Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Re: [ACAT] From Stacks to the Web: the Transformation of Academic Library Collecting

On 27/02/2012 20:54, Brenndorfer, Thomas wrote:
Actually Penguin is doing rather well, including doubling its ebook sales (earnings released Feb. 27, 2012): I rather like the idea of e-books, and public libraries are responding, with users pleased with many of the e-book features, such as increasing the font size and wireless downloading (when they have the right device with that feature). I keep my smartphone loaded with e-reader apps (the screen flips through pages more rapidly than e-ink devices, and the sharp screen resolution makes up for the smaller size, plus the wireless access makes it very versatile). The downside is that many users require extensive technical assistance,...
For the moment, the ebooks are doing well, while sales of physical books are going down. Very sad. I personally got a Samsung Tablet for Christmas, and I love it. I don't know how many books I have already read on it. Before that, I had bought a Sony ebook reader, and I still love it just as much. My interests have always been in older works and I can get most of those for free, but as you mention, DRM is still a problem with newer ebooks. After so many years, the music industry is finally coming around to DRM-free files because it just never worked, and was too big of a pain.

We will see how libraries fit into this new world. I have no doubt at all that many publishers would love to see libraries disappear so that they could sell directly to patrons. Amazon Prime (on book a month plus videos and all kinds of options) would be a genuine consideration for a student today, and if (when) the Google Books are made available, absolutely everything will change.

At the same time, authors are rethinking their relationship with their publishers (what do publishers really do today?), while libraries and other "information consumers" are rethinking everything. I guess we will see who "the fittest" really are!

Re: From Stacks to the Web: the Transformation of Academic Library Collecting

Posting to Autocat

On 27/02/2012 15:33, Brenndorfer, Thomas wrote:
The report seems a little too optimistic: Quote: "While the printed book is far from extinct, many users find the e-book reader experience to be as good or better than a paper book and the digital rights management systems have satisfied publishers." Contrast that assertion with the news about Penguin Books exiting the library e-book market: Quote: "However, one upshot of those talks, as LJ reported, was publishers' concerns that if library loans become too "frictionless," in other words, do not involve a physical trip to the library to borrow and return a book, that it will eat into their sales. The desire to increase this friction may lead the recalcitrant publishers to demand a business model in which they will only make their ebooks available to public libraries if they are used in the library or if a patron is required to bring their device to the library and load the title onto the device in the library, then bring it home. This would essentially eliminate all the convenience of borrowing ebooks from a home computer or device."
Good point. In my own opinion: sooner or later, these people will be forced to come around and give the public what they want. While I realize that these companies do not want to see their business models change, that is just too bad--it is changing whether they like it or not. Newspaper publishing is changing, journals, music, movies, and yes, libraries too. Nobody in those industries want those changes, but they are happening no matter what. We can either adapt, which means to figure out what people want and provide it as best we can, or just shake our heads, say no, no, no! and slowly become extinct. The Penguin attitude is exactly the same as that taken by the dinosaurs and unless they are incredibly lucky for some reason, they will end up in the same place. No tears from me!

We can reply, "Oh! But Penguin is a major publisher." What happened to Kodak? They were much bigger than Penguin ever was.

Apologies for tooting my own horn, but in my paper in Oslo,, I focused on libraries, but exactly the same idea of "survival of the fittest" goes for *all* organizations. Everybody is feeling the heat (or cold!).

From Stacks to the Web: the Transformation of Academic Library Collecting

Posting to Autocat

"From Stacks to the Web: the Transformation of Academic Library Collecting" by David W. Lewis. January 2013. (College and Research Libraries pre-print)

I think this is a highly important report that everyone should read. The author makes some quite reasonable predictions about the future of the library and comes to some rather unpleasant conclusions, if you are a librarian. He discusses how selection must change "Move from Item-by-Item Book Selection to Purchase-on-Demand and Subscriptions" along with print-on-demand, and how this will have major impacts on staffing. This is from his conclusions:
"By the early 2020s in [i.e. it] is easy to imagine the following.  Print collections will have been reduced by at least half in most academic libraries.  The space will be used for a combination of enhanced reader spaces and other activities.  Many libraries will have reduced the amount of their budget to build collections by purchasing published content.  This saving will accrue from reductions in materials budgets and from a decline in the amount of staffing, both professional and clerical, required to select, acquire, and catalog locally held material."
Once librarians restructure their own bibliographic universe to include materials on the web, and consider that those materials are just as valuable, and just as important, as the next book that has come in, if not more so, things really begin to change in fundamental ways. In such an environment it only makes sense that all librarians "cooperate," from selectors to catalogers to reference librarians since everyone will be working with precisely the same materials. But there is a major point that must be dealt with: standards. For instance, I can imagine that in Library A, the selector in American Studies is retiring, so the administrators say, let's put the money for his salary to other uses, and utilize the web materials, plus rely on Library B, at a university that has a pretty good American Studies program. This means that Library A is trusting Library B for a certain quality of information. This is called standards.

I have already mentioned standards in relation to cataloging, but from this idea of Library A and Library B, we can see that there could be standards for other library tasks as well. If cooperation is to succeed, it needs high reliability. And reliability needs standards. If a library is going to cut down on cataloging staff, there must also be some level of reliability.

This happens in other areas of endeavor. If a company that makes televisions decides that it is going to close its division that makes the electric cords that plug into the wall, and just buy them from somebody else, those new wires had better not catch fire or make the televisions blow up! With these kinds of business standards, if the quality falls below the agreed-upon level, there company that buys the wires can sue the company that makes them, and so on, but in library cataloging, those are not the kinds of standards we have, so therefore, at the very least monitoring of record quality will be needed (unless everybody just decides to give up and accept whatever is thrown at them!).

The future as envisioned by Mr. Lewis seems to me, good for information professionals and librarians, so long as, as he mentioned, "...librarians must embrace new roles and abandon old practices". But standards must play a large role in it.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Re: FRBR and display

Posting to RDA-L

On 27/02/2012 05:02, Kelley McGrath wrote:
There has been some discussion about the relationship between the FRBR entities (especially group 1) and end-user display or underlying data structure.

I think OLAC's FRBR-based prototype for moving image materials ( is a good example of an interface where the underlying logic is based on FRBR, but the user display is not centered on the FRBR group 1 entities. We only display two levels: the work+primary/original expression and the expression-in-hand+manifestation+item-location. A brief overview of the prototype and its aims can be found in the first section of We also don't limit the user to top-down access to the FRBR group 1 entities. Many systems force users to start with the Work and move down, but through facets, we allow users equal flexibility to start from the bottom up with item location or manifestation format (e.g., DVD, Blu-ray). This is described in our JCDL short paper at

The data in the prototype came from a RDMS. However, the tables weren't strictly based on the FRBR entities (although they could have been).

I think this shows that you can build something that is conceptually based on FRBR where neither the display nor the underlying data structure maps 1:1 to the FRBR entities.
This is a very interesting project, and demonstrates once again, that if the emphasis is focused on the users, who are assumed to need to do the user tasks as defined in FRBR (i.e. the functional requirements), then those functions can be achieved through modern indexing tools instead of requiring new cataloging rules and new structures. These tools are found right now in Worldcat, Koha, the Extensible Catalog, and this one that you discuss, too. Probably others, too. Each of those tools can be improved, and probably relatively simply. Such a wonderful development should be seen as good and positive, especially during these difficult economic times.

We should push the computer systems to their utmost, instead of pushing the catalogers to do even more work that is simultaneously more complex. After all, that is one of the primary reasons for introducing "technological innovations".

But, if the purpose of FRBR now is to enter the "Linked Data" universe, (which had not yet been foreseen when FRBR was first published) then that does indeed go beyond the functional requirements, and certainly goes far beyond matters of simple metadata. There are many, many, many ways of entering the Linked Data universe.

Re: Russian transliteration

Posting to Autocat

On 25/02/2012 21:48, Gene Fieg wrote:
Was doing authority work on *698361289, in which the romanization of the Russian seems to link the separate word together with ligatures on both sides of the romatization of "ia". A previous authority record for the Russian church did not have the character so ligatured.

Is the romanization in the authority record 386754 Russkai︠a︡ pravoslavnai︠a︡ t︠s︡erkovʹ correct. (in this e-mail, it looks correct, but in the record, the ligatures on either side of i and the a. The ligaturing in the authority record looks confusing.
In an earlier "iteration" of my cataloging career, I made the Slavic Cataloging Manual, now at U Indiana, and included several transliteration tables. I planned to expand this significantly but other things happened. Here is the Russian one. (Original manual is at

I never considered the problem of actually inputting the diacritics, but when inputting each diacritic goes *before* the letter, so with i︠a︡, you put add the opening diacritic "i", closing diacritic "a". The same goes for other multiple diacritics. Maybe someone can update that part of the manual somewhere to add this information.

