as "separate." Nevertheless, such a realization is absolutely terrifying since in this scenario, our responsibilities expand at an alarming rate.

Before I continue, let me reiterate that I firmly believe that human-created, high-quality cataloging is absolutely essential since keyword on its own is obviously not adequate, and Mr. Mann provides excellent examples of this. But aside from considering the question, "What constitutes high-quality cataloging today?" (which is a huge question) we can also say that in today's information environment these human-made records, high-quality or not, are just as inadequate. Any child can demonstrate this easily with keyword picking up "bits and pieces" that go unnoticed in traditional tools. And when you continue the previous line of thinking and say that the materials on the web are also part of "the library's collection" there are untold consequences for selection (we all know the web badly needs selection!), cataloging, reference and not least of all, catalog maintenance.

Just as "no man is an island," no library collection can be seen as separate, either. This makes a huge difference in the work of every single librarian, and sadly, lowers the value of the traditional catalog as well. Somehow the catalog must change to find web materials more uniformly. This is a huge undertaking and, I think, demands other methods. The materials on the shelves of our libraries cannot be considered separately from materials on the web. They are all of equal worth and that means reference librarians will be expected to know (and are expected to know right now) the materials on the web just as well as they know the materials on their shelves, but there are no tools for the web that are in any way comparable as those we have for printed materials. That is what is terrifying.

1) "Books on the floor will necessarily be out of any classified arrangement, at least for a time."

Actually, that may not be true. In the late 90's, Indiana University ran out of room in its main research collection and had to put many books in "overflow carts." They were arranged in call number order, near the stacks with related numbers. That may be what he means by "books on the floor." I'd be surprised if LC just piled them on the floor without arrangement.

I agree to a point. Although these materials may be on book trucks close by (or at some institutions I have seen, on window sills, overflow shelves located elsewhere, *or* sometimes on the floor), the basic idea is still the same since the ability to browse through a single classification is still broken because you have to look in multiple places.

But Mann has never said anything against modern tools. The point is that until everything is digitized, you may not be able to find some kinds of detailed information without looking at physical pages, and the only way to find them is by looking at stacks classified for the general topic one is concerned with.

Even when (or if) everything is digitized, keyword access will be inadequate. As has been pointed out by others, isolated keywords are often useless or even misleading if you can't see the context in which they occur. And dealing with physical books helps you to put them in context.


4) That strikes me as an exaggeration. But what does "adequate" mean here? Mann is telling us we need professional-cataloger-made metadata, but he also says researchers need the help of reference librarians. Both of those kinds of help, together, have a good chance of being adequate. He says keyword searches and other strategies will also help. But if that metadata isn't provided, there's a good chance researchers and librarians will have a lot more trouble finding what they need. We will be cutting our budgets while raising the cost of research for our patrons.

"... if that metadata isn't provided, there's a good chance researchers and librarians will have a lot more trouble finding what they need," while I personally agree, I think this is a statement we must prove today.

For instance, apart from the question of how well they work, we must simply confess that with every passing year our traditional finding tools are becoming more and more strange to our patrons who grew up with Google. This doesn't (necessarily) mean that our patrons are stupid and don't want to learn, but that our primary task is to make tools that fit into their world. We have to do this efficiently, reliably, with a certain level of the "cool factor," and I think, quickly. I don't believe the library community is succeeding in doing this. There have been some notable attempts in the last few years, but we are far behind many others in the information field.

But keep in mind that when you create a cataloging record and add an analytic, such as "700 12 $a [Author name]. $t [Title]," you are making that physical item "virtual" in a sense. You're letting the researcher know that another work is included in the physical volume, possibly by another author and on an unrelated subject. So in electronic catalogs, the difference between electronic and print resources isn't as great as you're making it sound. And Mann has never advocated browsing shelves without using the catalog.

I completely agree (as I think I did in my open reply as well) to say that this demonstrates the problem with browsing. Otherwise, I'm not sure I understand your point. Yes, people who use the catalog are aware of the analytic, but it is out of the physical browsing arrangement e.g. in my example, someone who is interested in what Xenophon said about horses, must find it under what Ovid said about love.

