Friday, August 31, 2012

Re: [ACAT] Why have there been no rants about obsolete books?

Posting to Autocat

On 31/08/2012 00:09, john g marr wrote:
I never used to think that a book I purchased would become impossible to read. OK, is it possible that the reader (me) may become antiquated and irreplaceable.

When cell phones that would only work on specific "plans" came out, I thought that was a huge scam.

So what do we have now? Electronic "books" that are only readable on particular brands of readers, all of which could become as obsolete as old cell phones. Here we go again, and not a whimper from consumers...
In fact, consider the possibility that some of those electronic "books" might disappear completely.
Some of this is not new for libraries. The previous example is the loss of microforms of different types, and everytime the new format was proclaimed to last 500 years or something like that. "Vinegar syndrome" led to having to redo all of the microforms before the later 1980s. Today, the microforms are again supposed to last for 500 or 1000 years. Who will be around to say if they are right or wrong?

At the same time, there is an electronic version of one thing librarians use everyday--there are no paper backups--and there have been few problems with it: the library catalog. Records made decades ago still work fine, but they look and work completely differently from the DOS displays of 25 years ago. This is why I am much less concerned about digital preservation than others. So long as someone uses an acknowledged format, e.g. pdf, tiff, rtf, etc. and not "Jim Weinheimer's new improved personal format", especially if the format is an open standard, there will always be options to convert, just as we have done with our library catalog records. They may not look exactly the same, or work exactly the same, but the information will still be there.

From the physical viewpoint, everyone seems to understand that a disc drive can die at any time and it is normal for backups to be automated today.

If the format is proprietary, especially using various types of DRM, there will problems from the point of intellectual property and breaking the DRM, but these are major problems in many areas.

When comparing what is happening today with the period after printing, nobody talked seriously about preservation until the really lousy paper started disintegrating. It had taken some time for the producers to make paper with that much acid in it, and then it took even more time for the paper to break down badly enough in a sufficient number of books so that people finally realized there was a serious problem. Yet today, people know about the problems already and several measures have already been taken. So, while preservation/conservation is an issue and is important, I just do not believe that it is as serious as many believe.

Copyright and intellectual property are an entirely different, and I think, more difficult matter.

Re: [NGC4LIB] Searching for a man without a name

Posting to NGC4-LIB

On 30/08/2012 09:13, Owen Stephens wrote:
Some disconnected comments/ideas on this:

Earlier this week Hulu added facial recognition to deal exactly with the "What has she/he been in?" question

Another example of searching by image to find the solution to a web layout issue:

The links being added between Wikipedia and VIAF ( might facilitate some kind of image search related to person authority records. My guess is that book cover images could be very helpful in this way. My knowledge of the services offering cover images to libraries is a bit out of date, but my experience is that these are currently implemented with a single image per book (which doesn't capture the variation in covers across editions, territories, etc.) and retrieve the cover image on-the-fly at time of display which is a bit limiting (I thought LibraryThing offered bulk download of covers but can only see the API details at the moment - although since they encourage local caching would be more possible to think about using some image analysis s/w across a locally cached set of covers relating to a specific collection)
The very concept of search is changing from what it used to be. One of the most enlightening blogs about search I have seen is SearchReSearch by Daniel Russell, who has the remarkable job title: "Über Tech Lead for Search Quality and User Happiness" at Google. The questions he asks and answers are of a completely new type. The latest one deals with a photo of a sculpture with no other information. Who is the sculptor? What is its name? Where is the sculpture housed? He says that this is a simple one that took only two minutes!

Another one is a photo Mr. Russell took of a street (somewhere) and the question struck me: what was I doing when I took this picture? (What a question!)

While the questions themselves may not be very realistic of genuine questions people ask, it is important to understand the sorts of questions that can be answered today. Earlier, such questions were more or less hopeless so no one asked them. Perhaps as people understand that these kinds of questions can be answered, they may find themselves asking them more often.

The way I found out about all of this is after watching a public lecture he gave, which I suggest to everyone, "What Does It Mean To Be Literate in the Age of Google?"

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Re: [dpla-discussion] Anyone thinking about journal articles?

Posting to dpla-discussion

On 29/08/2012 08:20, Tom Moritz wrote:
My "politics"?
When discussing new models, it is very important not to label them too quickly in a way that may be political. It then puts entire fields essentially "out of bounds". Let me explain: the traditional model for creating, storing, distributing, retailing, etc. has broken down and something new must be tried. While the costs are more or less unchanged for creating the original of a so-called "intellectual creative work", the costs of creating copies of this original, storing and distributing those copies, is approaching zero, therefore other models become necessary. The "copy" has lost much of its value, but the original has not. Because of this, many jobs based on the former model can simply disappear or change radically, as we are seeing today.

Right now, we are talking more or less about books, articles, films, maps, and other materials that can be replicated in two dimensions, but I suspect that precisely the same thing will happen as 3D printing improves. Imagine if a car part you need could be "printed" out in five minutes from a remote file, just like the Espresso book machine does with a book. Or a chair. Or a coat. What effects would this have on society? Think of the disruption to all the people and businesses affected, from warehouses to transportation companies to retail businesses. What would something like this do to the traditional "markets"? Could such a future have much in common at all with what we know as a traditional "market"? This could very easily become the next great revolution in society. Therefore, I believe what we see happening in the 2D world now may be a foreshadowing of what will happen in the 3D world in the next century or so, but there will be much greater consequences to the 3D world than what we are seeing now in the 2D world.

Labeling possible solutions as "communist" or "capitalist" may prove to be totally anachronistic in the coming environment, while it puts much discussion "out of bounds". As a personal example of this, several (many?) years ago, I studied as a graduate student in the Soviet Union, back in a town known as Leningrad at the time. A doctor I had met wanted to emigrate to the west but had questions he demanded that I answer. I was not a medical student and got worried, but then he showed me what he said he couldn't tolerate in his country.

He took out the brand new medical dictionary, opened it to some incredible technical word I didn't know in Russian or English, and he said, "Don't look at the word. Look at the definition." The definition was (something like) "A bourgeois concept." He told me that he couldn't stand this because here was an entire field that was off limits to any research or discussion, and he wanted to know if this happened in the west. I said that no, that did not happen, although you may have to defend your ideas from entire onslaughts of attacks of people who may seriously disagree with you.

In the Soviet Union, you could have "bourgeois science" or "bourgeois linguistics". I would hate to think that today we could have "capitalist digitization" or "communist metadata". That is not a profitable path. There is a need to seek out and find models that work or do not work for our different communities, and that (I hope) retain some of the values of traditional librarianship.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Re: [ACAT] Detailed critique of RDA

Posting to Autocat

On 27/08/2012 18:47, Marc Truitt wrote:
Autocat-ers having difficulty wrapping their heads around this whole notion of relationships and why they are such a prominent part of RDA may find useful a couple of articles published in LITA's _Information Technology and Libraries_ (ITAL) a few months ago.  Are they *about* RDA?  Not really.  They are about bibliographic relationships and the graphing of same.  I think some of you may find the concepts useful in understanding better the relationship issue as it pertains to RDA.

- James E. Powell, Daniel A. Alcazar, Matthew Hopkins, Tamara M. McMahon, Amber Wu, Linn Collins, Robert Olendorf, "Graphs in Libraries: A Primer", ITAL 30 (December 2011): 157-169.