I remember having discussions when Unicode came out, whether transliteration should still be done. At first I said no, but others convinced me that it is still important, primarily since these colleagues pointed out that library staff who do not know cyrillic (or other non-roman alphabets) are still able to work with these records to an extent, plus students who are not experts in the language are helped substantially by seeing the transliterations.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Re: Revolution in our Minds: Seeing the World Anew

Posting to RDA-L

On 23/02/2012 15:55, Brenndorfer, Thomas wrote:
[Jim Weinheimer wrote:]
These are vital materials, and the public clearly wants them. This has little to do immediately with bibliographic >metadata but with selection policies. However, if those materials get selected, then cataloging gets swamped. And >then how does reference deal with it?
Leaving it up to authors or publishers would be a bad idea. A service like LibraryThing can show the way for a middle ground-- dedicated users can contribute to the construction of effective systems (so effective that LibraryThing sells the content back to libraries).

This much I can definitely agree with. By definition, authors and publishers are both interested in self-promotion and therefore leaving it up to them is a bad idea. There is nothing strange in this, but the fact must be stated simply and clearly. Those people can be included but must be monitored.

This is one point where librarianship as a whole can begin to make itself felt, not so much in the metadata, which is only one small part of librarianship, but where the field as a whole can offer different kinds of guidance. For the moment, let us leave aside the methods as beside the point and concentrate on the concept of "why" this is a bad idea. Not necessarily bad for us, but why it is bad for the patrons. It is absolutely critical to realize that most non-librarians do not at all understand this is a problem.

There has been a discussion on another list, alcts-forum on "Transforming Collections" and one of the topics has been PDA, or patron-driven acquisitions. PDA makes perfect sense to some people, but the librarian can understand how it *can* be a disaster for the *collection*. There have been several good thoughts there. We need to imagine how to solve these problems without considering the methods for the moment. Perhaps the FRBR tasks will be a part and perhaps not, but first the issues need to clarified, and then possible answers may make themselves known.

Nevertheless once again, I recognize that this list is probably not the correct forum for these sorts of questions. Yet, I think they need to be asked and tentative answers offered for discussion and refinement.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Re: Revolution in our Minds: Seeing the World Anew

Posting to RDA-L

On 22/02/2012 23:34, Jonathan Rochkind wrote:
On 2/22/2012 5:25 PM, James Weinheimer wrote:
This is why I mentioned in my paper in Buenos Aires the NPTEL free online courses that lots of people would really and truly find useful. There are so many of these sorts of resources that it is absolutely astounding! Unfortunately (I am definitely a book lover!) these are some of the directions I think we will have to take if we are to make a real difference to the public.
So wait, if I understand right, you're arguing that to 'make a real difference to the public', we should stop caring about bibliographic metadata at all, and focus on other things that have nothing to do with maintaining bibliographic metadata?

I'm not sure you are on the right list.  If that's your opinion, then maybe leave discussions of how to control bibliographic metadata to those who do think it's important, and go work on and discuss those other things you think are important instead, in forums and communities dedicated to these other things?

Alternately, maybe I'm misunderstanding, and you're saying it is important to keep working on bibliographic metadata, but we should be focusing on "interoperating with what's already there."  I am not sure, then, what reasons you think this hasn't already happened, why aren't we already interoperating with what's already there? (And we are to some extent, but clearly not enough, agreed).   Many of us think it's because of the nature of our bibliographic metadata, and that's what we're discussing here. But you think it's.... something else?   If you think all you need to do is "throw this to the IT people", and they can just fix it if only someone with power over these "IT people" told them to, I am so very confident you will find yourself disappointed, this is inherently a metadata problem.   But again, if that's what you think, that it's got nothing to do with our metadata control, I would suggest that a listserv about metadata control may not be the best place to discuss whatever are these other things you are concerned about.

I'm not even really sure what your advocating _for_, to be honest James. I understand that you think everything anyone else suggests on this list is a bad idea, but I don't understand what you're suggesting instead and if it's got anything to do with bibliographic metadata control.
Certainly, I think that bibliographic metadata is important. This is what my papers have been about and practically all of my postings. My concern is believing that any kind of real solutions will come through changes in bibliographic metadata: by making it into FRBR, or RDF triples, or entering the Semantic Web, or "improving" the quality. Of course, our metadata needs to change in all kinds of ways, I have stated this many time. But that in itself, will solve very few of the challenges facing libraries.

Today, libraries as a whole are under threat. This is not because of metadata problems but due to changes in the technological environment, and was greatly exacerbated by the economic crisis. It is my belief that this threat to libraries as a whole can be met only by libraries working as a whole. This means that the different library departments (selection, cataloging, reference, IT, etc.) must really and truly work together to create tools that are relevant to today's patrons. I think it's probably a good idea to add in the patrons, too. Without changes in selection policies, putting our cataloging records in different environments will do little good, while people need just as much help as ever to find useful resources that are also reliable.

Based on my own experience, more than anything else, the public wants good, solid selection of reliable materials so that they don't have to waste their time sorting out the "junk". This holds for everyone I have met, from students to scholars. (Among the public, some tend to question whether librarians should be involved in this at all, but done through various options with Web2.0 tools. This is a completely different topic)

I also think that library tools should tell what is *really* and *truly* available to the public. So, if I want a copy of Huck Finn and I am in Rome, it is of little use to me to know that there are 20 copies in different editions available on the shelves in Albany, New York. But, it is important for the people in Albany and Rome to know that there are all kinds of options in the Internet Archive. And Google Books, and many other places on the web.

This is why I pointed out that fabulous course on Broadband networks available in NPTEL in my paper in Buenos Aires. I have no doubt that people want to know about those online courses, which may actually make a difference in their lives, and want this online course even more than the newest book on Abraham Lincoln. There are zillions of these courses online. There are also tons of videos about all kinds of topics that are of interest to people. In the online CSPAN, there are hundreds of videos where authors talk about their books and have to answer some pointed questions. Many times, these are more interesting than the books themselves. But there are also discussions on policy issues on all topics (not just the ho-hum Congressional speeches). But it's not the only site; there are so many books and videos and articles from think tanks and it goes on and on and on.

These are vital materials, and the public clearly wants them. This has little to do immediately with bibliographic metadata but with selection policies. However, if those materials get selected, then cataloging gets swamped. And then how does reference deal with it?

What is the solution to this? As I said before: I don't know. Nobody does. But it is clear that the old methods won't work any more. Certainly, massaging our current metadata and putting it into Linked Data may help somewhat but is clearly only a part of any solution. Perhaps a small part. The entire library must cooperate to come up with a solution. And I hope, this will include the meaningful input of our patrons, who can tell us what they really want. Until libraries can come up with an entire solution, please forgive me if I remain skeptical.

Finally, if departments within individual libraries can come together and cooperate, perhaps the library community as a whole really can come together to offer a solution. Including internationally. How would that happen? Once again, I don't know, although I have some basic ideas. Still, somebody has to describe the problem before a solution can be found.

In the meantime we shouldn't sit around twiddling our thumbs; so sure: let's put our records into the semantic web, but I don't know how much difference that on its own will really make. That's why I think we should do it in the quickest, easiest, and cheapest way. See if it really does make a difference, and if it does, then libraries can decide to devote more resources to it.

Seeing the complexity of the problem can be either disheartening or exhilarating. It depends on how much someone likes a challenge!

But I agree, this is probably the wrong list to discuss these matters. I don't know of such a list, and this discussion arose through debating points.

My sincerest pardons to all.

Re: Revolution in our Minds: Seeing the World Anew

Posting to RDA-L

On 22/02/2012 22:52, Jonathan Rochkind wrote:
I actually don't think it's neccesarily 'marc', although marc is a terrible terrible format we should be working to abolish. But, hey, MarcXML is XML, everyone loves XML, or at least is okay with it, right? And anyone can already turn any Marc into MarcXML  in one line of library code in almost any programming language there is; and many many of our systems will already provide MarcXML out of the box anyway.

So what's the problem?

It's _not_ the surface representation of the data, in Marc, or XML, or even RDF. Taking the exact data we've got and translating it to one of those formats is not going to help -- becuase after all, we already CAN do that, so what's the barrier?

The barrier is the data itself.  Is muddled, ambiguous, unclear.