To be honest, I am really frightened that if we in the library profession goes on and on about how important is the physical use of materials on the shelves of our libraries, such as browsing and so on, we automatically lose the debate on the future library which, I think we all know, must become more and more virtual. The future virtual library must be seen as an unambiguously good thing and things are changing so rapidly, it all may happen much sooner than we can imagine.

If physical browsing is considered to be totally indispensable for information retrieval (personally, I doubt it very seriously since I think it fulfills psychological needs much more than informational needs) then we absolutely must build tools that somehow allow "virtual browsing," because there will be increasingly more and more materials that cannot be browsed physically. I don't think this would be worth the effort since I believe that is not what our people really want or need.

I find it interesting that throughout my various replies to Thomas Mann, people have found the most fault with my statements on browsing, which are certainly nothing new and whose problems have been known from the beginning of libraries. Compare the comments on my blog at:


Monday, December 14, 2009

FW: Wikipedia, Wikipedia presentation TIES

From an email exchange with Nathan Rinne on his article/presentation: Wikipedia: the educator's friend(!) (document, document (copy 2) presentation)


Thanks so much for sharing this with me.

A few comments and thoughts. One thing that might interest you is a very good presentation through at: Toward the end of his talk, he has some interesting comments about Wikipedia and The Star Wars Kid (who I did not know about at all). I think it’s around Chapter 13 and watch on from there, but the entire talk is very good.

But for my own thoughts on this, I am also involved in our Information Literacy program (where I teach the library sections). Information literacy has grown far beyond the old "bibliographic instruction" and now is arguably the underlying purpose of creating an education person. See for example, Middle States' "Developing Research & Communication Skills: Guidelines for Information Literacy in the Curriculum" (2003) at

Everything in Information Literacy is premised on the concept of “authority.” The information literate person can do several things (extracted just the parts dealing with what I will call "intellectual authority"):

  • can distinguish among the various types of resources (e.g., scholarly work, informed opinions of practitioners, and trade literature);
  • Is familiar with major reference collections in his or her discipline and selects from among them appropriately;
  • Knows how to evaluate information sources;
  • Understands what plagiarism is and some of the complexities of copyright law, the ethical use of information, intellectual property, etc.;
  • Uses high-quality content;
  • Has learned how to cite material appropriately and develop a bibliography;

So we teach them to ask: who is the author? Has the resource been peer-reviewed? etc. etc. etc. And I understand these concerns since there is a lot of superstitious blather on the web.

But if you look at it in another way, there has always been a lot of superstitious blather around. I don’t think it’s any worse now than ever before, it’s just that the superstitious blather is easier to get. Before the web, we did not have such emphasis on “authority” in the books and journals on our library shelves, and there is no real reason to think that what people read from the shelves of a library is any better than something on the web today. Format has nothing to do with correctness of information. I wrote about this in one section of my online information literacy workshop, "What is a Library?" at

Librarians never collected for “truth” and “correctness” but because “this is the information my users need, whether or not I, or others, think it is absolute trash.” Look at the fights over The Joy of Sex and Huckleberry Finn and all of those other books. We do this based on freedom of thought. Still, people took comfort in the supposed objectivity that “this fact was taken from a book that you too can see on the shelves of the library.” It didn’t matter much if the book was 30 years old written during the McCarthy days. We never instructed people to check up on the authors or publishing houses to determine their “credibility” and we would have known that nobody would have done that anyway since we knew that doing research takes a lot of time and nobody would ever have done all that additional work. Nevertheless, the fact that "this information" came from a book on the shelves of the library meant that it should be regarded in a special way.

In class, professors would smile conspiratorially sometimes and mention that if you want to be really avant-garde, you might want to read certain specific works. But even those were selected and "approved" too, in their own way. The materials that were not in libraries might as well not have existed at all. And some of them were, of course, very interesting and far more thought-provoking than many of the dry, dusty old tomes in the library.

But with the web, all of these “controls” are off, and a lot of the vested interests don’t like it one bit so they try to regain control. At first, the academics responded (as I did myself) by proclaiming that Wikipedia, and in fact, 99.99% of everything on the web is a big pile of doo-doo; so you shouldn’t use it and use instead these other works that have been “approved” by the “experts.” Of course, the experts means us. Then somebody went out and demonstrated that while Wikipedia and a lot of the stuff on the web wasn't perfect, it was as good or actually *better* than the stuff on the shelves!