- Robert J. Murray, Barbara B. Tillett, "Cataloging Theory in Search of Graph Theory and Other Ivory Towers", ITAL 30 (December 2011): 170-184.

The Powell, et al., paper is, as it's title suggests, a primer for those new to the subject of bibliographic relationships and graphs.  Read it first, unless you are an old hand at this stuff.  The Murray and Tillett paper is much more... and highly recommended, in my view.
The main thing, as Kevin and Thomas have mentioned, is that to add this level of relationship is nothing essentially new for the cataloger. All we would be doing is putting the same headings in, but adding more specific coding, e.g. the parody example I gave would just have some special "is parody of" coding instead of 700     1_ |a Shakespeare, William, |d 1564-1616. |t Hamlet. While this would be a bit more complicated for the cataloger, it would allow more focused searches, so that someone really and truly could search for all parodies of Hamlet.

But this ignores the entire problem. If this were implemented, the public could search for the parodies of Hamlet but not find them. Catalogers must begin to see matters primarily from the point of view of the public and this is a great example. The public works primarily with the catalog as a whole and not so much with individual records; therefore catalogers must not lose sight of what the public will experience. So long as there is no retrospective conversion of the zillions of records that we already have, any searches for, e.g. parodies of Hamlet will be completely wrong since all searches will be limited to records created post-RDA implementation.

We see the same thing occurring with subject headings: the heading "Apples" changes to "Apple" (or vice versa) and, if the public is supposed to get a valid search result when they search for apples, there is no choice except to change all of the earlier headings of "apples" to "apple". Catalogers understand this problem with authorized forms and undertake the changes. It happens with other headings as well, and I personally remember the incredible changes I had to do when the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe fell apart and nearly all headings from that part of the world changed. It would have been a lot easier to ignore the earlier records but catalogers recognize adding an updated authorized form without changing the earlier ones will always give false results. Precisely the same problem will occur when "updating" the coding, which makes everything cataloged before obsolete.

Is it in the interest of the public to make a tool that will find only .01% of the total resources that are parodies of Hamlet? I say that this limits access to the materials the public wants. As I mentioned before, in other types of databases, it is possible to just create a new database and archive everything before a certain date, but a library catalog does not have such a nice option. It is too bad, but you must play the cards you are dealt. There is no choice except to willfully ignore the problems that everyone will see who uses the catalog: the public, the reference librarians, the selectors and everyone else.

These are the sorts of cataloging changes that may be well-intentioned, I understand, but the final product does not and cannot serve the purpose of the public and in fact, is what I maintain gives cataloging a bad name.

Re: Detailed critique of RDA

Posting to Autocat

On 27/08/2012 16:02, Robert Mead-Donaldson wrote:
I just read through the FRBR url you included in your post...    well thought out, intense, but aimed at scholars more than the general reading public, to my way of thinking.

When I used to introduce films for our library sponsered classic films series here at FIU,  (maybe between 75-80 films?)  I would spend as much time as I could, reading everything about the movie the audience was about to watch.

My first introduction was A Night At The Opera, 1935.     I read every Marx Bros. book in the  library, four of them, read every review, listened to Leonard Maltin's Laserdisc commentary, which by the way was all one take, following the running time of the film on the disc,  and watched the film two or three times.  ...   Not much Internet at that time, but I digress.
Basically my intro was about what was important about the film, and the Marx Brothers at that time,  Paramount, the jump to MGM,  the writers (there were like several setse sets of writers, rewriting, all at the same time...!   and generally the whole thing about the film,  what was interesting, the backstory, whose idea, Thalberg's influence....I went on and on,   too long, like fifteen minutes.

If I go to the catalog, it's for either history, or a foreign novel of some kind, and not classic lit.   The present cataloging rules suit me just fine...
I think there are plenty of places where the rules can be changed. As only one example, RI 26.3A3, the rules for creating cross-references for inverted forms of corporate bodies. (, the example:
111 IBM Scientific Computing Symposium on Environmental Sciences (1966 : Yorktown Heights, N.Y.)
411 Scientific Computing Symposium on Environmental Sciences, IBM
411 Symposium on Environmental Sciences, IBM Scientific Computing

I suspect the inverted cross references are no longer very useful in a keyword environment although they were highly important in a printed environment. Therefore, this seems to be a rule for cards to be filed in an alphabetical arrangement. It would be interesting to discover if these kinds of references really are necessary today and why. But on the other hand, I also suspect that for today's world it would be good to add a reference somewhere, so that the acronym IBM is actually typed out (here is an abbreviation that can have real consequences for people finding it in a keyword environment). There are scads of examples like this, and I think other approaches to update the rules could be attempted.

At the same time, I think it is of utmost importance to make sure that we do not make our current records obsolete. Library databases are different from other databases and I don't know if many IT people understand this fact. So for instance, with many business databases, the information from before 5 or 10 years ago is of much less importance so if this information isn't found in a search, it's not that big of a deal. Many times the earlier information is archived in a completely different database or just compressed for downloading as a zip file.

This would not work with library catalogs; you would end up destroying the catalog and along with it, access into the library collection it describes. In library catalogs, the records made 50 years ago (and the resources they describe) are just as important as what is made today, just as in 50 years in the future, the records made today will be just important as any made at that time. With a library catalog, you can't just say, "Well, that's the legacy data so let's just archive it and move on." because in libraries, the so-called "legacy data" represents your entire value! If you archive 50 years' worth of records, you make 50 years of your collection inaccessible. And that may be the best part of your collection.

Re: [ACAT] Detailed critique of RDA

Posting to Autocat

On 26/08/2012 16:59, Aaron Kuperman wrote:
While the time of RDA couldn't be worse (something about starting a new anything during what optimists call the "Great Recession"), and using RDA with MARC is a classic "kludge" - RDA's potential grows on you as you get to know it. There are fantastic things we can do with the various "relationships" that aren't possible using AACR and MARC (albeit many of those won't be obvious until the post-MARC communications format is in use). IF RDA can be successfully implemented, it will be a radical change for the better.
This is another of the many assumptions of FRBR that has yet to be questioned. The FRBR relationships are found under and I see nothing substantially new from what the catalog provides now. The links will still be there just as they are now, except that the relationships will be defined more specifically than as a simple added entry: e.g. instead of the 7xx$a$t added entry, there will be something like <isImitationOf>, or perhaps <isTravestyOf>. This would work as well for "hasPart" or "hasSummarization" and so on.

One of the biggest problems with implementing this is the same problem as many others: legacy data. Our current records don't have all of these relationships specifically in them (although there are some specific relationships, especially with serials) so everyone will be looking at a huge retrospective conversion problem because, for instance, Shakespeare's Hamlet may have lots of parodies (perhaps) but they have always been entered as simple added entries. Only the new records will get the "isParodyOf".

Perhaps the public really wants these specific relationships, but once again, nobody knows. Is it worthwhile to enter into the greater complexity of adding these more specific relationships? If these relationships are implemented, I think it will be much more important than typing out abbreviations so it seems to me that there would absolutely have to be a retrospective conversion project since too much would be missed otherwise (people who click on "Has Parodies" would never find all parodies of Hamlet because any earlier records will have only a generic added entry link). As a result, the catalog would become more confusing than ever before. (I mean, who really cares if somebody sees [s.l.] or [et al.]? But if I click on "parodies", I had better find them all.)

