Wednesday, September 22, 2010

RE: Whiny and demanding; rude and arrogant; clueless and uninformed

Posting to NGC4LIB

Daniel CannCasciato wrote:
<snip>
Jim Weinheimer wrote in part:
> At the risk of being too blunt and making myself the object of general derision, I think that at the level these people will be discussing, perhaps it would be best that if technical services people attend, they should only be there as observers ... what is needed now is *imagination* and this imagination should not be limited by what the technicians immediately consider to be impracticable.
> . . .
> After all, when the Ferrari Formula 1 racing team is figuring out what they need to do to win races, they do not want the mechanics saying, "Well, that just can't be done."
I sincerely doubt both those premises. Cataloging doesn't make one unimaginative, just as being a mechanic doesn't. (And I bet engineers do want to know what works in the field and what doesn't, especially in a time-constrained environment such as racing.) Actually, I'd think systems folks are more akin to the mechanics in this analogy while catalogers are more akin to engineers, but either way I'm against a blanket elitist exclusion of thousands of practitioners by using them as scapegoats for others failures. In the case of the catalog service, it has been failed by leadership in librarianship -- collectively we've let our software under-utilize and under-serve our patrons. Whatever we need, I doubt that fewer informed ideas is the answer for success.
</snip>
Well, I figured that I would hurt everybody's feelings, but the beginning post & title of this thread (that everybody outside of tech services are whiny, etc.) plus the idea that technical services people should be there so that they can nip "impracticable" ideas in the bud just did not (and still does not) seem to be a step forward.

What is my evidence that catalogers don't have the imagination? They *STILL* insist that people primarily want to find/identify/select/obtain works/expressions/manifestations/items by their authors/titles/subjects. And yet, that is EXACTLY what people can do right now in our catalogs, what they have been able to do since the 19th century, and our patrons are turning away!

In fact, catalogers believe people want the FRBR user tasks so much that they are willing to spend scads of money to redo all their cataloging rules, rebuild systems and even split the library world in order to achieve it. And they do this without doing any research into what their clientele base needs or wants. Even questioning this wisdom is considered practically outrageous. I am not the only one who believes this rather obvious fact, but I am willing to put my opinions out there. At some point, the cataloging community is going to have to face up to this.

As I have pointed out many times before, catalogers are immensely important, but they are not trained to think in ways such as, "Should there be a system that allows dbpedia to interoperate with our authority files to make a better searching experience for our patrons?" or "How can we use Google Trends & Analytics to find out how our tools can fit in better?" or "How can we completely rethink workflow to include RSS feeds for automatic updates?"

Catalogers think in different ways: in ways that follow the current standards, such as: I have this person's name appearing in three different forms on this item. Everything also conflicts with a names already set up in the NAF. What do I do?

That is their job. It is very important and difficult. It is not to come up with novel ways outside the standards, just as it is not the job of a mechanic to come up with some novelty that is outside of the way a car is supposed to work. That's why standards exist: to be followed so that the entire system can function. Any cataloger who would say, "Well, I'll set up the heading this way, just because I like it better than the other way, and mine is cooler" should be fired on the spot.

You can follow standards unthinkingly, routinely, methodically, or brilliantly. Believe me, sometimes it takes a lot of imagination to solve those sorts of cataloging questions, but it's different. Catalogers looking at the questions above will think, "How can I do this according to AACR2 when all the forms are different?" But on another level, that is not the problem. Once it is decided to implement something like building a dbpedia-authority file interoperability module (which should have been worked on for quite some time now), catalogers will become much more important.

I hate to hurt people's feelings, but what is important for this conference is *not* adherence to the standards, which is what catalogers are very good at, or at least they should be.

I take very serious issue with:
<snip>
...but either way I'm against a blanket elitist exclusion of thousands of practitioners by using them as scapegoats for others failures.
</snip>

We must understand that the failure lies with us: not with others. The library catalog, as it exists today, is obsolete. That may be very tough to accept, but until this simple fact is accepted, there can be little advancement. Yet, I want to emphasize once again, that this is a failure of *the catalog* and not with *the catalog records* which currently display--I believe--only a tiny fraction of their potential power. Still, we must get away from the FRBR user needs straight jacket if there is to be a chance.

But I maintain that nothing, absolutely nothing, that is suggested now can be considered "impracticable" until after exhaustive tests are made. What seems to be "impracticable" can turn out to be child's play with just a slightly different point of view.

Naturally, there are catalogers who can be more open to what people really want, which is what this conference is about. I like to consider myself among their numbers, but perhaps I am shot, too.

2 comments:

  1. You say, "catalogers believe people want the FRBR user tasks." Actually, I think that is totally untrue. The theoreticians at the top of our profession think that. Cataloging librarians, whose entire purpose is to help patrons, do NOT think that entity-relationship, computer-database-type theory is of any help at all. I think FRBR and all that derives from it is the worst idea to come down the pike in decades. And I am not alone.

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  2. An interesting point. I can only reply that I hope you are correct and I certainly agree with you.

    But if that is true, it is important that more catalogers speak up since the "Voice of Cataloging" appears to endorse FRBR/RDA completely. At least, that's the way it seems to me.

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