So, this was a genuine threat to the powers-that-be, and their response was very clever indeed: to co-opt Wikipedia to use *only* cited, verifiable information. And that meant that the basis of everything lay in the traditional tools the academics control. And that meant that the basis of everything lay within the traditional tools under complete control of the academics, and that an outsider could almost never break into.

I don’t know how long this situation will last. If the "Information Triumverate" you mentioned is correct, and I believe that it may be:

  • The medium of the internet (which stores and supplies information)…
  • The search engine of Google (which dominates the navigation of the internet)…
  • And the information source of Wikipedia (which dominates the results served up by Google)

we can get a sense of the potential power of Wikipedia, and by extension since it is based on traditional cited sources, the power of the traditional tools of information, controlled by the traditional experts.

The entire situation reminds me of the beginning of printing, with its initial joy as the populace could suddenly read so many things, and the associated promise that the Church could finally get control of all of those manuscript variants lying all over the place that fostered “misunderstandings” among the religious communities; then the shock as things were printed that the people wanted to read instead of what the officials thought they should be reading, “misunderstandings” multiplied, with the Church actually losing control of what was printed, heresies duplicated effortlessly and endlessly; then their shock turning to anger and hatred when the Church initiated the Counter-Reformation and the Index of Forbidden Books, burnings at the stake for things that had been tolerated earlier. Finally, exhaustion takes hold and the Church finally decides to capitulate (not until 1966!) when the Index was discontinued.

I wish that the emphasis in school and on the web would *not* be on citing someone in authority. The reality of peer-review is really eye-opening and often a joke. Many peer-reviewers become closet fascists, others take no concern whatsoever. We have all heard of the problems with the experts, from government, academia, business and elsewhere, who are no different from us and make mistakes (or worse) in their research.

The emphasis in all of this should be on questioning by using and always developing the power of reason in each individual, and using the powers of the web for a genuine *post* peer review process, so that somebody can understand clearly that the book about communism published by Yale University Press during the McCarthy era is both out of date and necessarily biased. They might even find a reference to something more useful. The earlier book may be useful for many things, but is most probably not the best source for a discussion about communism.

So, to come full circle, this is my entire problem with information literacy and how Wikipedia sort of encapsulates it all: it is based on accepted “authority” instead of on reason. In the place of a Church-sponsored Index of Forbidden Books, Wikipedia is using an Index of Approved Books. The final result seems to be precisely the same.

Perhaps I’m being unfair in my criticisms of these things, but the criticisms must be made first before they can be accepted or rejected, and any adjustments made.

Anyway, thanks for a *very interesting* article that has made me think.



You said:

"We never collected for “truth” and “correctness” but because “this is the information my users need, whether I, or others, think it is trash or not.”"

At the same time, there has always been a bit of a "culture war" about this, no? It seems to me, from my reading of the history of libraries in America (Clifford Nelson, I think?) that public libraries at least, have often compromised, giving persons a mix of what librarians and elites might think they need, and what "the people" themselves thought they needed and wanted (given they would make such distinctions)...

As Francis Miska put it:

Original focus of the library movement:
“to deliver the best books by the best authors to a public, who by reading them would become mentally cultivated.”
Not giving books to people because they “can do something with it” (practical use), but because of “what a book would do to them.”
(Francis Miska, “The Genius of Cataloging”, audio program)

"So, this was a genuine threat to the powers-that-be, and their response was very clever indeed: to co-opt Wikipedia to use *only* cited, verifiable information. And that meant that the basis of everything lay in the traditional tools the academics control."

Jim, do you have a source (reliable! :) ) where I could read more about this? I thought that "verifiability" was one of the original pillars of Wikipedia, and that Sanger had introduced it...

"I wish that the emphasis in school and on the web would *not* be on citing someone in authority. (I actually know lots of these people now, and realize that many do not have the brains that God gave a goose)"... Wikipedia sort of encapsulates it all: it is based on accepted “authority” instead of on reason.

I agree (so long as the definition of reason is sufficiently broad: i.e. not necessarily saying a priori that miracles are impossible, that reason is synonymous with science [focus on evidence] but not philosophy [focus on coherence], that scientific naturalism should not only be used as a method in the hard sciences [where it has produced quite useful results], but should act as a "univeral acid" [Dennet], etc) Of course, trusting in, relying on, and citing authorities is also part and parcel of life - one that is intractable, in fact... and reason in its truest form should acknowledge even this!