Now I ask the question again: is this the best use of cataloger resources? Setting aside for the moment the question of costs for implementation and recon, as well as the poor economic climate, somebody should be asking: would this be providing the public with what they want, as opposed to other work we can do, such as increase productivity? Once again, no one knows because nobody has ever done the research on what the public wants, and we are left staring at a giant question mark.

Friday, August 24, 2012

RE: [RDA-L] JSC, ISBD, and ISSN: harmonization discussions

Posting to RDA-L

On Fri, Aug 24, 2012 at 1:54 AM, Karen Coyle wrote:
Ugh. No, it begins with people who have web sites realizing that if they want their site to be found (also known as SEO) then they need to add metadata. Hopefully, CMS's and software like Dreamweaver will start making it easy to add this metadata. The metadata is then spider-able by anyone who wants to spider it, and if the data makes use of things like URIs, it also becomes linkable to data in Wikipedia, geonames,, etc. Since each web site automatically has an identifier, anyone else (like your librarians) could create more data that is associated with that identifier (like making connections to VIAF). But the "it starts with librarians" is a non-starter. There are how many billions of sites on the Web, and how many that are new or that change each day? I'd just be happy if librarians would start thinking about how to make use of the micro-data that is out there today, INCLUDING the WorldCat linked data. For that latter, I have a very brief video "walk through" -- for human access, not machines:
I'm now looking at the WorldCat file that was exported, and hope to have some "how to" related to that before too long.

In my opinion, that would be a making serious mistake for libraries since it would just be creating another version of Google (i.e. with no selection and reliance on SEO) and I believe would lead to the ultimate obsolescence of libraries and librarians. My article was entitled "How to keep the practice of librarianship relevant in the age of the Internet". Not very poetic perhaps, but still a highly pertinent idea.

Concerning libraries and linked data, I think we can all assume that if and when linked data really begins to take off (although such a development is still doubtful), that is when Google, Facebook, Bing, Yahoo, and the rest will dive in in such a way that libraries will be elbowed out completely and won't have a chance. The coding used: RDF, microdata, RDFa or whatever will make no difference to the outcome.

To combat this, libraries must find a path for themselves. They can do this by making something different from what the Googles make--and what the Googles don't want to make--and that everyone knows the public wants. One way of creating something that the public wants, and that many are beginning to demand, is to provide selection--"reliable selection" in all kinds of meaning of the term. People are starting to understand that the touted secret algorithms can always be cracked for the advantage of some group or individual (and the algorithms were never that great anyway). Certainly the idea of library selection would have to change, and those changes would lead to other changes, but at least we would be providing something that the public wants and no one else provides.

I would also hope that people would begin to appreciate reliable metadata as well. The average person doesn't know how to make coherent metadata and the vast majority couldn't care less about it: the "authors" added often reflect a bureaucratic need to make sure that the bosses can fill out their CVs, so those names are added to practically everything in their own departments, or they add everybody who just looked at the resource. (I've seen this happen more than once) An untrained person cannot even begin to analyse a subject, much less assign subject descriptors from a thesaurus in a coherent way, and I won't even mention the complexities of LCSH. Relying on the public to assign metadata will provide something like these two examples of tags on Amazon:
Going rogue by Sarah Palin
Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama

Then with spammers, advertisers, blah blah, we would wind up with exactly what we have now. Why wouldn't we see more of the same?

To me, believing that linked data and SEO, especially without some kind of reliable selection, will be any improvement over what we see in the search engines now is just wishing. It will be the same characters doing the same things they do now, just using slightly different methods. 

I still believe that there is a lot that librarians can do to improve what the public currently has and librarians can become vital parts of the information universe, but they need to take different directions. 

Re: [RDA-L] JSC, ISBD, and ISSN: harmonization discussions

Posting to RDA-L

On 23/08/2012 22:55, Karen Coyle wrote:
On 8/23/12 10:43 AM, James Weinheimer wrote:
Still the basic idea still is worth a try (I think), where embedded metadata would be linked to separate metadata records in catalogs and spiders would keep the two in sync.
I believe the technology is called "microformats,"[1] with the primary one today being This is also the basis for the linked data that is now included in each Worldcat page.

Yes. Back in 1998-9, I don't believe microformats existed yet. In my examples, I used information in the meta fields in the header, but it all comes down to the same thing. My idea was based on setting up a workflow in tandem with webmasters.

It starts with library (or other expert) selectors who would select sites and get into initial touch with the webmaster of the sites they selected, telling them that their sites were selected as especially valuable and what was expected of them. Catalogers would then make the initial description along with headings; then the entire record(s) would be sent to the webmaster, who would add the record to the headers of the required pages of their sites. The workflow followed CIP up to this point. After this, it was they up to the webmasters to update the descriptive information (about 1000 times more efficient than library catalogers), while all headings would be updated by catalogers. Webmasters could add their own keywords (limited to a certain number, controlled for spam, etc.) plus other information. Spiders would keep everything in sync.

Certainly microformats would be great for something like this.

Re: [RDA-L] JSC, ISBD, and ISSN: harmonization discussions

Posting to RDA-L

On 22/08/2012 23:46, Kevin M Randall wrote:
But until we do have some mechanism for dynamically keeping descriptions current, the notes that you say are "completely useless" are absolutely essential. I certainly agree with you that the traditional methods of creating metadata are not adequate for handling the universe of online resources. But that does not mean that we shouldn't still have standards that will allow "traditional" metadata and "created-in-an-as-yet-unknown-method-and-system" metadata to be able to interoperate. Developing those standards is what we're trying to do with RDA. Hopefully there will be ways to harvest data from the resources themselves, and map them to the data definitions in RDA, to get them into our discovery tools. But until we reach that goal, we still need to be creating traditional records, and we need to know what it is that the records are describing. With a "Description based on" note, there is a clue to what was described, and when.

This was my point: that catalogers need to find methods to make sure that the records describe something that actually exists! While I have little argument against placing a note detailing when the description was made, I doubt how important it is since it only shows people (librarians, because the public will not really understand it) more precisely how obsolete the information is. "Oh! This record is five [ten, twenty, etc.] years out of date." Therefore, it is a rather sad bit of information, but from another viewpoint, it is the easiest part of the record! Still, the mere fact that catalogers will be spending their time creating records that have a very high probability of being obsolete in x number of weeks or months or years does not bode well for how administrators will view the value of catalog records. And they are the ones who must be convinced--not catalogers or even the public. 
Several years ago, I wrote an article where I tried to deal with this issue: and I think it is still not too bad of an idea. If I had the chance to do over again, I would improve the article because I tried to write for both an IT audience and a cataloging audience at the same time and I don't believe it worked all that well. Still the basic idea still is worth a try (I think), where embedded metadata would be linked to separate metadata records in catalogs and spiders would keep the two in sync. There was a major role for selectors, responsibilities for web masters and for catalogers too.