This is all correct and I won't argue with any of it, but this raises an issue that I have with Linked Data: I don't think other formats are much better from ours. Karen mentioned the FaBIO system that has really bizarre (at least for me) works, expressions, etc. The (poetically named!) "Thing" from with item types: article, blog, book, recipe, TVSeason, etc. is tough to reconcile with others. I honestly do not think these other projects will change any of their practices just for us.

Therefore, in the aggregate, the linked data universe seems--to this cataloger--to be chaos. While I can imagine a solution, and you probably can too, such a solution would make reconciling all of the different MARC formats in the world seem like child's play.

This is not saying that we should not be aiming for linked data. Doing it with identifiers would be better (maybe) than what we have now. The biggest obstacle of entering the linked data world, in my opinion, is to interoperate with what is already there, and will be there. This will be exceedingly difficult. While FRBR might (maybe) make it easier, it is not worth waiting for it, especially considering the effort that will be demanded from already-pressed catalogers now. I would much prefer to put the onus on the already-pressed IT staff. :-)

As a corollary to this, I mention something hesitantly. I don't know how useful putting up records for our printed materials will really be. The public is evolving toward digital resources. Yes, I understand that someone searching for a book from a cell phone with a GPS chip will, in the correct system, readily find that they can get a copy of a book they want from a local library only 10 km away. Some few may actually decide to go there to get the book, but many more would probably be interested to know that they could download a copy to their phone or tablet.

This is why I mentioned in my paper in Buenos Aires the NPTEL free online courses that lots of people would really and truly find useful. There are so many of these sorts of resources that it is absolutely astounding! Unfortunately (I am definitely a book lover!) these are some of the directions I think we will have to take if we are to make a real difference to the public.

Re: Revolution in our Minds: Seeing the World Anew

Posting to RDA-L

On 22/02/2012 21:43, Kevin M Randall wrote:
I recently came back from an excellent NISO/DCMI webinar presentation by Karen Coyle on linked data called "Taking Library Data From Here to There" (which I highly recommend). Karen used William Shakespeare's "As You Like It" as an example in one part, and that got me thinking about a way to use the same title in a response to the above paragraph.

Freedom in using the FRBR WEMI entities in OPAC design is virtually limitless. *One* possible way that I could imagine off the top of my head is, in response to a search for William Shakespeare's "As You Like It", the user gets something that indicates that work. Maybe it's a picture of the cover of a printed edition of the play, maybe it's a bunch of words--just something to get across to the user the concept of William Shakespeare's "As You Like It". Then, accompanying that, there might be buttons or links that lead to various things:
  • printed editions of the play 
  • translations of the play 
  • film and TV adaptations of the play 
  • resources that critique, analyze, or are otherwise about the play 
  • other resources that relate in some way to William Shakespeare or "As You Like It" 
Those are resources that are typical of what we currently describe in our metadata. But with linked data that extend outside the "library database" most of our catalogs are currently limited to, we might be able to add buttons or links leading to:
  • information on theatrical productions of the play, including reviews, performance schedules, ticket sales, etc. 
  • IMDB articles about films of the play 
  • YouTube videos of the play 
  • discussion forums about the play or William Shakespeare

All this is fine, and they suggest a few of the possibilities of entering the linked data world but will still demand a *ton* of work to generate correct links and/or correct queries. Librarians certainly cannot build something like this on their own but will have to have a massive amount of cooperation from other non-library agencies. This will be a new experience where catalogers will discover they are not in control at all. Still, it is absolutely necessary if we are to enter that world.

I have nothing against any of this. At the same time, I have no doubt that other agencies have not and will not adopt our FRBR structures to enter the linked data world. So, if the ultimate goal is for us to enter the linked data world, why do we have to adopt the RDA/FRBR record structure first? Why not do just do it now? "All"(!) we have to do is open our data, provide it in a format that others can use, and link what can be linked. Easier said than done, but certainly far easier than redoing our cataloging rules and waiting x number of years until FRBR is completed. One place I worked at and helped create the format has gotten into linked data using an XML application profile. Microdata can apparently do it too and it is a lot easier. Anyway, this is one reason why I have said that the absolute, #1 first step is to get rid of our ISO2709 format for sharing records, or at the very, very least, abandon the requirement of "roundtripability". It will have to be done eventually, and nobody can do anything with our data until that is accomplished.

Perhaps some methods are theoretically better than others in the linked data world, but we should accept that nothing is perfect. The main thing is to enter it first and then work out the problems. FRBR and its entities are not necessary to enter the linked data world. What is necessary is to provide a format (probably MODS would be good enough), put in some links where they exist, e.g. into VIAF and (better than nothing) and most important: open our data.

But as I mentioned before: easier said than done.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Re: Revolution in our Minds: Seeing the World Anew

Posting to RDA-L

On 22/02/2012 17:36, Kevin M Randall wrote:
In reading FRBR, it is very important to understand that the figures used are entity-relationship (ER) diagrams, not examples for OPAC displays. The figures illustrate the relationships between the FRBR entities, for the purpose of helping the information professional understand those relationships. (And by information professional, I don't mean the person at the desk involved in a reference interview; I mean people like those who are designing metadata schema and cataloging rules and search engines and OPAC displays.) A particular work will appear one time only in the figure because that is all that is needed to explain its relationship to the dependent expressions. This is part of the standard language of ER diagrams.

I may be able to use a butter knife as a screwdriver in some limited circumstances. But that does not make it a screwdriver, and in most circumstances it would serve poorly as one. It would be very strange for me to complain to the manufacturer of the butter knife that they made a faulty screwdriver.

Likewise, the FRBR diagrams do not serve well as designs for OPAC display, precisely because that is not what they are intended to do, any more than Venn diagrams in an explanation of Boolean searching imply that search results should show up to the user in interlocking circles. The diagrams serve a particular purpose, and that purpose is *not* OPAC display. It is very easy to maintain that FRBR is a conceptual model intended only for librarians (and other information professionals), because that's what it says it is, and it uses language only appropriate for that audience.
This would be all well and good, to claim that FRBR is only an abstraction such as a Venn diagram, but the fact is, one of the major points for the acceptance of RDA with all of its attendant costs and hassle, is that it is the first step on the road to FRBR (which will undoubtedly have many more costs in the future). RDA on its own without the goal of FRBR loses much of its sense, as was mentioned in the Report from LC, NAL and NLM. Therefore, it is not just an abstraction. Plus, FRBR is based on tasks that supposedly are important to the users.

Let's try using some other terminology. When a human interacts with this hypothetical FRBR tool that we are aiming for, and comes across the WEMI structure, somehow, somewhere, something has to be displayed that has meaning to the human and that he or she can understand. At first blush, it would seem as if there should be an incredibly wide choice in how to achieve this but in reality, there is much less freedom. Specifically, while the the fonts, colors, placement of information in a left or right navigation bar, and so on and so on, can change in myriads of ways, yet the more basic decision of: do I display each entity in the WEMI once or many times? does not allow that many options. Deciding to display a specific number of times, e.g. two times, ten times, one-half the time, a random number of times, although it could probably be done, becomes very strange.

On the other hand, if we want to state that FRBR has no real relationship to users, that would be fine. Let's just call them "librarian tasks". Of course, the problem with that is, our catalogs fulfill those tasks for us right now and do not need to be changed. But if we did rename them to "librarian tasks," we could at least begin to build something that might make a difference to the people who pay our wages and keep our doors open: the users.

Re: Revolution in our Minds: Seeing the World Anew

Posting to RDA-L

On 21/02/2012 16:53, Kevin M Randall wrote:
James Weinheimer wrote:
The very purpose of imagining different entities for work, expression, manifestation and item seem to me to imply that each entity displays one time. (I realize I am jumping to incredible conclusions and will probably be excoriated for it, but FRBR and its examples imply this very, very, very strongly)
I don't see any place that FRBR implies this, strongly or not. FRBR is not talking about display. At all. Anywhere. If you do see this anywhere in FRBR, then you must have an edition that I am totally unaware of.
Please cite the edition, and page(s) in that edition, where you find this.
See the examples under the manifestations and items., There are several, e.g.

J. S. Bach's Six suites for unaccompanied cello
  • e1 performances by Janos Starker recorded partly in 1963 and completed in 1965
    • m1 recordings released on 33 1/3 rpm sound discs in 1966 by Mercury
    • m2 recordings re-released on compact disc in 1991 by Mercury
  • e2 performances by Yo-Yo Ma recorded in 1983
    • m1 recordings released on 33 1/3 rpm sound discs in 1983 by CBS Records
    • m2 recordings re-released on compact disc in 1992 by CBS Records
This display shows the entities displaying one time only, with all of the related attributes displaying in the correct places and recreates the printed book display.

