Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Re: RDA as the collaboratively created way forward[?]; was Is RDA the Only Way? An Alternative Option Through International Cooperation

Posting to RDA-L

On 14/02/2012 23:26, Kevin M Randall wrote:
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Bibliographic metadata is *not* about being the *only* resource for answering reference questions. I cannot imagine *anyone* How anyone could have even conceived of such a notion is beyond me.
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I don't believe I said that. I was discussing typical reference questions. I think that in many cases we will just have to agree to disagree, but I think it would be more productive to proceed into possible areas of agreement.
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I'm glad you finally agree that "catalogs can do the FRBR user tasks" (as you put it; the catalog doesn't do the user tasks, it just helps the user perform the tasks) and that's what they're about. FRBR isn't about doing something new or different. It's about doing the same thing we've always done: relate entities to make them findable. All FRBR is, is an entity-relationship model of *existing* bibliographic metadata. FRBR models the bibliographic data and its uses so that we can make progress in creating/manipulating it. Catalogs have *always* been doing what FRBR describes, but very crudely and clumsily; for instance, we've relied on notes in the body of the record to lead us to other versions of the resource. Understanding what it is that the catalog actually does helps us to make the catalog more powerful.

But what I don't understand is your contentment with the status quo of our current catalogs' abilities to help with the FRBR user tasks. I, along with a lot of people, see incredibly vast room for improvement. Catalogs need to be more efficient and powerful, and what's more, they need to be able to interface with other tools. That's what this is all about.
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This seems to be a potential area of agreement and what I tried to talk about a little in Buenos Aires. While you seem to think that people want to do the FRBR user tasks more than I believe they do, it doesn't matter because the catalogs as designed in the 19th century have been designed to provide that and it only makes sense to retain it. A lot of that usability, originally designed to work in the card/printed world, more or less disappeared when computerization arrived and especially when keyword searching was introduced. People love keyword searching and immediately preferred it to the older methods. As a consequence, the power and control envisaged by the original designers became almost forgotten by many older searchers and completely unknown by people who had never seen a card catalog. This happened because the authority structure was designed to work in a printed environment (i.e. left-anchored text string searches) and was never reconsidered in the new environment where those kinds of searches decreased. Nevertheless, there are very important powers in traditional library methods (primarily through authorized forms) that do not exist in the newer web tools, which are based on ranking keyword results through search engine optimization techniques.

I hope we can basically agree on this outline here. I have said this in various ways in different posts before. Yet, I think it is vital to note that outside the circle of librarians, and I will even go so far as to say outside the ever-decreasing group of library catalogers, very few people would agree with much of this. Especially in the minds of many influential "information specialists", our methods are simply outdated in too many ways to mention and simply need to be discarded. These people are powerful, do not understand or appreciate our traditional methods (how could they?), don't care about them, and it is very difficult to change their minds. Sad, but true, and we need to accept this.

Remember how quickly people jumped from our controlled vocabulary searching to keyword and how happy they were? I certainly do! Searchers felt free since they could search the entire record and could find things they never could before! Whenever I tried to explain what they were losing, I can honestly say that nobody wanted to listen. I can't imagine we would have a more attentive audience today.

This is why I say that focusing our resources toward achieving the FRBR user tasks will make absolutely no difference to the public. Sure, some people want to do it once in awhile but those who want to can do so now, while our patrons have demonstrated clearly for a long time (20 years or so) that they want something else. So this is why I say, let's declare the FRBR user tasks achieved through innovative computer indexing (which is a fact). Therefore, there is no reason to create the FRBR structures, which will be very expensive, let's make no mistake about that! The expense of RDA is only the beginning.

Let us put those resources toward more useful goals. As I mentioned in my paper, maybe we should catalog things that may be of real, genuine use in people's lives, such as the magnificent NPTEL courses, instead of the next tired book on Shakespeare or Dante or the US Civil War. Share our records openly in formats that are more web friendly. Let's make the subject headings function again, this time in a keyword environment and the public may come to appreciate their power. Let's set up a series of virtual cataloging departments where a cataloger can ask an expert theology librarian for help on setting up a uniform title, a Slavic librarian on how to deal with a specific subject, and someone could ask you about your own specialty.

There are so many great possibilities. I talk about some of it in my paper I gave in Oslo. I will post it this coming Monday.

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