But novel ideas are needed more than ever, I think that is becoming clear enough to all.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Re: [RDA-L] JSC, ISBD, and ISSN: harmonization discussions

Posting to RDA-L

On 22/08/2012 08:56, Bernhard Eversberg wrote:
20.08.2012 21:59, J. McRee Elrod:
Heidrun wisely said:
The ISBD has been a common core of many cataloguing codes for decades. This common ground shouldn't be casually abandoned.
VERY true.
While not taking issue with the importance of ISBD as such, it can, I think, not be called a "common core" of cataloging codes in general, but of those of their parts relating to description. While the D in RDA is for Description, the focus is really all on the A for Access, and that's a lot more relevant these days for most people using catalogs. So, I think it is appropriate that RDA doesn't go to all the lengths, as older codes did, of painstakingly describing every bit of descriptive information and how it should all be stitched together for a readable display. The latter can and must be left to software, and I think it is true that ISBD had not been formulated with an eye on how well the rules lent themselves to being algorithmically representable. Where there is still a demand for ISBD display, and I'm not arguing with this, one will have to live with minor flaws. What's more important is that much more detail than before should be actionable for algorithms. This, of course and among other things, speaks for standardized codes and acronyms rather than vernacular verbiage.

The focus in cataloging must be on access points and their standardization and international harmonization by way of vehicles like VIAF. Thus, RAD would be a more appropriate name for a contemporary code. Another focus should be on the question of *what* we catalog, and here in particular, how to treat parts of larger entities. As of now, the woefully inadequate contents note for multipart publications seems still very much alive.

Right now I am assisting on an inventory of serials so therefore at this moment, I am feeling that the rules for description must be standardized, otherwise pure chaos awaits. For instance, interlibrary loans (so long as they are allowed!) demand precise description and therefore, if we want ILLs, precise descriptions seem unavoidable if they are to work at all--otherwise, everybody will forever be requesting what you already have, requesting what another library doesn't have, or they send something you do not want. ISBD provides this level of standardization and nothing I have seen has tried to displace it. Selectors also need such accuracy.

How a record displays is another matter but, I have always felt that the display aspect of ISBD has been overblown by the IT community. I believe there should be a standardized display (for experts) and the current ISBD is as good as any for now, but I am sure there are many other displays that could serve the purpose just as well or better. Today, displays are flexible, as they have been for quite some time, and this flexibility should be the emphasis for the public. Expert-librarians have their own requirements, but these requirement are no less important then what the public needs. Modern systems should be able to allow it all.

I do believe that the purpose of description should be reconsidered since our current rules suffer from a paradox.  Description of physical materials that never change are one matter, but online materials that change randomly, sometimes very frequently, and without any notification, present an entirely different situation. Sooner or later, catalogers must consider how it is possible to describe virtual materials that are completely mercurial, by creating a record that must be changed manually. I have thought about this for a long time, and have never found any solution, nor have I seen one offered, therefore novel ideas must be tried. Notes such as "Description based on web page (Dec. 23, 2008)" are 100% completely useless for everyone involved, including the catalogers, and serve only as salve for the cataloger at the time of making the record. The description should be based on the resource as it stands currently, not on some version that no longer exists.

The only solution in the traditional sense would be to try to start cataloging each instance as found in the Wayback Machine of the Internet Archive, but the very prospect is a nightmare. I think we would find very few takers on that one! You can count me out. That would truly be like trying to "fight the ocean and you will drown".

Several years ago, I wrote a letter to D-Lib Magazine about this issue, and surprisingly, I find that I still agree with it

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Modernization" (Was: Closing doors on Canada’s history)

Posting to Autocat

On 19/08/2012 02:41, Anne LePage (via Marc Truitt) forwarded:
Over the summer several federal libraries closed their doors for good. While most of us remain focused on what's happening at Library and Archives Canada, we can't overlook the fall out from library closures at HRSDC or Transport Canada or Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Or the cuts to libraries like Statistics Canada and Industry Canada.

The following article from iPolitics demonstrates that for some members of the public, this is not a dead issue either. The tepid response from our elected officials to letters of concern and outrage regarding these cuts should not deter us from pressing forward. I--like many of you-- personally and professionally, rely on these libraries and the services provided by the librarians and library staff. It is important that we as individuals add our voices to those of our associations or professional organizations.

Closing doors on Canada's history</snip>
These developments have concerned me. I have read (what I believe to be) the main documents at, and although I have not read everything, they do use some "hot" terms, e.g. cathedral and bazaar, "digital age" and so on, but I had trouble understanding what appears to be happening because I had still not come across anything that would justify any of those actions, that is: cutting staff by 20% and expecting the creators, donors and users create the metadata, and so on.

But then I realized that the justification was clear and appeared before my very eyes: the heading "Modernization".

It seems that in the worldview of the "non-library-cataloger", especially that of the administrators, the idea of "modernization" means to get away from what catalogers have always made. For many, it is a simple fact that our library catalogs have been broken for a long time. Each person can convince him or herself of this in just a few moments by using our clunky library catalogs and giving up in despair, and compare them to the many alternatives available that the mass of people prefer--not only "relevance" type ranking but the social tools that take advantage of the so-called "wisdom of the crowd". (See, e.g. It seems very logical to conclude that libraries need to modernize their product, and this would take advantage of the "bazaar" and "crowdsourcing".

Of course, the word "modernization" is not a neutral term but has positive connotations attached, especially today. After all, only Luddites could be against "modernization". In reality however, it would be just as correct to use the more neutral word "change" instead of "modernization" in this case because there is no real idea what would be the consequences of cutting staff and taking away professionals in metadata creation. After all, in the past there was a totally different view of the "crowd" as shown in various works, but most clearly in a famous book: MacKay's "Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" where he discusses certain illogical episodes in human history, such as the Crusades, the Tulipomania, the South Sea Bubble and other well known disasters. Recent history has shown that modern people are just as susceptible to this sort of thinking as we were in the past, but to discuss these topics would be treading dangerously close on "political matters"!

So, it is vital always to keep in mind that the words used in documents are often designed to silently guide you to certain conclusions. The term "modernization" is an example of that. Can what the LAC lays out really be termed "modernization" or is it something else? Librarians must change of course, and in my opinion, the clearest places for change are in abandoning their old workflows and changing their focus from their own, local collections to what is really and truly available to the public--not just what the library stores and/or pays for. Catalogers must also accept this popular idea of "modernization" of their catalogs, or in other words, that in the eyes of the public, the tool they are making is obsolete. That hurts, but must be accepted nevertheless before any progress can be made.

Therefore, how can what catalogers create be "modernized"? By crowdsourcing? What a strange thought.

By RDA? Clearly no.

By FRBR? Can FRBR be labelled as "modernization"? At least I for one don't think so and would hate to have to argue the "pro" side in a debate.

By linked data? Perhaps. But that could very well turn out to be similar to the Conquistador Coronado searching for the "Seven cities of gold" and still needs to be demonstrated.

How can the product of what catalogers create be "modernized"? I have tried to come up with a few ideas that could possibly work out in some fashion, but there are doubtless many many more.

So, while I agree that libraries and their catalogs need to be "modernized" I do not believe that the answers lie in cutting staff and letting the bulk of the people create catalogs. That cannot be called "modernization".

