Posting to RDA-L
On 05/20/2011 10:51 PM, Pat Sayre McCoy wrote:
> Can we really compare our product (metadata/bibliographic records) to a can of corn? One is simple–I want a can of corn. Supermarkets are organized with the canned vegetables together (usually) and for those who cannot read English, there is a picture of corn on the can. One could confuse corn and creamed corn, but that’s about as far as it goes.
> Catalog users want a book/video/CD that they learned about somehow, through a book review, a radio program or in conversation. They remember part of what they need to identify the book–maybe the author or title or part of the title, and they remember the item was published/issued recently. It was about corn. Will they really be happy to browse “corn” in our catalogs or will they want to combine the author name (or part of the name) they remember and the part of the title they remember and then limit that to the more recent materials the library has concerning corn. Oh yes, it was in English. Never mind the Spanish stuff. Another limit. And then they find that the thing they were looking for is a book and see it’s charged out but there’s an electronic copy they can view. After reading a bit, they decide that this isn’t what they wanted, but something else that turned up in the search list is. Back to the list to look at the next title. And the next, and the next,…until they find one they want. They might also discover by looking at other records with the author’s name that the author of the book on corn they found is also the author of a book on beans, or was somehow involved in a documentary about corn. Not quite the same as picking a can off the shelf.
We can certainly compare what makes up a metadata record and what goes into that can of corn. That can of corn on the shelf, seemingly so simple, is actually the final product of a highly complex process. It did not just appear there. There are multitudes of standards for how it is grown, what kinds of pesticides can be used on it, the quality of the water and soil, the grading of the corn, how it is stored and canned. There are standards for the cans themselves and how they are sealed. There are standards in the labeling, and how long the cans may sit on the shelves before you see it on the shelf. There are also standards for the shelves. There are probably many more that I do not know about. Why are there these standards? Because otherwise we must all rely on trusting people we don’t know and who we will never meet. History has shown this cannot work, and standards were instituted.
As I keep trying to point out. These things are vitally important to the functioning of our society. In the case of the can of corn, if the standards are not followed, massive numbers of people can die from ptomaine poisoning. So, taking that can of corn off the shelf, something that seems so simple, hides an incredible number of people, processes, experts and standards that people simply *take for granted* are all doing their jobs competently. If someone does not do a good enough job, e.g. the farmer uses the wrong pesticides, there will be consequences all the way down the line, not least for the farmer himself.
Almost everything we buy follows incredibly complex and detailed technical standards: *everything* you eat, all your medicines, automobiles, construction, and on and on. How is such an incredible system instituted? That’s much of what my last podcast was about.
My stance is that metadata standards should approach those of the other products in society. Although I realize that messing up a bibliographic record is not nearly as bad as a community getting lousy water–the worst my bad record will do to someone is perhaps a person won’t find the resource, mess up their thesis and wind up shining shoes; still, I think it is important that bibliographic records be considered in a similar way, and we need to follow standards that–although they do not have to be as rigorous as the standards for a can of corn because ours are really less important–our standards should be considered in the same light and similar requirements to be followed and enforced.
I think that if this happened, the entire profession would gain a lot more respect in society.