Saturday, September 4, 2010

RE: [RDA-L] Time and effort

Posting to RDA-L
Hal Cain wrote:
<snip>
Meanwhile the most vexing problem I encounter is not the structure of
the data and how it's encoded, it's the endless duplicate records in
the databases -- and in OCLC's case the non-AACR2 foreign records
which often are the only ones for materials I'm dealing with -- and I
can assure Jim, that those I've already entered are beginning to
attract requests from users. We must be doing something right.

[and]

I wonder how documents figure in the economy of Jim's library? Not
every information need can be met from documentary resources, but if
the documents don't any longer matter then what's the purpose of the
library to make it different from any other kind of instructional
support?
</snip>
I guess I am coming off as anti-book, or at least anti-physical resource and wildly pro-virtual anything. Actually, I like to think that I am "pro-everything", or at least, that I do not want to prefer one format over any other. Anybody who comes to my apartment, filled to bursting with books of all sorts, with print outs, etc. immediately sees that I am anything except anti-book, and I openly declare myself to be an addict.

But, when I, or one of my patrons, or anyone, is reading a book, they need to be aware of all sorts of other information around that book. There has always been this information, and some of it has been organized, but much more has not been, or at least it has been so difficult to find and access that it hasn't been worth the trouble.

Here is a concrete example of what I mean: Here is a record for a book "A war like no other : how the Athenians and Spartans fought the Peloponnesian War / Victor Davis Hanson." http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/57211303. In this record, we can see links from his heading and the subject to other records that are *only within the OCLC database*. That is useful to *those who understand,* but it turns out that this fact, which seems very simple, is not understood by many people.

But avoiding this difficulty for the moment, these links are far from what is out there that people "want or need". One very important resource is a video of a lecture he gave about his book that can be watched at http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/189156-1. But there are book reviews, blog entries by academics, and it goes on and on and on. The moment someone enters into this microcosm of materials surrounding this book, the interested "reader" (for lack of any other word) suddenly steps into a far different world of debates, differences of opinion, differences of interpretation, subtleties etc., which is incomparably more interesting than the single book he or she happens to be holding, where everything is more or less cut and dried. The part that goes beyond the book itself is very human, where the authors have to answer difficult questions, explain further, change their ideas, etc., and the physical book suddenly appears much more limiting and sterile.

Such debates and this "context beyond the item you are holding" have always existed, but they were exceptionally difficult to enter into and took a great deal of time and money--in fact, so much time and money that people needed to devote almost their entire careers to enter it. For example, you could see and participate in a debate on such a topic only physically at conferences, and this meant, for all practical purposes, that you had to be a professor with people paying your expenses. As a consequence, many, many people who may have been very interested, were left out completely, but today it is possible for each person to enter such microcosms, from the Oxford don to the high school student in Ghana.

Can libraries help create these "little microcosms" for people to enter? No, not if they insist on doing it alone because it is obviously far too much work. But I think we can become a very, very important part of something like this that may make a substantive positive difference in people's lives and minds.

How can we do it? There are undoubtedly many ways and at the risk of self-advertisement, I will share something I have built. I have tried in my own small way to do something like this through my "Extend Search". To see it in action, look at the record in my catalog at http://www.galileo.aur.it/cgi-bin/koha/opac-detail.pl?bib=1249, and then select or highlight the title information and author in the record and a small box will pop-up that says Extend Search. Click on that box and you will see a new window that has taken your search and you can now apply it to different groups of databases I have selected.

Click on "Videos" and you will see some explanation, and continue with the search, and your search will be done automatically in Google Video, Internet Archive and other places, and you can try some of those. When you click on "Educational Videos", you will go to yet another page, where you can click on various projects, TED, Fora.tv, etc., and when you click on BookTV, a menu will open and you can then click on the box labelled "Keyword", and you will find the lecture by Hanson on his book, with other things as well.

This is a work in progress and can certainly be improved although it has already evolved quite a bit, with, I admit, a bit of devolution along the way. I think it is still a bit too complicated, even though I have simplified it a lot and placed tutorials everywhere "Two-Minute Tutorials". In spite of its drawbacks, I have at least attempted to create this "intellectual microcosm" and lots of my patrons find it useful, and some even find it exciting. One woman who recently got her PhD found it "frightening" that there was so much!

So, I do not intend to devalue the physical document in any way, and it is too bad that some are getting that impression. My focus is to to build on the fabulous materials that are being produced, no matter what format they may take, that will provide more meaning to those who are interested.

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