Friday, August 17, 2012

Re: [ACAT] Political Questions (Was: Scope and purpose of Autocat)

On 16/08/2012 21:57, MULLEN Allen wrote:
While the term "political" has many dimensions, some of which are definitely outside the scope of Autocat, most of us (though not all, by any means) work in governmental bodies which are established and sustained through the process of policy and funding decisions - the political sphere. Given this, I see direct causation between the political realm (across many countries including the US) and the defunding of library services, to wit -
  1. Political decisions led to an enormous bubble in valuation of real estate and financial instruments.
  2. The value of these collapsed in 2008-2009.
  3. This collapse sharply eroded government revenues. At the same time, demand for many government social services skyrocketed. 
  4. Political decisions were made to shore up the financial system, apparently avoiding a complete collapse, and to shore up some government services in the short run. 
  5. Political decisions were made to cut off the short term shoring up of government services. Political decisions were made to deny any significant new tax revenues to provide for government services. 
  6. Schools, libraries, social and health services, and many other government-provided services are cut, eliminated or eroded.
  7. Cataloging services get cut and blame is cast in many directions - except toward the political decisions that led to the cuts.
This is all correct and are simple facts (I think). Political decisions, for good or ill, have led to the present situation. Since there is no reason to believe that this situation will change in ways positive for libraries anytime soon, the task then turns to adapting to this new situation. For library-specific purposes, I would only add to Allen's points above that during the time the above scenario took place, some truly revolutionary changes also occurred in the information world. As a result, the members of the public who have internet access (perhaps through libraries) have at their disposal more information/misinformation than they have ever had before. Therefore, I do not know if most members of the public feel that they do not have enough information (as would have been the case earlier if budgets to libraries had been cut) but instead most feel they are wallowing in a sea of information muck.

This leads to the (I believe) brilliant insight of Clay Shirkey that the problem is not information overload--it is filter failure (as I mentioned in my ALA paper at

Of course, it is the public--in some way, shape or form--who determines how much funding and resources libraries will get. This goes for private entities as well since very few libraries are funded independently, but as part of another entity. Budgets are being scrutinized intensely and there are no longer any "sacred cows." Anything can happen today. Consequently for political purposes, libraries absolutely must make a difference in the lives of the public.

I believe that library values and ethics can help provide the public with what it needs. To do so will be disruptive and expensive I am sure, but it is still a complete mystery to me how will RDA, FRBR and even linked data can help. If Clay Shirkey's "filter failure" is accepted, I think that the future for libraries could become clearer, and more achievable.

Political Questions (Was: Scope and purpose of Autocat)

Posting to Autocat

On 16/08/2012 14:20, Marc Truitt wrote:
Hi all,

Several recent threads suggest a need to remind us all that -- occasional wide-ranging discussions notwithstanding -- yes, Virginia, there *is* a statement of scope for Autocat.  She and you can find it at:

I also moderated an email list for several years (SIGIA-L) for ASIS (later ASIST), and I fully realize that moderating can demand a lot of work so I appreciate the moderators' labor!

That said, I have found the members of AUTOCAT to be far more restrained and polite than on many of the other lists I have been on, while the "political" aspects are held to a very minimum. One problem is that everyone will not agree with the meaning of the word "political". If something is truly political, e.g. arguing how the election of one presidential candidate over another will be better or worse for libraries or cataloging, that seems to be truly out of scope but there are other questions that some may feel to be political, while others may not. There is the example of the (apparently anonymous) article "The Great Librarian Massacre of 2012: a cataloging librarian's view" about the possibility of mass layoffs at Harvard, and published in nothing less than the highly politicized Daily Kos. It turned out that there have not been mass layoffs but the decision came only after protests that may (or may not) have saved library jobs, including those of catalogers.

Discussing the future of the profession does not seem to me to be "political"--especially at this time of budget cuts when many librarians are faced with the decisions of what are the next drastic actions to take to keep the library open (thereby making some of the most "political" decisions possible!); therefore, a discussion of the broader issues of cataloging seems to be as much in place as what is the correct way to deal with the name of a Russian corporate body. After all, if the practicing experts in any profession cannot defend the importance of their own profession, it bodes ill for the future of those experts.

For instance, Wojciech just posted a message with the statement, "Up to now, most of the descriptions of LAC holdings were written by archivists and librarians. These descriptions, known as metadata, will be done by creators, donors and users." While I don't know if this is actually the case without looking into it further, I can state that I have heard and read many loud and vocal declarations by non-librarians and librarians as well who definitely agree that the "descriptions" should best be done by "creators, donors and users". To a non-expert, this seems fully logical ("The creator knows the most about the article he or she wrote. They are the ones who can make the best metadata. What can some dilettante cataloger know compared to them?"). To argue against such convictions is not at all easy, while deciding not to argue will mostly be taken as silent agreement. If what Wojciech forwarded is correct and if it were implemented, it would have much more serious harm to cataloging than messing up the name of that Russian corporate body.

Finally, as I would mention when I was a moderator of that list: in almost every email program, there are certain automated tasks that you can implement, and if there are messages from certain people or on certain topics that you do not like, you can set your email program to send them straight to the trash. I am sure that some have done this with my own postings already.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Re: [ACAT] Let's have a "debate"

Posting to Autocat

On 14/08/2012 19:40, john g marr wrote:
I'm having a mean day today, so here's a suggestion. You've all seen real debates on PBS (don't miss the Doha debate series, if you can get it) or elsewhere, right? No matter how absurd the positions taken, each side has to present arguments. Here's what I propose: let's set up a debate on this proposition: Resolved: Cataloging is irrelevant and a waste of public funding.

Now, you all know there really are people who would be willing to take either side (or even substitute "Libraries are" for "Cataloging is"). The idea is to develop all possible arguments for both sides anyone could think of and any practical refutations of those arguments (ad infinitum).

Any takers? Would you be willing to debate this in public? Why not (*that* may be the real question).
I would actually agree with the resolution, IF (please read on!) the current trends in cataloging continue. I think it is clear that our catalogs are very complicated--people have almost no idea how to search anything and need training (now called information literacy), and while people may remember more or less of their training, the very fact is that the library catalog is very much an "expert system" i.e. a tool designed and made for experts to use--not amateurs. If you do not have this expertise, library catalogs will be more or less incomprehensible to you.

Since our library catalogs were designed for another era and for a completely different technological environment, the final product has become foreign to people today. For instance, when you physically walked into a library and saw the cards, it was fairly clear that the cards represented some level of access into the books on the shelves. Since the cards were arranged pretty much in alphabetical order (dictionary catalog), even someone with very little training could find writings by Thomas Jefferson, but it became more difficult to find information about "badgers" if the library did not have a book with at least 20% of its contents devoted to badgers. In such a case, to be able to find the information in the library about badgers (or even to know that there was nothing about badgers in the library) became much more complicated and reference librarians were absolutely essential for the public to be able to use the catalog. Finally, while people realized that there were other libraries with information that was useful to them, e.g. great libraries in Chicago or London, specialized libraries in New York City or Washington, people didn't really care that much and were mostly satisfied with what was available on the shelves of their own libraries.

None of these very basic assumptions, which were built into the design and purpose of the original library catalogs, are valid today. I won't go into the specifics here because I have listed them over and over again.

Since I have seen no essentially different trends in cataloging (RDA and FRBR only pretend to change anything for the public), the only real new goal of cataloging is to get into the Linked Data world and in itself, that is not, in any way, a solution for anything. To believe it is a solution is naive. We can implement full RDA and FRBR and people will still be working with modern versions of our card catalogs. To throw all of that into Linked Data will only add to the general chaos.

