Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Re: [ACAT] What RDA might be good for

Posting to Autocat

On 27/12/2011 19:03, Kevin M Randall wrote:
James Weinheimer wrote:
It seems to me that if we want our catalogs used (and thereby catalogers employed), we shouldn't focus on the needs of the publishers and their practices, but rather we need to focus on the needs of those who will actually use the catalog to find relevant materials: our patrons. 
 I believe that Aaron Kuperman's focus *was* on the needs of the catalog users. When he talked of "linking related records in a way that reflects 21st century publishing practices" the point wasn't that the records should meet the needs of the publishers, but rather that the records should allow the catalog to deal in a better way with the resources that libraries are getting, be they from publishers or from any other source. Libraries are going to get whatever resources and metadata the publishers supply; to work with those things isn't to "focus on the needs" of the suppliers, but to just deal with reality: this is what we got, let's work with it and get it into the form that will best help the patrons find it. That's what Kuperman was getting at.
Put that way, I don't believe anyone could disagree, but I have to ask if this is enough for the future? There is a basic philosophical difference that I have with many other catalogers. In the future, libraries will (or at least should) be getting materials from all kinds of sources, not limited to "publishers", just as you mentioned. This will mean that there will be many different kinds of metadata structured in a multiplicity of ways, the vast majority will not be MARC21 or AACR2 or RDA. Also, we should not assume that any form of metadata as it stands today will be unchangeable since we know it will change, in ways we cannot predict. Such a belief would severely restrict our world views.

The absolutely #1 viewpoint in this regard is to discover what the public wants and needs, and then the task will be to fulfill those needs. This is what Google and the other information companies do and why they succeed.

As an example of what I think is the older mentality, there was an interview recently in Library Journal with Madeline McIntosh, a big shot with Random House., where she said, "We do, of course, have to adapt to readers’ changing preferences and habits, and at Random House we’re actively embracing the very positive opportunities that are opened up by digital publishing and distribution. That said, we do have a fervent belief in the ongoing importance of the physical book and of the places where physical books are found: libraries, bookstores, schools, airports, super­markets, etc. Without having books embedded in our physical environment, it would be so much harder to help readers connect with new books and authors."

This statement really struck me. Later in the interview, she emphasized the importance of printed books a few times, e.g. "Whatever the future looks like, we want a model that will ensure continued support for physical books, in physical libraries, in local communities. That’s crucial for us." Clearly, she considers digital content only tangentially. It would seem to me that someone who honestly wanted to sell "stuff written in books" would say, "I don't care how people want my content: in print, digital, on leather, on bark or on stone. I will give them these formats and more. I'll give people what they want however they want it, because that's how I can make money!" I would expect most 19th-century businessmen to react this way because their number one goal, above everything else, was to sell their wares.

It seems that the only reason that a publisher would focus on printed books today is either that they are just backward-looking or they are terrified of changing their business model, which I think is what explains these strange reactions.

In a similar way, I don't believe that libraries should be trying to force current information resources into our traditional structures and to assume that we know what our patrons want and need. We simply *cannot* know this without deep research, working with reference librarians who are the ones who work the most closely with the public, and finally, trial and error.

Will the linked data environment provide what the public wants? The fact is, nobody knows. It very well may, but people may just as easily find it all useless. Lots of forward looking people have questioned the very need for the existence of our type of metadata records. So, the worst thing could actually happen: that once everything is online, or whatever the magic percentage of "everything" is, the public may have no use at all for our traditional type of metadata; search engine optimization (SEO) may fulfill every need of a searcher. We just don't know. In any case, when looking at the matter from a universal point of view, that is, from the viewpoint that encompasses the entirety of metadata, I feel pretty safe in predicting that very few non-libraries will structure their metadata in variations of FRBR.

Still, I maintain that even in such a drastic case of the public rejecting our metadata, I still believe there will be a need for our metadata, but not necessarily as a tool for the public to use, or at least use directly. This is the challenge of living in Darwinian times, as we are doing now, and we have to accept the realities we find plus how the environment changes, often very quickly. Just like our ancient mammalian predecessors, the main task is survival by adapting to the changing new environments. This means to be ready to drop any of our most cherished beliefs if necessary, and to reevaluate our strengths and weaknesses.

Unfortunately, traditional library searching should not be considered one of our strengths today since fewer and fewer people understand it. Modern advances in searching is making many of our traditional methods obsolete. Some may believe that by transforming our records into FRBR and linked data, the people will return, but I simply don't see it.

What would make people return? I don't know, but I am willing to admit that any of our traditional methods no longer work (I will do so only after debate along with evidence, of course!) and that *everything* has to be reconsidered. What does the library catalog provide people? Does it really allow them to find/identify/select/obtain etc.? Is this the genuine purpose of the catalog or is it something different? Also, is the business of libraries really to select, acquire, receive, catalog, shelve, etc. or does a library actually do something different?

I think libraries, and the catalog, actually provide quite different services to our public from what we have always thought. I am not saying that I know what it is that libraries really do and what they really mean to a community, although I have some personal opinions. It is vital to find out. The quickest and easiest way to find out is to create easy-to-add APIs and letting the public take our records to play with in a form they can work with--it has to happen sooner or later anyway. So, as far as I am concerned, until we begin to really open things up to find out what the public really and truly wants, we will remain mired in the realm of old beliefs and superstition.

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