Again, this type of display is very strongly implied throughout FRBR. Obviously, FRBR is trying to state something, and having single entities where everything is drawn, e.g. the subjects from works and translators from expressions, etc. plus the examples, pretty strongly implies that each entity will display one time only. If information is displayed one time only, for multiple expressions and manifestations, it is difficult to conceive of any other display. I admit that I have always liked that kind of display since the differences from one resource to another are obvious, while with separate cards/records, you see the same author, title, etc. over and over and over again with only tiny differences in many cases, which is both boring and confusing to many. (This has been known since the beginning of the card catalog, by the way)

Of course, with our computers now, there are options. We could have all the entities display with each manifestation, thereby recreating the display of the records we have currently, which would be absurd of course, or all the entities could display along with each item. I have never heard of anyone suggesting this though, although if somebody wants it, why not? Still, such a display could probably be done with our current MARC records pretty simply.

I cannot imagine how everything could be clustered around expressions or works, except in some way such as is displayed here with information displayed one time only, or as we saw in Fiction Finder, which had this same type of display but interactive.

FRBR does not "mandate" displays in "thou shalt" fashion, I admit, just as ISBD does not "mandate" what is and is not a copy, but as I said, the implications exist very strongly, as we see here. In the case of FRBR, the very existence of single entities must have a purpose, and having the entities display more than once makes little sense. But yes, they could display the entities more than once, leading to records that display as they do now.

Now, if we want to consider FRBR strictly as a *conceptual* model with no genuine practical significance, that is another matter. The research suggested by Barbara Tillett and Karen Coyle, at "Mental models of the bibliographic universe" although extremely limited (30 people in Slovenia) is not enough to draw any conclusions from, (especially as it claims to be the very first one!), but at least I thought the results were not very encouraging for FRBR proponents. For instance, the initial comments were most interesting in part 1, p. 13: "Most of the participants found the task difficult or puzzling. They asked for further explanation and often expressed their dissatisfaction with the criterion or the design of the task." Therefore, the participants needed quite a bit of coaching before they could even begin.

Such a reaction makes perfect sense to me. It is very difficult to maintain that FRBR is a conceptual model for anyone besides librarians.

Re: Revolution in our Minds: Seeing the World Anew

Posting to RDA-L

On 21/02/2012 20:56, Brenndorfer, Thomas wrote:
How can I make it clearer? I reject the straw man argument because I reject the entire argument. That includes the >straw man, so I am setting fire to the straw man.
Well, at least that's useful. Setting fire to a straw man is a colorful way of characterizing the fallacy. Check
Well perhaps. Others can decide that. I do know what a straw man argument is. In my defense, I will not debate something under a format (i.e. RDA/FRBR) that I reject in toto. To me, that is similar to the old question: "Do you beat your wife on Sundays?" "No." "So, why not on Sundays?"

But, taken from my previous comment:
The library staff who lose their jobs because of the costs of implementing FRBR/RDA, that is, an unproven theory (or as described in earlier days, a "library superstition"), those people who lose their jobs will be a whole lot angrier, along with those patrons who can't get materials because their libraries will have to cut their acquisition budgets. They really will be mad since they are the ones who will have to pay the price.
It seems this is also a useful way to avoid making a business case for RDA/FRBR which will have very practical and highly negative consequences for real, live human beings. One debate may be theoretical and the other very definitely is not. My concern is with people much more than some theory.

From all of this, it is clear to me that nobody seems to want to make the business case. Or perhaps no one can.

Re: Revolution in our Minds: Seeing the World Anew

Posting to RDA-L

On 21/02/2012 15:28, Brenndorfer, Thomas wrote:
You still haven’t dealt with the straw man argument. [about my not discussing the totality of the FRBR user tasks--JW]

By copying and pasting some phrases from Cutter onto a definition of FRBR, and turning around and saying “See, it’s no different than Cutter”, then turning around again and citing only yourself as an authority, you haven’t added anything useful to the discussion. It’s easy to criticize and ridicule something manufactured for the purpose of ridicule.

For a well-researched paper on the relationship between FRBR and Cutter, William Denton’s article is a good start:

In FRBR the full set of possible tasks is far more broad and inclusive than Cutter specified and allows users much more freedom” and Cutter’s means in FRBR “open up to allow searching and browsing by any attribute of any entity” – these statements of fact corrects the fundamental error in your initial presentation where you have manufactured a definition of FRBR to exclude everything except the original Cutter precepts.

As for “unproven theories”, continuing to pester people about “I suspect they do something else, but I don’t really know what that something else is and what’s more, I am not even sure how to begin to answer such a question” ( ) as a substitute for anything concrete, thoughtful, well-researched, and respectful of previous work makes most of your points vacuous and devoid of any utility.
How can I make it clearer? I reject the straw man argument because I reject the entire argument. That includes the straw man, so I am setting fire to the straw man.

My contention that FRBR is of extremely dubious utility to the public is certainly no secret. Future research will probably prove that some parts are of use, but if librarians want to be relevant to the public, it is necessary for them to go outside of FRBR altogether and above all, rid themselves of the so-called "user" tasks to find out what the users really want and need. This will take time and resources.

Perhaps this makes some angry, but that's too bad. The library staff who lose their jobs because of the costs of implementing FRBR/RDA, that is, an unproven theory (or as described in earlier days, a "library superstition"), those people who lose their jobs will be a whole lot angrier, along with those patrons who can't get materials because their libraries will have to cut their acquisition budgets. They really will be mad since they are the ones who will have to pay the price.

Still, for those who insist that we absolutely must implement the FRBR user tasks for the public, and feel our current catalogs aren't good enough, they could install indexing that does what WorldCat or Koha does (Zebra indexing in the case of Koha, all open source. I believe the eXtensible catalog has these capabilities as well). All of this can be improved through automated means. It's a lot cheaper, can be achieved much more quickly and cleanly, and will provide the same functionality for our users in an FRBR-inspired universe, if not even better. I don't think it will make much difference to the public however, but I'll admit it is worth a try.

Then we can all move on to greener fields.

I am afraid that you and I have a very serious disagreement. And by the way, sorry for my vacuousness, but it seems to me that sooner or later, somebody has to step up and admit that the road we have been on isn't taking us where we want to go. Nonetheless, we have wound up where we are, but it's difficult to say from here which way is the right way to proceed. I think that when somebody finally says that the road we are taking is wrong, that is very, very useful. But it may not make you very popular.

While I have some ideas for the future (as I gave in my paper and I have had other suggestions), they may all turn out to be absolutely wrong. I'm willing to step up and admit that I don't know. But I am in good company because nobody does. I think lots of people agree.

Re: Revolution in our Minds: Seeing the World Anew

Posting to RDA-L

On 21/02/2012 18:46, Kevin M Randall wrote:
<snip>James Weinheimer wrote:
I think that we can probably agree that if a company builds a product the public does not want, it will be exceedingly difficult to get anybody to buy that product. Therefore, the task for that company would be to convince the public to buy something it does not want. Yet, an outsider will reasonably ask, "Why not build something that people want?" while an investor would probably not want to invest in that company.
FRBR and RDA are not about building a product that the user is going to be encountering. They are about building the DATA. Entities such as OCLC, Ex Libris, Innovative Interfaces, SirsiDynix (to name *only* a few by way of example) are the ones building products that the user encounters. Those products use the DATA that FRBR and RDA are concerned with.

A very rough analogy might be building construction; the analogues of FRBR and RDA would be material specifications and manufacture, and the analogues of the public catalog would be the actual buildings. In general, most people will only rarely give much thought, if any, to the materials that were used in constructing a building that they are using. But the people who are actually designing and constructing the building care very much about the materials, since the specifications are critical.

I don't understand why it is so difficult to realize this.
These points demonstrate how far apart we are. Of course, we are building a product for use of the public. We are not disinterested people building some abstract tool that can be taken or left. At least everybody claims that our work is supposed to be useful for the public, and not only for us. It only makes sense to make sure instead of taking it for granted. Following your analogy, are we using space age, modern materials or thatch with wattle and daub? I don't think I would want wattle and daub. Or are we trying to build a cave?

If you are discussing something else, that is, talking about opening up our data to general development, now that is another argument, and one that I can readily agree with. But we can open up our data now without going through the expense, hassle and *waiting* for everything to be changed to the FRBR entities. We can provide MODS or even simple Dublin Core. Lots of bibliographic agencies are doing this now. This would be following Tim Berners-Lee's suggestion: put out your data in a useful format and link what can be linked. Others will pick up the pieces and transform your data for their own purposes.