Hi Nathan,

A few points. The one of Fran Miksa (my former cataloging professor), is correct as far as it goes. That sort of “civic improvement” attitude changed with the inclusion of librarian ethics, with the growth of ALA. :, particularly:

  • We provide the highest level of service to all library users through appropriate and usefully organized resources; equitable service policies; equitable access; and accurate, unbiased, and courteous responses to all requests.
  • We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.
  • We do not advance private interests at the expense of library users, colleagues, or our employing institutions.
  • We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources.

So, if somebody is intent on going to hell, I cannot stop him or her, whether I think they are geniuses or fools. If they come to me for bibliographic advice however, that’s another thing. But, being responsible for the library’s budget, I can’t get only what I want to get; I can’t get only what I think my patrons *should* get to “improve” them, I need to concentrate on what fulfills their information needs. That’s not the same thing.

It's important to note that this is not the same as the traditional focus of academia, based on "academic freedom," which is more concerned with a professor's (or university's) requirement to teach what he or she considers to be correct instead of the librarian's ethic of being unbiased.

You ask about the history of “verifiability” in Wikipedia, and I can’t find anything per se, but I am not saying that there is any kind of “conspiracy” here. There is no need for one. It’s a natural outgrowth of the power structures of our society, just as it was during the origins of printing. If the Church hadn’t reacted in the way they did, it would have been strange, because no entity with power will just lay it down without a struggle.

It’s the same today, with the public questioning academic integrity(!!!), of plagiarism, the general usefulness of the academy, questioning tenure, and now with the economic crisis, there’s more and more outcries from people who say they have been rooked by universities: those who have spent tens of thousands for a B.A. in art or English and can only get jobs selling underwear or flipping burgers.

Again, I think we are entering some heady times. Lots of these problems we are discussing have been coming to a head for decades, e.g. the underlying problems besetting the publishing industry have been going on for a long, long time; the problem of universities taking fabulous amounts of money “preparing” people with skills that are not useful once they are out of school, for jobs that don’t exist. This is similar to the corruption in the Church: it did not happen overnight but developed over centuries. The printing revolution merely intensified the argument and brought it into such focus that it couldn’t be ignored anymore. I think the greater ease of communication among all different strata of society is having a tremendous impact and we are only seeing the beginning of it. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it should prove to be “interesting.”


Thanks again for the interaction. I understand how you are saying attitudes changed a bit, but of course some attitudes have changed more than others and many might like to think that their attitude changed, while in reality, they just are not so conscious that they still mother people with their choices of books and with thier ideas about what is and isn't appropriate... (we all do).

Of course, I think the code is admirable, just talking about how it is complicated, and can actually make us think we are being more objective about things when in reality, we are just hiding from our many unconscious assumptions and presuppostions...

That said, of course we all should meet the needs (and wants) of our users, otherwise we will find ourselves not very appreciated... : )


Friday, December 11, 2009

RE: [alcts-eforum] Hidden Collections

Deeken, Joanne wrote:

What can we sacrifice in quality work on one description that would free us up to create at least some access to a broad range of material not hidden? Or could the question be better stated as “What is quality work?” When is “some access for a lot” better than “good access for a few?”

I have written a bit on this, and I think much of it has to do with commonly-accepted standard records. We are in this together and must cooperate; therefore, a record created by one library must be of adequate quality to be accepted by another library. If we don’t make records good enough to share, then each library is left on its own. When one library decides to go its own way, it hurts everyone else, as we saw with LC’s decision to no longer trace series. If everybody else had decided not to trace series too, then everything is OK, but otherwise it just offloads the work on everyone else.

While I believe AACR2 is a fabulous standard (and there is no need to get into RDA here), I think we need to face some realities. Although it can be done, it takes quite a long time to create a self-sufficient cataloger who knows the intricacies of AACR2/LCSH/LCC or Dewey/MARC21 to catalog at full-level, and there are changes all the time; witness only the weekly updates to LCSH, but everything is updated constantly. You can’t come out of library school as a fully trained cataloger. You can have some basic understanding, but there is just not the time, and only training on the job can do it.

