Monday, August 8, 2011

Re: Completeness of records

Posting to RDA-L

On 08/08/2011 01:49, Brenndorfer, Thomas wrote:
There's a difference when data is controlled by identifiers or control numbers vs text strings. I've gone through several library and library systems, and currently I am able to do a lot of authority updating and maintenance based upon control numbers that I couldn't do before with earlier, less capable systems. However, once I move closer to cleaning up the bibliographic records I have to switch to more manual operations, manual checking, crude global updates methods and deduping algorithms, etc. (such as all that annoying checking of changed headings in name-title forms, and with added subject subdivisions).
It's like the last mile in broadband connectivity. Fast fibre optic everywhere except when one gets closer to home where antiquated technology slows things done. It would be wonderful if everything works perfectly *right now* but it emphatically does not work as simply as you suggest. It's only when data is modelled out thoroughly and correctly that we can start talking about new functionality.
Once again, I point out that the primary objective, going beyond "textual strings" or "identifiers" is that first, the information is *entered*, and second, *entered consistently*. When the information actually exists and can be reliably found, then it is possible to do all kinds of things with it, including converting to identifiers or whatever else you want, if it is desired. If it is either not entered, or entered in unpredictable ways, while you can still work with it, it becomes far more difficult and the results will be far less satisfactory. But ultimately, it doesn't matter if this consistency consists of a number or text because it makes absolutely no difference to the computer.
It would be wonderful if the functionality could be extended more deeply, showing the user for example, related works that are actually available in the library based upon the relationship clustering inherent in FRBR.
Would it be wonderful? I believe very little will change in library cataloging until the metadata creators divorce themselves from this official, traditional dogma that what our users want is the FRBR user tasks, something the new information tools by the "information companies" don't talk about and are not weighed down by such preconceived ideas. Therefore, they are free to discover what their users really want; how their organizations can build new tools that approximate what they have discovered about their users, then do more research based on what they have discovered users like and dislike about the new tools, discover new needs of their users, continuing this process on and on, and concentrate on providing those things.
Good data input up front saves everyone time down the road. Some library users don't really care about the format details for what they're after. Other library users are very particular, and can be quite canny in figuring things out, and be quite vocal about system functionality. And other library users are quite pleased when they discover new things while searching for something else-- such as different formats, and different expressions (we recently got in some wonderful new Shakespeare play expressions and adaptations, based upon different vocabulary levels, graphic novel versions, side-by-side renderings with modern English, etc.). Staff are always requesting that "at-a-glance" kind of functionality in the catalog, rather than having to examine each record in detail. The more element-based the data is, and the more tabular it is, and the more groupings and relationships are shown clearly (and we have a quasi-FRBR-like breakdown already in the title browse index), the happier everyone is.
And with most popular items checked out at any point in time, such as DVDs and bestsellers (there's lots of great stuff not in e-book format), the catalog is the ONLY mechanism endusers have to find, identify, select and obtain what they want, so the more functionality based upon cleanly delineated data, the better. Even with e-books, holds are often still necessary, and that can only be done in a discovery layer of some sort.
I agree about the good data input, but that is only another way of saying that standards are important. If standards are not enforced, it doesn't matter if the standards themselves are great or lousy--anybody can do whatever they want anyway. It's so very sad that there seems to be in the library world the idea that:
"If only *those others* had done things differently before, *then* I could do all these wonderful things, therefore, *those others* have to change everything they do before I can really begin to start on my wonderful things"

as opposed to:

"We are facing a serious problem. We have *these resources* at our disposal right now. Perhaps it's true that different decisions should have been made in the past so that we have different resources and  choices, but that is all ancient history. We are facing problems today, now, and we either solve them or become irrelevant. How can we create something for our users that is better than what they have right now using the resources we have at our disposal?" and then, throwing aside our former ideas, to display some honest-to-goodness ingenuity.

The Worldcat example that I gave before for searching the "work" of Cicero's "Pro Archia", allowing the searcher to limit by format, by other authors (editors), by date of publication, language, etc. overfulfills those 19th century FRBR user  tasks without the need for redoing, retraining, reconceptualizing, re-everything. It can be done today, right now for *no extra money*--just let your systems people devise some queries. If you have the open source catalog Koha, it can be done at relatively little cost.

If this bit of reality could be accepted, perhaps we could claim success: "FRBR is now implemented! And at no real costs!" Wouldn't THAT be nice to claim?! Then we could move on to other discussions that would be more relevant to the genuine needs of the vast majority of our patrons.

And thereby we would be helping ourselves.

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