If we did this, we could learn so much about our user community. Who knows? We might find out that people actually do want FRBR type entities. I would be surprised but that would be fine--at least then we would know that it would be worth the expense. Or we might find out something entirely new.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Re: Revolution in our Minds: Seeing the World Anew

Posting to RDA-L

On 20/02/2012 20:04, Kevin M Randall wrote:
Very interesting paper, James. And it is very clear to me where our communication problem lies in regard to FRBR: you're talking mainly about the user interface. Of course FRBR is going to appear irrelevant, because FRBR is talking about the underlying data, not user display. FRBR makes no assumption about what catalog records have looked like, nor what they should look like.
I realize that FRBR *claims* to make no assumption about display, but I have problems accepting this claim. FRBR certainly adds no access from what we have now, so searching remains the same. Therefore, what and where are the actual changes? To me, I wonder if FRBR represents the same mentality as those catalogers in the past who always claimed that it was much more important for the library catalog to fulfill the needs of the readers at the expense of the needs of the library. Of course in practice, (as I wrote in my paper) this meant "...not *only* the needs of the library" but #1, it had to fulfill the requirements of the library and therefore everybody else would have to fit in. To believe anything else is incredibly naive. I'm not saying this attitude was wrong for the librarians of the time, just pointing it out.

The very purpose of imagining different entities for work, expression, manifestation and item seem to me to imply that each entity displays one time. (I realize I am jumping to incredible conclusions and will probably be excoriated for it, but FRBR and its examples imply this very, very, very strongly) This is similar to ISBD that prescribes very specific ways to describe a resource, and thereby implies what is a copy vs. what is a new edition. After all, that is why you describe a resource in exactly the ways as it requires. Some variation is possible, but relatively little.    

I realize the displays can be interactive, as we saw in OCLC's former Fiction Finder, which I found terrifying (as I mentioned earlier). Even in that case, every entity displayed one time which makes perfect sense in an FRBR universe. Consequently, in my own mind, with each entity displaying one time only, I can imagine nothing substantially beyond the printed book catalog, and such a structure is replicated over and over in the examples we find in FRBR itself.

But it seems to me that we are discussing how wagon wheels should look. We are in the 21st century with powerful tools just waiting for us to exploit them. 

So, I am not discussing the user interface, but rather questioning the very purpose of FRBR. I am questioning the assumption that the user tasks are the tasks that the *users* want to do. This is far too important and consequential of a statement to be accepted without evidence.

I think we can probably agree that if a company builds a product the public does not want, it will be exceedingly difficult to get anybody to buy that product. Therefore, the task for that company would be to convince the public to buy something it does not want. Yet, an outsider will reasonably ask, "Why not build something that people want?" while an investor would probably not want to invest in that company.

Why should libraries and FRBR not be considered in the same way?

If we are discussing new computer coding, that's great. But it is a completely different discussion.

Re: Revolution in our Minds: Seeing the World Anew

Posting to RDA-L

On 20/02/2012 21:44, Brenndorfer, Thomas wrote:
In your paper: "but the public even prefers Amazon"

One aspect that works well in Amazon is that it has a more FRBR-like result display when showing a record for a book. The different related formats are predominantly displayed: regular print versions, large print versions, e-book versions, paperback versions.
Compare that to user tasks as outline in RDA Chapter 17-- the user tasks that are most related to the hierarchical WEMI model:
"RDA 17.2 The data recorded to reflect the primary relationships should enable the user to:
a) Find all resources that embody a particular work or a particular expression
b) Find all items that exemplify a particular manifestation."
Not everyone is capable of, or willing to, look at the world anew. Some seem to be fated to see things "...according to informational structures that are totally and literally outdated." If libraries are to survive as vital organizations for our communities, I think it is absolutely critical for as many librarians as possible to look at the world anew with as few preconceived notions as possible. If we insist on our traditional structures and "user needs", we make ourselves almost tragicomical in relation to other information agencies and professionals who are not in thrall to such notions.

It is very difficult to get people on different sides of such a basic issue on the same page. Different people seem destined to play different roles.

Unfortunately, the RDA/FRBR debate is not only academic. If it were only academic, it would be one matter, but the costs of RDA implementation, plus further costs of FRBR, will undoubtedly take a human toll as people are laid off (i.e. sacrificed) for what some believe to be  the "greater good" of an unproven theory. And it is, very definitely, an unproven theory, at least in reference to its validity to the public. Let there be no mistake about that.

Some may believe they are immune to such pressures and they may be. For a time.

Re: Revolution in our Minds: Seeing the World Anew

Posting to RDA-L

On 20/02/2012 11:38, Bernhard Eversberg wrote:
20.02.2012 10:03, James Weinheimer:
I just posted the paper on my blog that I gave in Oslo at the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences on Feb. 2 of this year. 
Thanks for this essay which should serve well to broaden our view of the stuff we are dealing with and the ways we do it.Your paper is mainly focused on the Find function and not so much the other three. And of course, Find is the hopeful outcome of Search, and Search is Google's much valued invention to turn Search into a product.
Thanks very much! Yes, find/search is extremely important, but the final part of my paper was, in a way, discussing identify, select, obtain. In order to I/S/O, a human must be "aware" of the resource that they may, or may not, want to identify, select, or obtain. Therefore, the catalog must communicate information that is relevant to the human. This was my idea of trying to imagine what the catalog record would look like in the future (i.e. how it would communicate information about a single resource to a human), my failure to do so, and how I continued from there. Of course, this was a very simple task that turned out, for me anyway, exceedingly difficult. Other tasks will be far more complex, I am sure. Today with search engines and digital resources, "select" can take place only *after* someone "obtains" it, and I don't even know what "identify" would be in a keyword environment. *In theory*, linked data could solve a part of that.
Yet, I suspect that this mode of thinking is more in the realm of making the best feather pen anyone could ever imagine...  We need to find completely new solutions.

I want to emphasize that a lot of this brave new world I really do not like. So much of it, as you mention, is run by private companies that can go bankrupt or sell off any part it wants or change its policies, all without your permission or even informing you. I truly believe that library ethics and even some of our methods could help improve everyone's life now that "information" has become so important. These are some of the tasks that I think libraries *really* do, instead of "select, acquire, receive, etc."
What I found most important in your paper is how you point to LCSH for its potential of upgrading our catalogs for new functionality. This is generally overdue to be realized, and overdue in particular because subject access is part of the Find task, and very probably the most important part by far.
Every time I look at that Linked Data/Semantic Web diagram, e.g. and I see how dbpedia sits astride it all, I think that *if* our subject headings had been released much, much earlier and the public had been allowed to work with them, perhaps we would be seeing LCSH as the center instead of dbpedia.

That is all in the past unfortunately.

Based on my own experience, I have absolutely no doubt that the public would love our subjects because they provide something found nowhere else. But we would have to make them function in a digital environment because they just do not work now. It's time we faced up to it. I know it could be done and it would be worthwhile. It would take some amount of money (although probably not that much), but a lot of initiative, innovation, hard work and most important, a willingness to fail a few times. Or more.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Revolution in our Minds: Seeing the World Anew

Revolution in our Minds:
Seeing the World Anew
James Weinheimer
Kunnskapsorganisasjonsdagene 2012
Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences
Oslo, Norway
2 February 2012

This paper has changed slightly from the original, to provide some additional discussions that I gave during the time of presentation. In essence, it is the same, but slightly different, as befits the purpose of First Thus.

First, I would like to thank Unni Knutsen and the University for giving me this wonderful opportunity to speak in your beautiful city.

I would like to begin my talk with a few photos.

These are photos from the period not long after the Russian Revolution in the early 20th century. They were taken by a Soviet photographer, Alexander Rodchenko. After the revolution, people were excited about building a brand new society, and it was believed that even photography could play an important role. Here is a quote from Rodchenko in 1927:
”Thousands of years of painting have conditioned us to see according to compositional principals that are totally and literally outdated. A revolution must be performed on the people to teach them to see things from every angle and in any kind of light.” Zapisnaia knizhka, Novyi LEF, 1927 
Rodchenko’s photos are the best way to show how he attempted to achieve this revolution. Some of them may not be very attractive, but that was not his purpose. The results are startling since they show familiar sights, including mechanical gears and movie film, in new ways. My opinion is that libraries need something similar to occur not in the minds of the general public, because that is occurring now independently of whatever librarians do, but this revolution must take place within the minds of librarians, especially catalogers.

Therefore, I would like to rephrase Rodchenko’s statement:
 ”Thousands of years of cataloging practices have conditioned us to see according to informational structures that are totally and literally outdated. A revolution must be performed on the librarians to teach them to see things from every angle and in any kind of circumstance.” 
When put in those terms, we can begin to appreciate how provocative Rodchenko's statement was.

