Wednesday, November 17, 2010

RE: EBL (Ebook Library) "problematic" records

Posting to Autocat

Brian Briscoe wrote:
<snip>
The question concerns whether it is worthwhile to improve the EDL records to make them useful to catalog users.
</snip>
In Paul Adasiak's original message, I focused on:
<snip>
Our own Collection Development librarian says this, with numbers to prove it ... If, with poor records, their access is adequate, then why bother with "improved" records at all?
</snip>
This is a highly important question--perhaps the ultimate question about the utility of catalog records--and backed by solid numbers to boot. I have heard similar questions raised by upper echelons who are trying to manage very tight budgets and are looking for savings everywhere. Such a question is doubtlessly valid and begs to be asked, although it certainly makes me uncomfortable. Sooner or later--especially when the full-text of Google Books becomes available, it will have to be answered. In the present case, if it turns out that most people are finding the EBL books primarily though the full-text search supplied by EBL and thus bypassing the local catalog completely, or if they are finding them *despite* lousy records, either makes a huge difference. If it can be shown that the public are *not* really finding these items and the reason is lousy cataloging, now that would be important.

I know several people who say that the way to make the catalog records the most useful to the public is to delete them and scan everything. I do not agree at all, but in these days, I think more and more people will listen. As I mentioned in my latest podcast, I have watched my patrons struggle and fight with the catalog: any catalog. The very concept of controlled vocabulary is getting more difficult to understand and to explain; even the idea of [surname], [forename] is getting weird for people! Look at how the names display in Worldcat as [forename] [surname].

Don't get me wrong: I am as strong a believer as anybody out there in high standards in our catalog records, and it is my stance that high standards (higher than they are now) that are constantly improving represent the only way forward for our field. But it's just very hard to say exactly what these "high standards" should be today, as the Collection Development librarian above can point out. The old standards will obviously have to change in the new environment we are entering, but we still have to figure out how. Here is only the newest example I have seen how research needs are beginning to change http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/17/arts/17digital.html, and it is clear to me that we have to fit into that kind of world or be left in another time. This was why I mentioned using EBL for a case study, which might help answer some of these questions.

At the same time, there is an actual interest in quality of metadata as Nunberg's "Metadata Trainwreck" shows, which even made it into some of the more popular media: not only the Chronicle, but the Register, Salon, etc. I think we may have an historic and short-lived opportunity to get some of our points through, but let's face it: it probably won't happen.

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