Friday, July 29, 2011

Re: Repeat request for review of W3C LLD Report

Posting to NGC4LIB

On 17/07/2011 18:13, Karen Coyle wrote:
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we have gotten very few comments on the W3C LLD report [1], yet there are very clearly things that merit discussion in that report. I would really hate for the report to be finalized "unexamined" by a wider audience.
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I have done some thinking about the report and I am not sure how to include these comments on the site, so at least I'll do it here.

First, I very much appreciate this report and agree that linked data could be one of the main solutions for libraries, yet I think the report itself lacks a certain reality. One of the main problems that I see here is the apparent assumption that the "library community" really is some kind of a single entity, when actually, it is not and has never been a single community. There are huge differences in the skills, labor and system needs among different kinds of librarians, from selectors to acquisitions librarians, to catalogers, to reference librarians, to special collections, to conservation; from librarians in public libraries vs. those in academic libraries vs. special libraries; from librarians in big libraries vs. smaller libraries vs. very small libraries; RDA libraries vs. non-RDA libraries (perhaps); U.S. libraries vs. European vs. the rest of the world, and so on. In my own opinion, even considering that this incredible number of communities, who often do not talk with one another and when they do, rarely understand one another very well, can constitute a "single community", simply beggars the imagination. This single "library community" exists only in utopian dreams.

Strangely enough, it is probable that the librarians who have the best understanding of the entirety of the library field are those in the smaller libraries because there are less opportunities (some may prefer substituting "fewer pressures") for the specialization that occurs in the largest collections. Considering that all of these communities are the same is a similar mistake made by FRBR that lumps all users together ("user tasks").

Another point I would like to make becomes clearer from a short understanding of some history. In the beginning of computerization, there were no off-the-shelf library systems, and consequently libraries had no choice except to try to create their own catalogs. Some of these later became for-profit companies such as NOTIS, but even though some of the local efforts were good and had energetic people behind them, far more often the difficulty and expense to libraries that created their own systems slowly forced them to abandon their own efforts and buy ready-made systems--in other words, libraries have been seriously burned when they have tried to do their own development.

It's true that the situation of open-source, cooperative development going on today is a totally different story and it has been proven to succeed, but memories are very long in librarianship and even a lot of the younger librarians have heard the highly painful recollections of those earlier times. As a result, many are extremely reticent to begin such a terrible process again. In any case, out of the aggregate, very few libraries have ever been able to afford any kind of development and the vast majority have been more or less forced to rely on others. Buying a ready-built ILMS was also always a good solution for bureaucratic reasons: you could say, "if it's good enough for LC [or Columbia, or the Bibliotheque National, etc.] it's good enough for us!"

Libraries are now expected to be creative and innovative in areas of cataloging rules and system development--a rather new mentality, and without any tangible benefits as yet. Of course, staffing levels will  remain flat at best for a long time to come and catalogers are already overwhelmed. Therefore, libraries present a very difficult environment to expect a great deal of development.

I suspect that the locale for genuine, open source library system development may--strangely enough--wind up taking place primarily in the smaller libraries, who will be forced by budget crunches to give up their expensive ILMSs and to give open source catalogs a genuine chance. Once they see the many advantages, development may really take off.

Finally, the problem of rights becomes incredibly important in a linked data environment, but I see it somewhat differently than what I read here. Linked data is, in traditional library terms, a disassembled record where information can come in from anywhere. As a result, if an essential part of the record that is to be finally assembled disappears, the entire structure becomes useless. Therefore, whoever controls those essential parts will have a certain amount of power and it will be vital to determine the rights for those parts of the data. To put this in concrete terms: in a WEMI/linked data environment, the (W)orks and (E)xpressions parts absolutely must be available, since otherwise, everybody's (M)anifestation and (I)tem parts would become useless and could be held hostage to monopolistic practices: "Pay me x amount of money or I will shut off access to the Work and Expression records." The Google Book project already has taken library materials, digitized them, and if matters work out (perhaps), they could end up charging the library community to access its own materials. Something similar could happen with linked data.

Creating a linked data system for WEMI-type records will be expensive and if it demands payment, it could easily morph into a "linked data rupture" between those who can pay and those who cannot. Those who cannot or will not pay must understand their rights because once in, it may be extremely difficult to opt out.

2 comments:

  1. I think these are excellent points. The solution resides in non-profit consortia and redundancy. Groups of libraries band together to share their WE records via a common system. They also share the expense of providing servers and back-up servers. Several consortia mean no monopoly on the WE records and lesser potential for price gouging

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  2. Thanks for the comments. Yes, I agree with your solution for the WE records along with all of the authority files. It's just that we have a few negative examples before us of Google Books, and even of OCLC who has tried to claim ownership over all records that have travelled through their system. With linked data, the information must be guaranteed to stay freely available, or if that cannot be done, to at least let people know their rights from the beginning.

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