While new ideas are needed, new ideas are not enough. We need a new way of seeing the world. Otherwise we may be finding new ways to make products that are obsolete, or to use a description I like: perfecting the irrelevant, that is, forging a better horseshoe or improving the typewriter. It is imperative that we reconsider seriously the old ways of thinking. This will mean examining some notions that may make others, and even ourselves, rather angry because some new ways of seeing may turn out to be in stark contradiction to the old.

One example of how difficult this can be is a question I believe should be of burning importance to librarianship but it may strike some as rather strange: I believe that librarians have to figure out precisely what it is that they really do. What I am questioning is whether the job of librarians is really to select, acquire, receive, catalog, shelve, circulate, conserve, and provide reference help, and do it all efficiently and effectively, or do they actually do something quite different?

I suspect they do something else, but I don’t really know what that something else is and what’s more, I am not even sure how to begin to answer such a question. To help me consider this problem I use the following example. In the old days, many people in the horse and buggy industry really and truly thought that they were in the business of horses and buggies, so when faced with the arrival of automobiles they wracked their brains trying to get better horses and better buggies. Yet, from our vantage point, we can easily see that those people were going in the wrong direction. That is because we see that they were not in the horse and buggy industry, but in the transportation industry. Horses and buggies were only one possibility within the greater field of transportation.

Many of those folks in the horse and buggy industry were simply unable to visualize the new universe they were entering, although they were certainly no dumber than we are and they wanted very much to succeed.

I can envision people a hundred years or so from now, looking back at today’s library world and saying, “They thought they were in the library industry when they were really in the [fill in the blank] industry! How strange they couldn’t see something so obvious.”

Are libraries in the “information industry”? Perhaps in part, but I believe librarians provide something more personal to their communities and perhaps more vital. For me, I suspect when we consider that the library’s job is to select, acquire, receive and so on, we are mixing up management and workflow with what it is we really do. Focusing our attention on improving those duties may be equivalent to trying to get better horses and buggies. And yet, to determine what it is we really do may prove to be exceptionally difficult.

The simple fact is: from the macro viewpoint today, when it comes to information structures, information needs and so on, no one has the answers. Not our teachers, not Bill Gates, not even Tim Berners-Lee himself. Not Rupert Murdoch or the publishing industry--and I certainly don’t have the answers. People have opinions of varying worth but honestly, at this point in time, we are still fumbling around trying to find the correct questions to ask. Yet, I will say there are some things we do know today and one of them is that the old solutions just don’t do the job any longer.

A situation like this has some distinct advantages. Once you realize these individuals don’t have any better answers than anyone else, then it follows that when you have an equivalent understanding--not necessarily equivalent knowledge, but equivalent understanding--you are equal to these people. Such a revelation is liberating. So continue to learn; listen to these people, keep what is valuable, and throw away what makes no sense to you. Do so with a clear conscience. Because in today’s world, that’s where a lot of it belongs. This includes what I have to say. Of course, be polite and who knows? Those who claim to have the answers may eventually prove to be right. Be ready to change your ideas, but draw your own conclusions! Those others don’t know any better than you do.

It is clear to me that from the social and economic standpoint, if not from the political one as well, we are entering Darwinian times, meaning the survival of the fittest. In fact, I believe we are experiencing what is called “punctuated equilibrium”.

Punctuated equilibrium is one of the theories of evolution that says that during periods of minor change, there are relatively few instances of evolution in a population (such a period is called stasis) and these periods can be rather long, but at a moment of stress for whatever reason, perhaps environmental, or a new predator arrives on the scene, things begin to change much more quickly as individuals try to survive. Such a moment bears a frightening name: a speciation event.

Based on the economic and technological stresses we are experiencing, which show no evidence of going away anytime soon, I believe our society is coming out of a period of relative social and economic stasis, and entering the equivalent of a speciation event. It seems as if people in all kinds of professions are beginning to feel a vague compulsion to evolve somehow. Certainly librarians and catalogers are not immune to those pressures. When we emerge from these times into some more stable future, I am sure that for better or worse, libraries and cataloging will be different from what they have been.

During this period of stress, there will be attempts by librarians to adapt--at least I hope there will be attempts--and the results of their efforts will be labelled “successes” and “failures” but please note that “failure” won’t imply that anyone will have done anything wrong. That is just the essence of trial and error. Since we are all prisoners of time, we cannot be in more than one place at any one time. So for instance, when you are walking from one town to another, find a fork in the road and don’t know which to take, you can choose only one of them.

You can’t take them all--not at the same time. If there are two of you, one can take one road, and the other can take another, but still, each of you will be on a separate path, and what happens when one of you meets an additional fork in the road?

In such a predicament, choosing a road that does not lead to the goal is not a failure. You are human. You were fated either to choose or just give up, go back home, and do nothing. Perhaps if you had been a bird, you could fly up into the air to see where each road went, but we can’t spend our time wishing for wings.

Therefore, at that stage, one choice is just as good as another, so you look further: one road is smooth and level, another is terribly muddy, another goes up the side of a treacherous cliff. If you have no idea which one to take, it would make sense to choose the easiest road. It could turn out that none lead to the goal, or all of them do. And if you happen to choose one that gets you where you want to go, it is not so much “success” as it is sheer luck.

Of course, once people know which road takes you to the next town and you choose another one, that can be considered an error, although you still may not be at fault since it may not have been possible for you to know it. Therefore communication of successes and failures is equally vital. If everyone trying different paths had a cell phone, they could talk to one another and find the road to the next town far more efficiently.

To sum up, in a trial and error scenario, genuine failures must be defined as not trying anything at all, not communicating to others the results of your trial and error attempts, or of course, refusing to admit that you are on the wrong road after it has become clear that it is not going where you want. Almost anyone can point to many examples of each type of these errors.

One last consideration: We all like to believe we know certain things but then something happens in our lives to make us question those nice assumptions. Just imagine, if something momentous happened now, right at this moment, we saw a mushroom cloud. The entire universe for us would become unbalanced, it would look so different so quickly that we would experience vertigo and not know what to do.

My proposition is that this is what is happening now within many areas of the world, and libraries are far from immune. For such a long time, libraries have known only minor changes and have been sheltered in many ways, and then came this crazy thing called an Internet, which they could kind of ignore for awhile, but now the economic situation has suddenly thrust them into a terrible predicament.

Many of the librarian’s most cherished assumptions are now being summarily ripped away from them. Not only has their professional security vanished in many cases, they are finding that they are not necessarily so beloved by their communities as they always liked to think. They are finding that they are often not regarded as experts in anything of value. They are finding that many of the tools they have created and maintained over many years are considered to be obsolete, and lie almost unused, ridiculed and scorned.

Even their most cherished treasures: the magnificent collections that they have struggled over, in some cases for centuries, and take great pride in, are often being dismissed as semi-useless in today’s digital environment. The main thing these nay-sayers want is to scan everything so that they can force it all to fit onto their computer screens, just like Procrustes forced his victims to fit onto his bed!
Procrustes. British Museum

I’ll confess something awful: I want that too!

In this topsy-turvy world--which very well may become even more unpredictable, adaptability becomes incredibly important. Therefore, I submit it is unwise and even dangerous to say that we really know much of anything. And when it comes to what the public wants from libraries, how they search for information, what they want to do with that information and so on, the ONLY correct response is to say: I don’t know.

I do know some things however. If a field cannot demonstrate its importance to society, that field will wither away and die. That has happened many times: to the village blacksmiths, elevator operators, switchboard operators, typesetters. Computers just five or ten years old are already obsolete!

So, after all of this, I ask how this fits in:



Let’s consider this title as a statement: it means that for bibliographic records to function, they must fulfil the requirements as laid out in the book. Otherwise, the bibliographic records will not function. And when you begin to read the book, you discover that the requirements are themselves based on what are called “user tasks”. What does this mean?

According to FRBR (and I quote):
“The study has two primary objectives. The first is to provide a clearly defined, structured framework for relating the data that are recorded in bibliographic records to the needs of the users of those records.”
So, who are these users? We read further: quote:
“The study assumes that the data included in bibliographic records ... are used by a wide range of users: readers, students, researchers, library staff, publishers, distribution agents, retailers, information brokers, administrators of intellectual property rights, etc.”

And what do these groups want? That is, what are the requirements of these users that will determine whether the bibliographic records are functional?

Well, the famous  
find, identify, select, obtain
     works, expressions, manifestations, items 
     by their
          authors, titles, subjects. 