Does this mean that "Cataloging is irrelevant and a waste of public funding"? As long as libraries exist, they will always need their own inventory tools and the library catalog secures that, but for the public it is a different matter. First of all, librarians must consider the information available to the users and that includes what is on the web--not just what is in our own collections--otherwise, libraries and their catalogs probably will be consigned to the trash bin. Deservedly so, in my opinion, because they will refuse to take into account the everyday changes in their patron's lives. Also, librarians need to find more modern purposes for their catalog records, once again always taking the users' needs into account (which, sorry to say, our predecessors didn't do except to assume that a reference librarian would be there to help people use the tool the library created for its own needs--something else that is gone today since reference services are also in crisis and experience has shown that people almost never ask for help on the web). We should not assume that the public approaches the catalog as they did before, firstly, because they can't, and in addition, they have many other, very attractive options that did not exist back in the 1800s when our catalogs were designed.

Of course, such a revolutionary attitude in the worldview of the public has already happened, but if this same change in worldview of the librarian were to occur, then something genuinely useful could perhaps be created for the public with the unique metadata that we have. In that case, we could conclude that "Cataloging is not irrelevant and not a waste of public funding".

But until that happens, I fear that the resolution is true.

Re: [ACAT] "Stories" vs. "Fiction" (was: Mommy porn)

On 14/08/2012 15:36, Mary Mastraccio wrote:
Both subdivisions "Fiction" and "Biography" have the UF 485 "Legends and stories", which tells me someone somewhere recognized that in some peoples minds stories can be applied to both biographical stories as well as fictional stories. The 450 "Stories" on the Fiction authority record should remain, because it is a frequently used alternate term; however, just as there are now matching 450s on more than one authority record, so "stories" can mean more than just Fiction. Expanding the use of "...stories" does not create work for anyone. Current records that use it are still correct.
Having reviewed data for many different libraries, I can tell you it is already the practice in many libraries to use "...stories" for both fiction and non-fiction. When I was a child sitting at family gatherings I didn't ask my uncles to tell a biographical event in my parent's lives I asked for a story about them. My uncles were great story-tellers and all the stories I heard them tell were true-life events.  

But if this is so, what will be the difference then between "Adventure stories" and "Adventure and adventurers"? There are a lot of resources and subheadings under the latter heading and it seems clear that it is for narratives (or stories) that are true. Currently, there is also the heading:
150     __ |a Adventure and adventurers |v Fiction
with the reference
450     __ |a Adventure stories

This seems to be incorrect since Adventure stories is a valid heading and therefore should be a 550. The difference would be fiction about true adventurers, e.g. fiction about Stanley going through Africa or Scott in the Antarctic, while Adventure stories would be pure fiction. Perhaps a scope note would be in order. [It was pointed out in another post by Sandra DeSio "Adventure and adventurers--Fiction is a children's heading, while Adventure stories is a valid adult heading." Thanks!]

If the meaning of Adventure stories is expanded, I foresee a lot of confusion as to when to assign one versus the other while now it seems clear. For the patrons, it would be most useful to clarify the meaning of the different subject headings instead of expanding the use of one heading to include another heading which would result in confusion for catalogers and users. For example, if Adventure stories includes true narratives, then why shouldn't it be subdivided geographically? Then there is no difference from "Adventure and adventurers" and it is no longer possible to distinguish between fiction and nonfiction except through the fixed field.

I think it is useful to be able to have the subject headings make the distinction between the two concepts (true vs. fiction), but it needs to be made clear to everyone.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Re: [ACAT] "Stories" vs. "Fiction" (was: Mommy porn)

Posting to Autocat

On 13/08/2012 14:30, Mary Mastraccio wrote:
Although I am all in favor of URIs, your example does not address the issue being discussed. Most current genre lists assume that it is not appropriate to let people know you have a book of true "adventure stories". A story does not need to be fiction, as Hal Cain pointed out with the Wikipedia definition. It is not helpful to users to insist that stories only be used for fiction.
What you could have in the URI is [Adventure stories]
UF Adventure and Adventurers--Fiction
Adventure and Adventurers--Biography
Adventure and Adventurers--Juvenile fiction
Adventure and Adventurers--Juvenile biography
Adventure fiction
True adventure stories 

There are fixed fields that pull out the fiction and non-fiction/biography aspects.
But when we have a simple cross-reference from "Stories" to "Fiction" that people have worked with--very possibly--for a very long time, to suddenly decide that "Stories" no longer means "Fiction" could also be very confusing for the longtime users of the catalog, who will find everything changed and will have to relearn the headings all over again. Plus, I wonder how much catalog maintenance such a decision would demand. It appears to me that the correct heading for true narratives is "Adventures and adventurers" and/or "Voyages and travels" with all kinds of subdivisions possible. It seems to me that a genuine solution would be to lead people to these headings instead.

As Hal points out, many more scope notes are absolutely needed throughout the entire LCSH system, but for the public and for the cataloger I also believe that much of the problem also stems from the idea of a single label to describe the "set of all resources with the subject Adventure stories [or any subject or heading]".  The 1xx and all of the 4xxs can now be equal, although that was almost impossible in a printed catalog (yet Thomas Hyde's catalog proves that it could be done). Certainly there would be consequences to this (a reference conflicting with a reference never needed to be qualified, while in the system I suggest they may need to be qualified). I agree that we should be doing what is most helpful for patrons, and I think these sorts of solutions would be much more fruitful and forward looking than deciding that "stories" no longer equals "fiction" and requiring the ever decreasing number of cataloging resources to "fix" a significant number of headings (potentially a huge number), causing massive amounts of work and confusing our current patrons.

If there is a problem with patrons understanding these headings, add lots of scope notes and make sure that the public can see them. All this needs to be done anyway since the authority files haven't worked in a keyword environment, and it would make sense to fix that first. That would be the most helpful to the patrons.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Re: [ACAT] "Stories" vs. "Fiction" (was: Mommy porn)

Posting to Autocat

On 11/08/2012 16:10, Marian Veld wrote:
On Sat, Aug 11, 2012 at 1:18 AM, Hal Cain wrote:
... we are ethically obliged to take user preferences seriously (the users are those whom we serve, we don't work simply for our own benefit), but on the other hand we have an obligation (to the user) to be as consistent as possible.
But which user? The needs of the scholarly user, the needs of the undergraduate, the needs of the knowledgeable amateur, the needs of the illiterate, the needs of children....? I could go on and on. Each of these constituencies is most likely served by a library that uses LCSH. How can LCSH meet the needs of all these users? I'm not sure it's even possible, but we certainly should be discussing it.
Today, with the possibility of a URI in the place of the actual text, there is room for far more flexibility in the label, or how that URI is displayed. So, in the case of Adventure stories, the URI would be and the 450s could actual serve as variant labels. It could display something like:
"Adventure stories, or, Adventure and adventurers--Fiction, or, Adventure and adventurers--Juvenile fiction, or Adventure fiction"

This is similar to the name headings as used in the old catalog at the Bodleian Library by Thomas Hyde, and I discussed it in a posting here We just don't need to use Latin!

With the power of today's computer systems, there is no reason why one form of a heading must be chosen. There no longer needs to be a single authorized form since displays can do much more. The very purposes of the 1xx and the 4xx need to be reconsidered today since they could allow for greater utility for everyone: from librarians to the public.

When library catalogs are described as being difficult to search (WAS: [ACAT] Fair Use Dejà Vu)

Posting to Autocat

On 06/08/2012 21:14, Robert Mead-Donaldson wrote:
You really don't need to be a librarian. All you need to do is find one book, go there and browse them all... To confess, I probably didn't pay much attention to the call numbers, once  I found the area, used to hang out in the public library a lot
That is what has led so many people to genuinely believe that they know how to use a library. I believed I knew how to use a library, too: somehow find one book and everything is "magically" there. When I discovered how wrong I was in my first week of library school, I was completely humiliated, although I never told anybody!

