Thursday, March 8, 2012

Re: Authors needed for ALA publication

Posting to Autcat

On 07/03/2012 19:09, Truitt, Marc wrote:
At risk of continuing a thread that some may find off-topic... for which I apologize in advance...

I don't often find myself agreeing with Jim, this he's spot-on this time.  While he may call them "ethics", I prefer "values".  But they really are one and the same.  [time for my own shameless plug alert]: Several years ago, I wrote an editorial in LITA's _Information Technology and Libraries_ entitled "No More Silver Bullets, Please"[1], in which I called for librarians to define what I then termed our "value-add":

"What exactly is our "value-add"? What do we provide that is unique and valuable?  We can't hope to compete with Barnes and Noble, Starbucks, or the Googleplex; seeking to do so simply diverts resources and energy from providing services and resources that are uniquely ours.

[1] Marc Truitt, "Editorial : No More Silver Bullets, Please," _Information Technology and Libraries_ 29 (June 2010): 55-56.
Well, our agreement is certainly something to celebrate!

We can call it ethics or values, no problem. When trying to find out what the public really wants from libraries, I believe a glance toward ethics or values may be a productive area.  When FRBR proclaims "user tasks", I don't believe they are, and ask instead, what do users want from our metadata? What does our metadata really and honestly provide? And what is it that people cannot get *anywhere else*?

So, I don't know if this thread really is off-topic or not. When I first started to begin to understand what constitutes this huge realm of metadata, I would mention the "ethical" aspects of cataloging/metadata and received nothing but incredulous looks, but now the reception may be different. Perhaps people can begin to see that a subject heading assigned by a professional cataloger is quite different from a tag assigned by student, or the "adwords" assigned by an SEO specialist, even if the terms assigned would turn out to be *exactly the same*, and this goes beyond whether something is authority controlled. This is because of the different levels of trust that the searcher can have in each one.

This is one serious issue that I have with libraries jumping into the Semantic Web. Our records will all be mushed together with a necessary lowering of value of our product unless we take some actions to prevent that. What those actions would be, I do not know.

I continue to compare everything to cans of corn on the grocery shelves, but I guess that's because I worked in grocery stores for such a long time. Someone can be looking at 5 different brands of corn and the reasons why someone chooses one over another are based in large part on a sense of reliability and trust (generic vs. brand name vs. which brand?), although you should be assured that none of them will land you in the hospital for a month if not in an early grave. But it's still nice to have the choice.

If the grocery store were to open all the cans of corn, those of higher quality and lower quality, pour them all together into one big pot, mix it up and present it to the customers, the customers no longer have a choice. That's how I see the "dream" of the Semantic Web. Add into this mixture no minimal standards of any kind (so you really can end up in a hospital!) along with all kinds of people trying to take personal advantage of it in whatever ways they can, and the outcome is very dubious.

At least one of the difference is ethics, or values, or I'll introduce the term: standards.

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