I realize this is a blatant oversimplification, since, for example, no one wants to obtain an entire work, comprising all the items of all the manifestations of all the expressions of the work of Homer’s Odyssey, so in FRBR there are sections on finding vs. obtaining and so on, each of the specific entities, and everything is supplemented by all kinds of tables. It really is a lot of work, but that’s OK because we know that it is all worthwhile. Once FRBR is implemented and put out for everyone to use, we can rest assured that our bibliographic records will be functional because they will fulfill the requirements of the users.


Where is the evidence that this is what people want? There is overwhelming evidence that the public does not find our catalogs nearly so useful as Google. Google has full-text it’s true, but the public even prefers Amazon, and it doesn’t have nearly as much full-text. Besides that, how do the FRBR user tasks differ in any real ways from what our catalogs have always provided, and that the public has already pretty much rejected? Is it that people today CANNOT find specific items of specific manifestations of specific expressions of the work of Homer’s Odyssey? In fact, they can today, and they could 100 years ago, because FRBR follows, in essence, Cutter’s Rules:

Clearly, there is nothing new with FRBR here, and everyone agrees. Please realize I am not trying to belittle the amount of labor people have put into FRBR, because it is obviously the result of a lot of work by many highly knowledgeable catalogers. I very much respect what they did, but the final result still isn’t anything new. What they did was to take the structures we have had for a long, long time and rework them into an entity-relationship model, where you have entities equal the authors, titles, subjects, works, expressions, etc. and then relate those entities in various ways.

But what about the overall purpose of FRBR? Here, I think Charles Cutter himself can help us. When discussing the title in his rules, Cutter points out that practical matters should take precedence over theoretical ones: p. 16

Even more interesting is this by William Fletcher from Library Journal, March 1905, p. 141+:

We find that over 100 years ago people were questioning the accepted attitudes toward the catalog, so criticisms are anything but new. I have also found the same opinions repeated over and over in the Report of the Royal Commission on the Management of the British Museum (the so-called “Great Debate” of the 1840s), to the effect that while Panizzi’s catalog serves the purposes of the library, and in this way can help the librarians in turn help the readers more efficiently, nevertheless the catalog itself did not actually serve the needs of the public. I’ll return to this later.

I think the attitudes of Cutter and Fletcher are very appropriate however: we should be careful of paying a superstitious veneration toward anything and that includes our catalogs.

It seems to me that if the real tasks that users want were according to FRBR, we would be seeing our catalogs used more often, or at least the public would be rather vocal about not finding what they need in Google. Yet people complain far more loudly about library catalogs than about Google, that is when they don’t ignore library catalogs completely. Also, the public does indeed voice complaints about Google but these complaints can’t be interpreted as having anything to do with the FRBR user tasks. So, it seems only logical to ask if people really want the FRBR user tasks so badly, then why do so few use library catalogs and turn to other tools so happily?

My own opinion is because people don’t need the FRBR user tasks. Perhaps in the view of the public, the Functional Requirements are really the DYSfunctional Requirements.

We must raise these kinds of questions and then do serious research into them. If we do not, then we may be guilty of perfecting the irrelevant, and paying a superstitious veneration toward the catalog and FRBR.

So, what do I think that people want? How does the public relate to our records? Do the problems they experience have to do with punctuation, transcription practices or media terminology? I don’t think so. My own experience shows that their problems relate to the nature of the catalog itself.

This is where we must be open and honest with ourselves. We cannot ask ourselves about any of this: this judgment can only come from the majority of our users, or non-librarians. Personally, I know too much and that makes my opinion irrelevant. So, I have tried to recreate how a library user may relate to the library catalog, and I have tried to illustrate this using something different: wine lists we see at restaurants.

Here is a typical wine list of the type we all see at a restaurant. I know a little about wines, but I want to stress it’s a little. Still, I certainly like a good wine with my meal, and this is the kind of list that I absolutely hate. It is a list of the names of wines arranged by place: Italy, California, Other. The information the restaurant provides means absolutely nothing to me and does not help me to make a selection. In fact, it seems purposely designed to make me feel stupid and inadequate. Since there is no information here that is of any use to me, my real concern when looking at this kind of a wine list is that I don’t want the others with me, or even the waiter himself, to think I am overly stupid or stingy with my money. But I also don’t want to break my pocketbook. So I concentrate on the only meaningful bit of information I see: the price.

Here is an example of another kind of wine list. Someone has added short descriptions.

Maybe this is a little better than the previous list for me, but it still means almost nothing. “Highly expressive nose with a mouth-smacking finish” or “Lively and lengthy on the palate with a great body”. All this just sounds silly and it doesn’t help much at all. I still find myself concentrating on the price.

To be honest, I want something entirely different. Neither of these lists gives me any information that really helps me make a meaningful choice. Let me explain. After living in Italy, I have found that for me, food and drink are linked to the social situation.

Is it getting together for a loud and fun time with a bunch of friends?

Is it to be a business dinner?

Or a deep philosophical discussion with an old friend where we solve the ills of the world together?

Maybe I have a very important appointment with the perfect steak.

Or, it’s a special moment with that special someone.

At least to me, it is obvious that I want different wines for each of these occasions. The first menu we saw is completely useless for that, the second one not much better and besides, I came to the restaurant to enjoy myself with my friends, not to sit with my nose buried inside some boring tome filled with incomprehensible jargon while everyone else is having a good time!

So, what do I want? I want to be able to tell an expert about the dinner and explain what I want, so that he or she can make the choice for me. And, if they choose a lousy wine or they spend too much of my money, I will kick them very hard in a place they won’t like! So, I expect the waiters or maître d' to help.

But let’s face it: there is a part of me that secretly feels ashamed since I think that I really should know more about wines than I do and I don’t like admitting my failings. So, if there were a menu of some sort arranged by social situation, preferably automated, that would give me the information I need to help me to make my own choice, I would like that perhaps even better.

The reason I have gone into such depth here is because I believe it demonstrates how our catalogs look to the public. Does the public want to do this

or this

and this?

Personally, I like to search catalogs, but I am different. For me, searching catalogs is the same as working with primary sources.

By now, it should come as no surprise that I believe the overwhelming majority of the public does not want to find, identify, select, obtain: works, expressions, manifestations, items by their authors, titles, subjects. Sure, some people want to do that once in awhile, but primarily they want something else, and consequently, the library catalog is not what people want. I realize this may be a rather offensive or at least, deeply disturbing, statement for some librarians. I can understand that if you take away FRBR, you in effect eliminate the very essence of what the library catalog has been designed to provide for over a hundred years at least! I mean, what would catalogers do... what would libraries do, since there would be nothing to replace the catalog!

In answer, I reply that matters are not so dire, since I also maintain--paradoxically--that the FRBR tasks really are important, but we must acknowledge they are important primarily to librarians, and not to the public. We should not get the two mixed up. What do I mean? Our catalogs are like the first wine list we saw, the one that I said I hate since it is more or less useless to me as an average customer who knows very little about wine. Yet, I realize that that same wine list is absolutely critical for the waiters and for the restaurant. They need to know what wines they have and do not have, how much they cost, when they need to reorder, and so on.

Exactly the same happens for library catalogs: they provide a critical inventory for the library, plus, it allows expert searchers who understand how the catalog works, especially those who understand the genuine power of authority control and how the headings function!--to find resources that would otherwise remain hidden, just as wine experts can use the first wine list to get precisely the vintage they want.

So, we can begin to see a couple of the basic errors I believe FRBR has made. One error was to assume that the traditional library catalog fulfilled the needs of the public, and another error was to lump all the users together.

Who are those users again?
The study assumes that the data included in bibliographic records ... are used by a wide range of users: readers, students, researchers, library staff, publishers, distribution agents, retailers, information brokers, administrators of intellectual property rights, etc.From FRBR

Wow! That’s quite a list! And the et cetera in this sentence is simply incredible!

To be fair, during the time of the printed book and card catalogs when cataloging theory really began to take shape, lumping all users of the catalog together was unavoidable because there could only be a single catalog for everyone. Maybe you could have a children’s catalog or lists for a few special collections but those had to be extremely limited. With print technology, everybody had to look at exactly the same bibliographic records arranged in exactly the same way. You couldn’t provide individualized catalogs and specific views for different groups or for individuals. Although the librarians always claimed that the public’s needs came first, that was never really true because of course the library’s needs took priority, so it turned out that the public had to adapt their work to the library’s. A lot of people didn’t like that but most understood the necessity to do so.

Today however, there can be all different kinds of views of the catalog with the records arranged in various ways, and there are several methods to accomplish it, so there really can be different catalogs for different groups and different people. This actually simplifies matters a lot since one of those modes can be the “expert mode” needed for librarians to manage the collection, to do their reference work and so on. This mode can work much as what we have today. There is no longer a need to force the public to use the same views and capabilities librarians need. Once this is accepted we, along with everyone else, can implement improvements on all kinds of different views based on what we discover the public wants.