"Browsing them all" has not been true since the library of Alexandria. A physical item may have more than one work in it, an item may easily be about more than one area in the classification, and so on. I discussed problems with browsing in more depth in my Open Reply to Thomas Mann that I announced a few years ago

Still, problems of browsing shelves are especially delicate now, since there is so much available, not only in the electronic databases, but also on the web there are tremendous resources. For instance, I have been interested in this book by Frances Saunders which was published 12 years ago and is out of print, but she gave a talk on the book, available at, and she also participated in this panel discussion of the same topic that took place at the University of London in January of this year.

From this, I get to see that this video is part of The School of Advanced Study's Youtube site, where there are 245 videos available.

Browsing the shelves of a library, although I found it a great and liberating experience for me in earlier years, I later discovered is a poor substitute for the catalog, while today, browsing shelves and using a local catalog are both too limiting today if people want to find out what is really available to them. When I was younger, I would have absolutely loved to be able to access these materials, and may have decided it was worth some effort. But all it takes is a click of a button.

These materials have to be included sooner or later, and a reconsideration of what the local catalog should provide. I agree that local catalogs are still needed, but they must be reimagined.

New interfaces (was: on cataloguers and IT people)

Posting to Autocat

On 04/08/2012 01:11, MULLEN Allen wrote:
Setting that issue (abbreviations) aside for the time being, I'd like to flesh out how I would hope libraries should be able to provide for this in the future, and an ignorant attempt at indicating how RDA/linked data would be involved.  Instead of going to Worldcat, I would hope that we'd use our local library discovery app (whether on a mobile device, computer, tablet, Google glasses, or whatever to say (or type) "I'd like information on available copies of Sir James Frazer's "The Golden Bough" and immediately, the library app would provide you results beginning with the most immediately accessible version, but also providing information on all available formats.  Then by extension, the app would provide you the capability to find related popular and scholarly articles, plays, motion pictures, biographical information, mythological source materials, web sites, etc.   In short, the library based discovery system would provide immersion in the world of web-based information on the basis of reliable, quality metadata.  The user would choose the depth - calling up an electric version of the text (or portion of the text) immediately or any other possible level of relationship with the work or with other works that are encountered in the journey.  Such a system would provide the means to limit or expand the realm of information at one's fingertips with narrow focus or with broad inclusion.  And it would do so because it integrates the power of library metadata in addition to web tools that complement.

Like magic!...well, not exactly.  We (libraries) could provide this if there was a means to utilize the power of library-derived metadata and the knowledge of library catalogers and technology librarians to link those resources intelligently and integrate them into local library user experiences.  RDA, along with the carrier code in development, proposes to lay the foundations for this.  Although I believe the WEMI model is more complicated than necessary (but acknowledge my ignorance in this), it provides the conceptual model for linking all of these various manifestations (well, expressions and manifestations and items) together to form a foundation for putting together the magical results via entity relationships and providing the conceptual means for displaying the results, faceted and otherwise.  Linked data (RDA vocabularies, URIs, etc.) would provide the toolkit to identify all entities in common as well as relationships among them.  The new carrier code would provide the means to provide interactivity for both library-based and non-library based resources.  </snip>
What can I say? I agree with 98% of this, my only qualm is that I believe the WEMI structure is unnecessary. (Once again, I emphasize that if people want to FISO WEMI by their ATS, you do not need a new record structure, just a new computer system that allows facets. And those can be downloaded for free! How many people really and truly want to do those FRBR user tasks remains unknown) Also, I am not sure if the actual "linked data" universe is necessary for what you envision, since semantic technologies are growing so quickly and becoming very powerful, but that is another issue.

But there is so much available for free on the web today and librarians should not be ignoring. There are videos on almost all subjects, so when I search for "golden bough frazer" in Google Video, my second result is a 6 minute video "A brief film explaining how Frazer indexed books in preparation for writing his anthropological work 'The Golden Bough'." which is something that would never have entered my mind, but I want to watch it because of my interest in indexing, not because of the Golden Bough.

There are additional possibilities. For instance, in another thread, someone mentioned "Lured" with Lucille Ball and said that they Netflixed it (which does not exist in Italy). Yet, there is no need for that. It is apparently a public domain movie and is available Another movie that I suggest to everyone, which shows a stereotypical and idealized conception of librarians that many members of the public more or less still hold, is the classic movie "Desk Set" with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey. More important is the obsolete way of looking at computers (that is, before the first person came up with the brilliant idea of outputting the content to a TV screen, everything was always printed out), leading to hilarious situations. The ultimate concern of the librarians toward the computers does seem to be ahead of its time. It is available on YouTube in bits and pieces at, although this may not be in the public domain.

The interests of the users must come first. Make what is useful for them. Then the theories flow from that. Otherwise, it is all backwards.

Re: [ACAT] [RANT] : on cataloguers and IT people : [was] : RDA questions from librarians at small libraries

Posting to Autocat

On 03/08/2012 19:17, MULLEN Allen wrote:
Searching a library catalog involves an immediate experience to locate resources for use.  While it may occasionally be a lengthy deliberate process, it is almost always intended to be a quick FISO task.  Deciphering health plans and insurance policies is a different process altogether.
Being in Italy, I don't have to worry so much about deciphering health plans and insurance policies, but I would like to take a real example with a real book.

I am reading an article in Lapham's Quarterly "Very superstitious" and the author mentions "The Golden Bough" by Sir James Frazer. As is my habit, I immediately look to see if I can get it anywhere.

My number one place to look is always the Internet Archive, but I also always check Worldcat, so I check in Worldcat and see that there are 16 ebooks. One is in Project Gutenberg, labelled "Fiction", but that may be OK. Still, in the Internet Archive, I find 44 results It is a multivolume work, but obviously, it is in different versions in different number of volumes, e.g. (2 volumes) but it is confusing since this other claims to be volume 12

Something is weird here, and I don't have the time to research it right now, although because of the article in Lapham's Quarterly, I am interested in what Fraser wrote.

I think that this may happen all the time, that is if people know to search Google Books or the Internet Archive or Gallica or any of the other wonderful sites available to them at the click of a button. I don't believe I am all that strange since to me, I don't care about v. or p. or et al. or whatever, I just want to know what is available to me right now. Can anybody out there maintain--with a straight face--that people care more about a few abbreviations, as opposed to what they can actually access right now? If you maintain that people need to understand the abbreviations as opposed to knowing what is available in the Internet Archive, please tell me why! Inquiring minds want to know!

I love the materials in the Internet Archive but they are in a highly chaotic state. Since I personally know so much about bibliography and publication practices, I can work my way through it all if I care enough (I may in this case because it seems worth my effort) but people who do not understand will be left in a state of complete confusion.

Correcting this and making the chaotic understandable is what catalogers do. How can catalogers help the public find out what is really available to them when they are looking for The Golden Bough, and do it as efficiently as possible? Is pointing to Project Gutenberg enough? Why? That is the task that is facing us.