It is my gut feeling, although I can’t point to anything, that libraries are either not willing or not able to continue this level of training. As a result, adherence to the standards has been going down anyway. I think we have all seen that. Therefore, I submit that perhaps we have to rethink the standard: is it simply too high that it is unachievable in the real world of today?

But I emphasize that any reconsideration of standards should and must be done in a cooperative way since otherwise, each library will decide on their own and any records that are “shared” will have to be reworked. Although I don’t believe it was mentioned explicitly in the report, I have wondered if this is what we are really seeing in LC’s “Study of the North American MARC Records Marketplace” in the section “Cataloging Capacity” (p. 10) where they discuss how the numbers just don’t add up.

Perhaps the quality of copy varies so much that catalogers just have to check everything closely or redo everything over and over again. Also, with RLIN gone and OCLC’s primary record, there is no longer a choice among different libraries and many times the updates from one library are not shared with others.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Will Linked Data mean an early end for Marc & RDA

From a comment to the Panlibus blog entry:

Will Linked Data mean an early end for Marc & RDA

I just saw this post and want to thank you for showing some great examples of sites using linked data. But I would like to clarify where you quoted me when I stated: “Implementing linked data, although it would be great, is years and years away from any kind of practical implementation.” I guess I should have written that it is years and years away from any kind of practical implementation *by libraries.*

Implementation at such a level simply involves too much change in a field that has always been traditionally conservative. Practically our only way of sharing information is still using ISO2709 records using Z39.50, which we were doing in the 1970s! There is also the concern of genuinely sharing library-created records and information in ways where librarians are not in 100% control. This is an argument that flared up recently with OCLC claiming ownership over library records, and they backed down, although I have not heard of any final decision as yet.

So yes, implementing linked data is being done, and technically speaking, could be done rather soon in the library world as well, but at least I think it simply involves too many changes for librarians and its associated bureaucracy to adopt anytime soon.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

[NGC4LIB] Open Reply to Thomas Mann

This was a message sent to me privately, so I have removed the name.

> <snip>
> I think there are solutions, and these solutions need the skills of librarians and especially catalogers. But I don't know if doing things the same, old way (making full-level MARC21/LCSH/LCC/LCNAF records) is a genuine, sustainable solution. I also don't know if we need a single database to search, or more of a federated one, such as at the European Library: or even something different like a torrent engine, or something I don't know about.

> James Weinheimer
> </snip>
> ==========================
> Why don't you go with something you don't know about to satisfy user needs you can't imagine? Maybe you don't realize it but that's what you keep saying you want to do. Meanwhile, I'll continue cataloging and actually providing access for real people here in the real world.

I guess you don't care for my ideas. That's all right, I keep on cataloging, too. But I do think it's fair to ask if what we are doing is the best thing. For example, *if* things are going like I believe they are (and I certainly have lots of distinguished company who share my belief), doesn't it seem to make sense to rethink things?

Have you worked with an undergraduate to show them how to find information in the library? For me, Google is still new and weird, but they grew up with Google, so it's been a close part of their life. It's their trusted friend.

Part of my job is reference work and to do the information literacy sessions, and we get study-abroad students from all over the US here. I haven't met a single one yet who has understood how a library catalog works. A huge percentage have *never* even looked at a library catalog, even in their home schools! And they are shocked when I tell them that if they want to use a library, they absolutely *must* use the library's catalog whether they like it or not.

Students use the catalog like Google: they just throw some keywords at it and see what comes out. They might click on a heading occasionally, but they don't understand authority control, certainly nothing about the syndetic structure (the real power of the catalog) or anything at all, and they really don't want to learn something that they suspect is obsolete and even smacks of doing a little work. A very few pick up how the catalog works and see that it's powerful, but I can count them on one hand.

So my question is: when you are cataloging things today, are you *really* giving access to them? Sure, you are putting a full-level record in your catalog, and putting the book on the shelf somewhere, if the records go to Worldcat, a "huge" .02% of people on the web actually use it, but that must be a tremendous improvement over how many use the local catalog. But even then, are your patrons using your catalog? Do they just take the list of books from their instructors and use them as entry points to browse the shelves? I think that's what a *lot* of people do and probably have done for a long time. And they see nothing strange about this and think they are really good at using the library.