So, what do people want from libraries? Again, we need to find out, but for one, I do not think the public wants the library catalog; at least, not the entire catalog. People do want bits and pieces of it however. This is not a new revelation and was made quite clear as far back as the 1840s during the inquiry at the British Library. Lately, I’ve been going through the inquiry rather closely and I am finding quite a bit that may be relevant to us today. Just for one example, the royal commissioners asked scholars whether they would buy personal copies of the British Museum library catalog after it was printed, which would run into many, many, many thick volumes and be outrageously expensive. All of the scholars said no, they would not, but they would be very interested in buying what they called “subsidiary catalogues” or “special catalogues”. These were catalogs of special collections or on specific topics, for instance a special collection in the library on English history, or the books on science that the library owned, and so on.

I think the public would still like those “subsidiary catalogs” today. This is essentially what people are asking for when they ask one of those normal reference questions: “Where are your books on Leonardo?” or “Where are your mysteries?” A catalog that provided this kind of information wouldn’t be for selling but for using. How could this work?

We could start to create queries for “special collections”, based at first on simple limits to call number ranges, thereby recreating shelf browsing to a point. Currently, catalogs that have virtual browsing give a list that reproduces browsing the shelf item by item, but the searcher should be able do a keyword search limited to specific areas of the classification, e.g. a search for archaeological methodology within the LC class numbers of CC73-CC81. Once a search has these primary limits, keyword searches could become much more focussed than they are now.

Here is an example page I have created. It is very ugly. I made it ugly on purpose since I want to demonstrate only how it functions.
A search for text using this page automatically limits the search to the specific call number range CC73-CC81 in the catalog at the Library of Congress.

This is an example of how a highly complex search, far beyond the capabilities of the average person, could be made much simpler and very useful for the searcher. Related subject headings could be added to this query because any librarian knows that only browsing a call number alone will miss many similar materials classed in different areas.

Such a tool that did most of the hard work of searching for the user could also be mashed up with other tools, such as dbpedia in all kinds of ways. Anyway, I believe it is clear that nobody except librarians and developers want entire catalogs, but if made easy to use and clearly explained, I believe the public could find specific parts of them very, very useful. We can see that there are all different ways this could be done.

I also decided to add a similar functionality to Google Books. You cannot search Google Books by call number, but you can through subject headings. People can imagine that if you were able to put all the searches together: subject headings, call numbers and full-text keywords in Google Books, you could search a highly selected batch of digitized books by keyword. As an aside, I want to demonstrate what Google thinks of library metadata.

Here is a typical example of what someone sees when they enter a book on Google. This example uses the page I created, searches Google Books with the subject heading Archaeology--Methodology, and the keyword I entered was "England". Where is the library metadata? To find it is not easy. First, the person needs to know how to scroll down to find the click "About this book"

And then after clicking on this page, the searcher has to scroll to the very bottom of the About this book page, past all kinds of other information, before they get the bibliographic information.

This is where you can see the heading "Archaeology--Methodology" with "England" as a general keyword search, and why this page was retrieved. [Incidentally, while I was in Norway, the subject headings for this record did not display]

Therefore, Google has decided to place the library metadata at the very bottom of a page that is difficult even to find! Clearly, Google does not consider our metadata to be of the greatest importance.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I decided to carry out an experiment on myself: to follow Rodchenko’s advice that we saw at the very beginning, and to try to break my mind out of the traditional patterns of thinking. I did this by attempting something I thought would be easy: I tried to imagine what the catalog record would look like in the future--not a complicated record, just a simple record for a monograph. I did not try to imagine how the entire catalog would function, just what a single, simple record would look like.

I tried very hard, but it turned out... I couldn't do it. I started out trying to imagine linked data, and although I understand that it tries to separate the data from the presentation, sooner or later the data for a resource has to come together and be displayed somehow.

I could not imagine anything other than variations on the book catalog display (which is essentially the same as the FRBR display), the card display or today’s labelled display. That’s all I could do.

I could easily imagine these records projected onto walls or as holograms in space. I even imagined records being printed out on those three-dimensional printers. It was simple to imagine packing extra functions onto the record, to buy, to download, to listen, or whatever, just like throwing all kinds of garnishes onto a hamburger, but that wasn't what I was getting at. The record itself was still there, looking pretty much as it always has. It just had extra "stuff" hanging off of it, or it was in weird places.

My lack of imagination offered me an interesting insight into my own limitations, especially when I compared myself to the talents of someone like Rodchenko. But OK, I couldn't do it! I admitted it and chose a different tack: I started thinking that I should try to take advantage of my defect. Perhaps my inability to visualize anything was actually a sign that the record of the future won't be something that you can see. It may not be separate and clearly defined like it has always been. Maybe it will work behind the scenes quietly in an embedded way, somewhat like the Google Books metadata record that we saw, but in ways far more hidden and subtle. How could something like that work?

This led me to imagine CIP

in books, and that all of the CIPs were not just printed, but actually worked to bring the books together by the headings and call numbers used there, so when you opened a specific book that you found through a general keyword search, all of the books with related headings in similar CIPs were automatically brought together.

I imagined all this taking place mechanically with invisible wires hanging off the headings in the CIP and all of the books being sorted and resorted physically in a seething mass as you would open the book. That was kind of terrifying. Therefore I decided that it would have to take place behind a curtain or something, so that the person opening the book is completely unaware of what is actually going on. I wound up imagining the library in the Harry Potter movies with all the books flying around. In this scenario, we would be talking about CIP on steroids since it would actually perform a powerful function behind the scenes.

Of course, almost nobody except catalogers today knows about CIP, much less cares about it, and everything could remain that way in the future. Nobody seems to mind not seeing the Google Books metadata records. The public could thereby get the function of the catalog records without the need to interact with them directly.

So, perhaps the way the catalog record of the future will look to the public will be that the records won’t appear at all and only the metadata creators will know that the records even exist! This could happen right now by the way, using what is called “microdata,” but I won’t go into any of that.

If something similar to this embedded, functioning, bibliographic record that no one would ever see were implemented, the very notion of a metadata record describing some separate resource that you then must obtain separately may increasingly be considered too abstract for the public to deal with. In fact, in my own experience, this appears to be happening already with some of the younger people I have worked with, who display serious conceptual problems towards the library catalog and its relationship to the collection.

Now, do I like such a scenario? Absolutely not! In many ways, I find it terribly limiting to the searchers and insulting to libraries and their catalogs. But my personal feelings mean nothing. It is part of the
“...revolution [that] must be performed on the librarians to teach them to see things from every angle and in any kind of circumstance.”
That includes me.

Of course, it may very well turn out that I am completely wrong.

I am not H.G. Wells predicting future technologies! All of this can be done right now. In many cases, the software is free or very inexpensive. The main problem is finding the will to do it and to organize it. Trial and error means success and failure. There will be false roads, such as I believe is happening with FRBR and RDA. They are the equivalent of making better horses and buggies and I seriously fear, will have the same results. There is nothing wrong with taking a false road, but people must admit that they are on a road that does not go where they want and then do something different. In any case, the very serious problems facing libraries are not with the cataloging rules, and the technology today allows us to do almost everything we want... and much more that we don’t yet even realize we want.

I have no doubt that our cataloging rules will need to change, and someday, when we know more about how people search and use information, and we are on a more solid footing, the situation will be ripe for revolution in our rules. At the moment however, we are still trying to figure out the questions to ask! A lot can still be done: there are a huge number of ways to improve the catalog so that it will make a real difference for the public without the catalogers experiencing such expense and disruption in their work. I already gave one suggestion about “subsidiary catalogs” but here is another: the LC subject headings provide conceptual access to resources, something found nowhere else, but they were designed in the print era. When transferred to computers and especially when keyword searching appeared, the subjects ceased to perform the function as they should. We should come up with new ways to make the subjects work again in the new environment, without expecting catalogers to recatalog everything.

Try. And fail. And try again. And fail better. That’s how it should be and how the fittest survive. Attempts such as these that are aimed at improving how the catalog functions would be the equivalent to taking the smooth, easy road instead of the slippery one up the side of a cliff. Maybe we will need to take that difficult road someday, but let’s at least try some easier ones first.

To conclude, although we are facing tremendous challenges, I think it really is a great time to be in librarianship. Never was the opportunity for genuinely equal participation in the world so great as it is now. The Arab Spring, the Indignados and the Occupy Movements can teach all of us a lot.

Do not forget that YOU--each and every one of you--is an agent of change, if you choose to step down that path.

Thank you for your attention.