Thursday, July 19, 2012

Re: [ACAT] Lack(?) of research, or, Let's hear it for the nobodies

Posting to Autocat

Allen,

I appreciate you taking the time to constructing such a thoughtful response. A few of mine:

On 19/07/2012 00:34, MULLEN Allen wrote:
<snip>
A few thoughts:
There is a great deal of research and general literature on library user behaviors and perceptions and on trends in information discovery, and on various aspects of RDA. The validity of this literature is certainly open to challenge though I bristle (as many of you well know) when the nature of the challenge becomes ad hominem rather than merits or dismerits thereof. And while James Weinheimer's point that a business case has not been made for RDA beyond generalities, this is no less true of much of what libraries engage in. If anyone can show us a business case that was made for AACR2, I'd like to see it.
</snip>
There was a very practical purpose to AACR2: to increase the amount of usable copy cataloging by getting everyone to use the same name headings. If that happened, a whole number of savings would follow for everyone. It also followed logically from AACR1 which brought the descriptions together and was a small success. Yet, it was still an environment of cards and adding the local headings to all the cards entailed a lot of work. The actual changes with AACR1 were relatively minor but AACR2 was quite disruptive since so many headings would change. It was decided that the advantages would outweigh the disadvantages, but it was a careful decision with advantages that were clear to all, although many disagreed.

Nobody has shown any similar tangible advantages with RDA or FRBR, and this is what I keep trying to point out.

It seems as if the purpose of FRBR has changed since its inception. The original purpose of it was, as demonstrated in its title: if bibliographic records are to function they must follow these requirements, otherwise they do not function. Therefore, it was designed to allow searchers to navigate the WEMI in various ways. Originally, it was seen that the only way to do this was to implement a new record structure where the WEMI became separate "entities" that exist independently. This was a huge change from anything before (as I have tried to demonstrate in previous posts).

Although none of that was demonstrated, I could see at the time that it followed logically from the historical developmental path of library catalogs. Back in the 1990s, it was difficult to imagine anything else. I certainly wasn't able to, since I could barely keep up with what was going on, with retrospective conversions, implementing integrated systems, for me as a Slavic cataloger, the incredible changes with the end of the Soviet Union, and so on.

Then arose the ideas of Web2.0 and Web3.0, of the Semantic Web and linked data. That was when the purpose of FRBR gradually morphed into getting into the linked data world and "turning our text into data". Perhaps that was already in the back of the minds of some people in the creation of FRBR, but is definitely not a part of the functional requirements. Even so, it needs to be demonstrated that in the potentially gigantic world of the Semantic Web--the size of which will dwarf the paltry few tens or at most hundreds of millions of records that library catalogers could ever hope to make and where nobody except a few catalogers will be following FRBR or AACR2 or RDA or perhaps any guidelines at all--the utility of placing what catalogers create into the semantic web still remains to be demonstrated in some kind of way. This has also never been done. The attitude has been similar to "build it and they will come".

On the technology front, a couple of interesting developments have taken place: 1) that faceted catalogs allow for people to navigate WEMI as easily as anything contemplated by FRBR; 2) that FRBR structures are not needed to enter the world of linked data, and that even the complex RDF coding originally required has been rendered unnecessary since the same results can be accomplished in much easier ways.

These are simple facts. And people can either accept these facts or ignore them.

The technological triumph that now permits searchers to follow the FRBR functional requirements, and with no need for any expensive, structural changes should be universally acclaimed by all librarians as one of the great accomplishments in 21st century catalogs, but it has gone strangely unremarked. Certainly more needs to be done with the user interfaces, but nevertheless, FRBR can be done right now. That is a fact. And it is good.

Because of this fact, the purpose of the FRBR structure of WEMI has disappeared. It's amazing how that can happen: one little technological change can make hundreds of years of work obsolete overnight, as happened with the introduction of the PC which made the typewriter immediately obsolete. As software improved, physical spreadsheets and overhead transparencies slowly disappeared, and many other things are in the process of becoming obsolete. Televisions and telephones, even physical books and records/CDs/DVDs, physical letters and envelopes, are less and less necessary. This has happened very quickly, and we are only at the beginning of the changes.

So, what is the purpose of FRBR with RDA as its first step? It is the duty of interested people to ask these sorts of questions. And to do it in a forthright fashion. I am not predicting doom and gloom--and I never have--since I have no special insight into the future and everything could turn out just fine, but the fact is: without logical and acceptable reasons, success would not be a matter of logic, knowledge, and foresight, but of sheer luck. In the environment I have laid out, I do not know the purpose of FRBR and RDA, and the case still needs to be laid out. None of this avoids the need for a business case but only makes it more critical.

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