Tuesday, December 28, 2010

RE: ONIX data

Posting to NGC4LIB

Karen Coyle wrote:
Jim, it seems that when you say "standards" you mean "library/ISBD standards." There are many, many different standards, and only libraries will produce bibliographic data using library standards. If you must have library data you will have to stick with library data.
But it doesn't make sense to criticize the publishers for producing *publisher* data, not *library* data. It's like criticizing your proverbial grocery store for not selling hardware. (BTW, grocery stores do not have to "re-check" because they use barcodes, not text, as data flows from the manufacturer through the wholesaler to the retailer. And they work together to agree on these standards, they don't each make up their own.)
What you are saying is that the only bibliographic data that you find acceptable is that data created by libraries (and only the more competent libraries at that).
I guess I am not being clear: this is precisely what I am *not* saying. What I am trying to say, and I have a bit of experience with many of them, is that there are very many bibliographic standards out there. I talk about this in my podcast pt. 4 of my personal journey with FRBR. Each of these standards has a history of changes. Records that were made 30 years ago reflect the standards of that time, and those standards may be quite different from what they are today. There is nothing strange or weird about this: it works exactly the same in many fields.

When library systems remained separate from the rest of the world of information, we could safely ignore those other standards and concentrate on our own. This is what every bibliographic agency did--each one worked in isolation of the others and each concentrated on its own little world, but those times have changed drastically. Everyone is having to deal with this new, wider universe--not only libraries, but every bibliographic agency. So, in practical terms, the metadata examples I gave in my previous message will actually be translated into a series of decisions on the part of the "metadata creator": the library cataloger when looking at the ONIX record will have to decide what part(s) to use, what parts to change, or if they should ignore the record altogether. The ONIX person will have to do something similar; non-ISBD catalogers will decide the same things; journal database indexers, open archive managers, document repositories, and so on and so on, will all have to decide whether to cooperate or just continue to do the same things as they have always done before, thereby remaining in the pre-Internet world.

This is the tremendous change we are facing--all of us. Many systems people I have met only want to concentrate on the computer coding, and figure the rest will solve itself, but any library cataloger knows that the MARC format is actually the *easiest* part of the record, what's hard is the data itself. This is the same in other bibliographic agencies I have come into contact with: the coding is the easy part. For the "metadata creators", the idea of coordinating the data in, e.g. MARC records with ONIX records with AGRIS records with everybody else, is so complicated and overwhelmingly daunting that they don't want to think about it, or sometimes as a "solution" they just decide: here's my data, do what you want with it. I've tried to show that this is *not* at all a solution.

Concerning what is "acceptable" data, is it what the competent libraries produce? I link it more to individual catalogers instead of to libraries, since the quality can vary tremendously within one library. But the deeper point is that it doesn't matter which metadata I consider "acceptable"; I just want the data we make to fulfill its function. I have had enough experience to realize that there is no *correct* way to do it. There are more accurate ways and less accurate ways to do something, but the highly accurate ways are more complex and take more time and training; yet, there are some ways that are definitely wrong. Counting the pages is an interesting case in point, and in that book that should be published soon "Conversations with catalogers in the 21st century", I go into a lot more detail on this, but in any case, counting the pages can be done in a whole variety of ways, with no "best" way. We see this in the examples I have given here. What is the solution? I don't know, and as you'll see from the book coming out, I don't really even care(!), but I want the information in the paging area to *mean something*. If everybody counts the pages in their own way, the final product is meaningless, and we can see this meaninglessness in the examples I gave. The only way to know how many pages one of the items has is to look at the item! Then, what use is the paging information in the metadata record? Very little, I submit, and that kind of thinking becomes a very slippery slope because you can apply that same reasoning to every part of the record. And this is because of lack of standards (everybody is doing their own thing). Nevertheless, I disagree with lots of AACR2, and it is no secret about what I think about RDA. But I also realize it doesn't matter what I think.

These are some of the considerations why I created that Conceptual Outline in the Cooperative Cataloging Rules, just to try to begin to get a handle on this complexity. If there are solutions out there, I think we are going to have to begin reconsidering metadata from its most fundamental points, starting with: what is its purpose? I think there is little agreement even on this, especially today.

I just figure (and fear) that if the community of metadata creators do nothing, a solution will be imposed on us with Google Book-types of mashups. Who knows what those metadata records will look like? I shudder to think of it!

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