Still, I guess that typing out abbreviations (which can be "corrected" with a few lines of code) or reducing the number of authors is much more important to the public than anything else! At least that is easier for catalogers than anything else!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Re: [RANT] : on cataloguers and IT people : [was] : RDA questions from librarians at small libraries

Posting to Autocat

On 02/08/2012 18:21, Brenndorfer, Thomas wrote:
Example right in front of you. Abstract of article in the link I sent
"What do Users Tell us About FRBR-Based Catalogs?" Yin Zhang and Athena Salaba
Point to the user studies that demonstrate that the public wants abbreviations typed out more than they want other options, such as links to free online materials.
Some background documents:

Of note in this document... "Whilst it may be impossible to avoid requiring a user to bring some understanding of catalogue conventions to his or her reading of our entries, rule makers must more than ever try to ensure that they place as few obstacles as possible in the way of those users less familiar with such conventions. Abbreviations not in common enough usage to be understood by the average user are going to be more of a hindrance than a help."

and of note for the overhead in maintaining abbreviation standards:
"Of rather greater significance to AACR would have been ISO Technical Report 11015, which was intended to provide an actual a list of such abbreviations. However this project, after many years of work, was cancelled – significantly, for AACR3, on account of the cost of publishing and maintaining such a list."

The responses to your other concerns can go on and on. It's best to actually read what's out there, rather than have others point things out to you.
"Whilst it may be impossible to avoid requiring a user to bring some understanding of catalogue conventions to his or her reading of our entries, rule makers must more than ever try to ensure that they place as few obstacles as possible in the way of those users less familiar with such conventions. Abbreviations not in common enough usage to be understood by the average user are going to be more of a hindrance than a help."

How does this present a study of what users want? It is a general statement from a designer that ignores a lot, including the possibilities of modern systems that can vary display from what is input (a very simple task that computers do every nano-second of every day). As I have pointed out before, the public has a lot of problems with catalog displays that involve abbreviations. People see lots of abbreviations in the actual record that make "p." or "v." pale in comparison. Also, when someone sees a heading in a foreign language "Bank al-Taslīf al-Saʻūdī" for the Saudi Credit Bank, this is a real problem.

Also, modern computer systems allow the FRBR user tasks right now today, that is, if you have the correct computer system. This simple fact however, seems more of an embarrassment than a cause for celebration, and if we want to provide the public with the FRBR user tasks, it appears as if the public will have to wait for a long time yet--needlessly. Of course, the world won't wait. They will just continue on their own ways further and further from what libraries are creating.

I actually have read much of this literature, I confess not all, but none of them can be called general user studies, although there are a few exceptions that unfortunately have groups that are so small that no generalized conclusions can be drawn. Of course, there are many, very serious, concerns among the public about the information they receive. I mentioned some of these concerns in my paper at ALA, and none of those can be connected to RDA or FRBR. If libraries addressed the issues important to the users, (and to me!) perhaps libraries could receive at least some appreciation from the public.    

Re: [RANT] : on cataloguers and IT people : [was] : RDA questions from librarians at small libraries

Posting to Autocat

On 02/08/2012 16:02, Brenndorfer, Thomas wrote:
 An excellent example of co-operation was the 2007 joint meeting over RDA by the JSC, IEEE/LOM, Dublin Core, and Semantic Web communities:
and the 5 Years On seminar...
and its final report in </snip>

But where are the user studies in all of this? That's what I've been talking about: this has all been done by the designers and there have never been any studies on whether the users really want the system the experts have designed, and how much they want it, and that they want the RDA/FRBR capabilities more than others. Point to the user studies that demonstrate that the public wants abbreviations typed out more than they want other options, such as links to free online materials. Or that cutting the rule of three to the rule of "however many I feel like so long as there is one", is what the public wants. The second one, I know they don't want and when people find out that second and third authors do not have to be traced, or editors, or lots of corporate bodies, many will begin to howl, especially scholars. It's happened before.

I will don my soothsayer's cape and predict that this will be the first RDA rule to be reversed--because of public outcry.

So, libraries are supposed to spend all this money and effort retraining the catalogers to create a tools that nobody knows whether the public wants or not. The public may indeed want it, I have pointed this out very often, but as of right now--nobody knows because there have been no user studies--and if it succeeds it will be a matter of blind luck. In light of understanding that it is a system built by and for designers without any substantial input from the users, it all makes perfect sense. After all, the designers are the experts and we all realize that they just know what everybody wants and needs.

But pointing out these kinds of facts is just uncomfortable. Better to just go along with the flow and keep your fingers crossed.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

[RANT] : on cataloguers and IT people : [was] : RDA questions from librarians at small libraries

Posting to Autocat

On 31/07/2012 20:28, Marc Truitt wrote:
Admittedly, I suppose you might say that I "went over to the Dark Side" when I took on a series of IT/systems-focused library jobs.  In all the years I did so, though, it was with the deep conviction that the way to better catalogues *and* better systems in libraries was *not* for greater *separation* between their creators, but rather, for more *integration*.  The only way both our metadata and our systems improve is through the cooperative efforts -- the insinuation, if you will -- of those who create cataloguing and those who create systems that use that cataloguing to enable discovery, presentation, and access.

While in some neighborhoods "good fences make good neighbors", the opposite is true when considering the relations between cataloguers and systems folk in libraries.  We only serve our patrons, our libraries, and ourselves well when we respect and practice the art of working together.  My sense is that the great majority of us long ago learned the value of such integration and collaboration with public services staff.  Why should things be any different where cataloguers and IT/systems staff are concerned?

I guess your experience is quite different from mine. While cooperation is of course the best path forward, I have found it very rarely. In some organizations, you couldn't even get the catalogers and the IT people in the same room together! (I am not kidding) The problem is: the IT people are the builders and they have the ultimate power to make the new tool. Of course, they can listen or not listen to the actual users of the system that they are building, or to be more specific, they can choose precisely which users they want to listen to. IT staff are only human, and therefore often have great pride in their creations. That's understandable. It would be strange if it were not that way.

It is also understandable that they often do not take very well to criticism of their creations, especially when those criticisms are put to them in a nasty way. IT staff are also not some gigantic monolith and often you will find some who really and truly want to build what you want, but they cannot because the IT people have to answer to their own supervisors who have all kinds of motivations. I have seen this happen much more than once, and not only in libraries. David Bade's article discussed it in other venues and it should not come as a shock to discover that it happens in the library field as well.

So, while in theory, everyone working together and cooperating is absolutely great, it often doesn't work out that way. That is why they have these entire project management methods as I mentioned before, to ensure that the voice of the users (Senior User) are definitely heard and cannot be ignored by the builders. On the other hand, if everyone cooperated in friendly ways, we wouldn't need these methods, nor would we need a lot of other systems: bureaucracies, the governments, the UN, the courts and armies, but the fact is people very often do not cooperate, for whatever reasons they may have.

I want to be clear that I am not placing the blame on IT. The catalogers have been very seriously at fault as well, since they often do not want to see new perspectives. Very often, they do not understand the powers of the new systems since that is not their specialty. They often do not or cannot see how their own records can be used in brand new ways. They often forget the the IT people are users too and their ideas must be taken into account as seriously as any others. Catalogers do not like it when someone points out that their catalogs have been broken for a long time and new methods *must* be implemented, otherwise they will go the path of the trilobyte.

Golly! That sounds like RDA and FRBR!

Still, when you get IT and cataloging to truly work together, with respect on both sides, it can be a joy and enlightening for everyone involved. When that happens though, everyone should realize that it is a fortuitous event.