Posting to NGC4LIB about Karen Coyle’s talk “Think Different”
In Karen’s talk, I want to say that I agree with much of it. Aside from the issue of keeping one form of access through alphabetization (which, of course, can be retained since it may be useful but I have emphasized there are scads of other ways), I also agree that linked data is not “the answer” since, as I have said myself, it is only one method among many methods and while there should be experimentation with it, any hopes should be muted. Linked data may lead to some possible answers but in and of itself, it is a method and no answer to anything.
Where I do not agree is your idea that all that is useful to people today is our holdings information. While I agree that there is lots of bibliographic information available now, I do not agree that all the discovery tools needed by the public lie in the Amazons and similar tools. Libraries are supposed to provide something very specific: ethical, reliable access to the materials in the local collection. We should not scoff at that, and we should not kid ourselves that the access the web provides is in any way similar. Walking into a library is supposed to be different from walking through a market with people hawking their wares, or even from walking into a bookstore. The difference is not only in the fact that materials in the library are supposed to be free to the person who wants to use it, but far more important is the attitude of the people who work there.
A librarian does not–and ethically cannot–profit financially by leading you to use one information resource over another, or even to choose not to use any at all. This is a 100%, completely different attitude from what you meet with in the marketplace or when entering a store. In those cases, you are a customer with money in your pocket that the shop owner and the employees want. There is nothing wrong with that since places of business need customers. A library is not a place of business and library patrons are not customers. When someone walks into a library (physically or virtually), they should realize that the staff member who suggests materials that may help you is not actually making money on the deal. They really are helping you. And if it does turn out that, e.g. Elsevier is giving $25 to a librarian every time he or she convinces someone to use an Elsevier database, that librarian should be fired.
I think most people do realize this, if only subconsciously, and is one reason why many feel so comfortable in a library: they can let their guard down a little.
When people search the web, I think more and more understand how their searches are manipulated in all kinds of ways. They realize that the purpose of Google and Yahoo etc. is to get something from them: in this case, their attention, and when they have your attention, they can translate that attention into money. This is done in all sorts of ways, using SEO (search engine optimization–a propagandistic term that really means to manipulate a web search to someone’s advantage), other types of spam, using fake reviews and “likes”, click spam and so on. Of course, an individual’s entire search history is used to “coax” you silently toward things you would like–and even more importantly, toward things others will try to sell you, be it sunglasses, a vacation, or a political opinion. People are now beginning to understand this.
It is natural to ask: is this the only option? Is this the best that can be? Is everyone really subject to the pushes and pulls of these various forces vying for our attention and/or money, or is there an alternative?
Yes, libraries. I won’t go into the reasons why here. Do our methods need to improve? Absolutely, and in 10,000 ways–but libraries provide a type of access found nowhere else, certainly not on the web. That should be considered as a positive and not a negative, although we have to admit that our methods have been broken for a long time and catalogers haven’t done that yet. For example, cataloging is now focused on the rule changes of RDA and FRBR which is misplaced effort, since those projects do absolutely nothing to fix the methods of access to the name and LC subject headings, all still based on browsing in alphabetical order.(!) To my own knowledge, no one has even addressed these issues.
Still, before giving up on all of that and saying that all library catalogs can contribute is holdings information, I think that lots of other attempts could and should be made, such as fixing our broken catalogs. If people still don’t use them, that is when we can give up. But not before.