Re: [ACAT] Hopes for the future of cataloging, including bibliographic records in human languages (RE: [ACAT] Critique of RDA: RDA and AACR2 as languages)

Posting to Autocat

On 11/07/2012 22:39, Frank Newton wrote:

I think the future Kevin describes below is the wrong future for cataloging.

I reviewed my posting to OCLC-CAT of 12-8-2010 which I referred to in my previous message, and I see that in it I addressed some but not all of the considerations which you describe below. I also noticed that my citation to it was incomplete, as I posted two messages to OCLC-CAT that day. The message in question was my second OCLC-CAT posting of 12-8-2010. I am very vague about the technology of time stamps for E-mails, but my copy of my E-mail in question has the time stamp of 2:02 PM 12-8-2010, and I’m in the Eastern time zone of the U.S.

1. A Hoped-for Continuing Human Presence in Cataloging

2. Save the Time of the Cataloger

People who think about the future of library catalogs are all messed up on the subject of catalogers. They say that library cataloging has been too much built around the convenience of catalogers. I think the opposite is true — cataloging standards have not focused nearly enough on the convenience of catalogers. …

These are all highly provoking thoughts and I commend you for them. My ideas have gone in another direction, and tries to get at a few unstated assumptions within the cataloging community that have results that turn out quite different for the public, as opposed to catalogers. Among these unstated assumptions are: that the public actually wants to work with our catalogs; that the public basically likes our catalogs and wants to see them continue. My own view of the public (and this comes from my historical studies as well) is that the public has always seen the catalog as a necessary evil. They use the catalog because there is no other decent way of getting into the collection, and that once they do find the “correct” area in the collections, they go there and cease to use the catalog until they again find they have no choice. This explains why so many reference questions are, “Where are your books on [fill in the topic, e.g.] the Roman Colosseum?” and when you reply, “Well, they could be anywhere. Some can be classed with the city of Rome, others can be with gladiators, others can be in classical literature, others can be blah, blah. So, you really need to look it up in the catalog”. People do not like that kind of reply and want to get directly into the “stuff”.

I am not finding fault with people and I think it is only natural that they prefer to interact with the information itself instead of some disembodied summaries of it. Perhaps with physical materials there really is no choice except to search a separate catalog, but when we are dealing with full-text materials that are available at the click of a button, everything changes. Suddenly you can interact with the information itself without going through the summary records. People like this a lot and in fact, it has become the normal method they use everyday when they work with a collection of information (Google, Yahoo) and consequently, dealing with these little summary records is getting stranger and stranger for them.

This is why I keep asking what is the purpose of the catalog, and especially the local catalog, in this type of environment? If it is decided that the purpose is to continue to provide access to physical materials then that, by definition, makes us backward and subject to immediate oblivion the moment the “greater powers” decide to make their books available electronically. The technology (hardware and software) exists to do it all right now–the only thing that needs to be done is a few people need to change their minds. Although publishers are still loathe to adopt such a change, it will happen eventually and once they decide, the entire landscape could change with astonishing speed. Look at how fast Google managed to scan entire libraries! With some cooperation from the publishers (where everything exists electronically right now) it could be even faster. To the reply, “There will still be items that are not digitized” the answer will not be that everyone will have to continue using the catalog until the end of time, but just digitize those items.

So, if and when everything is scanned, will there be no purpose to the catalog? I think there will be a purpose but it will be different. People like full-text searching; I like full-text searching. It is not going away, so anything we do must supplement that full-text searching somehow. How can that be done? Pardons for quoting myself again, but this was the purpose of my paper in Oslo where I tried to imagine how a catalog record could work with full text. In this sense, it would be similar to SEO (search engine optimization) but of a much more rigorous and standardized kind from how this term is normally understood by webmasters. (I adapted this definition of SEO from Wikipedia “Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine’s “natural,” or un-paid, … search results.”)

I think this is a realistic, and somewhat dispassionate, look at the behavior of the public, based on my own interactions with them, reflections on my own information behavior, and what I have read in the literature. I have written in some other papers about other aspects of what the catalog can be in the future.

I have focused on textual items and of course, there are music, images, films along with brand new types of materials being created today. The basic methods I have suggested should apply to them as well. It would be worth a try anyway.

Trying to force everything into a predetermined model as FRBR and RDA is trying to do, is to my mind, is a practical guarantee that we will be building something the vast majority of the public has shown it does not want. Adaptation to a new environment means exactly that: you adapt yourself to whatever the environment demands even though you may find it uncomfortable and even degrading in many ways. And if you decide not to change in those ways, well, there is an entire archaeological record we can point to ….