I want to provide access for real people in the real world too, and if we are now making the equivalent of stone axes, that hurts me to hear since I have made an entire career out of cataloging, but if it is true, then *that* is the real world and I must accept it. And then deal with it using the skills and experience I have built up over the years. Sure, I could just keep on making my stone axes and telling myself that people need these things, but if people are moving on to steel ball-peen hammers and mechanized tools, or even lasers or newer tools, I need to know about it and re-think matters. I think traditional library tools *can be* powerful but they must be retooled in major ways to make them relevant to the ways our patrons live and work today.

I think it's exciting!


Thursday, December 3, 2009

[NGC4LIB] Open Reply to Thomas Mann

Bernhard Eversberg wrote:
> It was openly said that DDB is also intended as a "German answer to Google Booksearch", to counter the hazard of them becoming a monopoly. Contrary to GBS practice, DDB will ask rightsholders first before scanning their works, said cabinet minister Neumann. A noble intention indeed.
> As far as Google News reaches, there seems to be no news about it in the foreign press, whereas all German media carry the report and commentators seem to be unanimously pleased with the idea of a competition against Google. A fine idea indeed.
> No mention is made in the plans and announcements of library catalogs. Will they be considered "appropriate tools"?

Thanks a lot for this information. I haven't read about it either. When German and French publishers were excluded from the Google Books agreement, I was really concerned that their materials would just go unused because they will be much harder for people to access and people will generally take the easiest route available. I didn't know what the French and Germans had in mind: just to say "No, I don't like the agreement" or if they intended to build a competitor to Google Books. I applaud the effort.

And yet, it is hard to say if they will succeed. Using Europeana makes me rather skeptical. Here are some Alexa statistics. Percentages are total percentages of internet users who have visited each site. I must say, even though I have incorporated Europeana into my Extend Search function, and there are some very nice materials there, no user I have spoken with has ever heard of it.

7 day 0.0016
1 month 0.00114
3 month 0.00117

7 day 0.0168
1 month 0.0187
3 month 0.0178

7 day 0.0309
1 month 0.0302
3 month 0.0278

Alexa only gives statistics for domains, and not subdomains (, or and I can't find these statistics anywhere, but they could be very interesting to compare.

In any case, for libraries and catalogers in particular, I think it is clear that "finding" relevant materials in a reliable fashion is just as difficult as ever. There seems to be a real opportunity.

I am afraid that we will have to jettison the word "cataloger" though. As I read in a report: "The word 'cataloguer' is, rightly or wrongly, associated with the past and with one form of metadata only: MARC records. As one director commented: '... a 'cataloguer' is however sadly, a bygone relic."
See: "Directors' views on the future of cataloguing in Australia/New Zealand, 2007: a survey / Jenny Warren."

I think that it is the word "cataloger" that is obsolete because it is related in the popular mind with physical materials, but the *task* of cataloging (updated to "metadata") is perhaps more important than ever. "Metadata" does imply a change in Weltanschauung, which has been discussed at length.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

FW: Open Reply to Thomas Mann

Apologies for cross-posting.

To those interested, I have just made available another of my "open replies" to Thomas Mann's report ( on the E-LIS database (once again) at:
"An Open Reply to Thomas Mann's report 'What is Distinctive about the Library of Congress In Both its Collections and its Means of Access to Them ...'"

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

FW: Dept. vs. Department

On Mon, 30 Nov 2009 07:40:31 -0800, Daniel CannCasciato
wrote: [AUTOCAT]

>>>> Jane Kelsey wrote:
>> As this is a coming issue, is anyone in favor of going to Department?
>> I am moving more toward the idea of Department spelled out.
>I'm for spelling it out. There are many headings established (or
references) that use the spelled out form of the word and its variations in
French, Spanish, etc., that I think it would make retrieval and maintenance
easier if we did so all the time.

It would be best if this could be solved in an automated fashion, but I have my doubts about that. I am sure however, of one thing: NOBODY will ever think to search for "United States. Dept. of Defense." except for catalogers and people who have learned (or been burned) along the way. Somehow, a search for "United States. Department of Defense" must retrieve the correct result.

As Ed points out, the card catalog was very forgiving in these matters, and there was also a concern to cut down on the number of letters typed (a holdover from the Taylorist period in cataloging) but also to cut down on the number of cards produced. (More letters typed meant using more space which somewhere would translate itself into an extra card)

All these concerns are shreds of a history that no longer applies.