On 24/04/2013 20:18, MULLEN Allen wrote:
…Personally, these are sad realities for I think it truly presages the eclipse of much of the cataloging world we have known in the foreseeable future. It also likely spells the end of my own career in cataloging before I am ready to retire. Budgets, not RDA implementation, are the paramount issue that many of us are grappling with.
At the same time, I am also pretty jazzed for the future of bibliographic discovery. The immense wealth of resources available to casual as well as academic seekers is truly phenomenal. The fact that most of this wealth (and even more chaff) is outside of library walls isn’t so important. Given the choice, I’d rather have access to a wealth of resources using inadequate discovery tools than a paucity of resources using a gateway that provides some advantages but requires me to adapt to a more challenging and limited gateway.
The promise of RDA, Biblioframe, and future developments, if ever realized, would be the best of both of these worlds. It would be librarian-enabled discovery systems that provide the reliability and collative capabilities that are our hallmark across a much vaster wealth of resources in a much more intuitive and powerful discovery environment than the local OPAC. I’m not a cheerleader who says that RDA is the key – RDA is a step, one cobbled by the inescapable necessity of incorporating our legacy data as both a source of great wealth but also an immense burden. The current developments are steps toward being able to integrate library-based discovery via linked data, entity relationships, and metadata structures far more varied than MARC databases.
I agree with you about 90%, except for these parts. If the catalog goes belly up (and since I believe that a library catalog and its collection go hand in hand) perhaps libraries too will go the way of the brontosaurus, I agree it won’t be because of RDA or even of library budgets. It will be because libraries (and their catalogs are one part of that) will not be able to adapt to the new information environment. What does this mean?
Adapting to a new environment means that you have to know about that environment. The more you know, the better you can adapt. In the natural world, this has been done through more or less mindless trial-and-error, the survival of the fittest. Therefore, giraffes got their long necks not because they wanted long necks so badly (as was thought by many before Darwin), it was because the individuals that happened to have longer necks had a better chance to eat, survive and reproduce in that specific environment. In another environment with food close to the ground, such long necks would have been an impediment.
What comprises our current information environment? It is changing at a fantastically rapid rate in many ways; this we know. One of the most brilliant facts that Google has divined is that much of this information environment exists in people’s minds: if you can appeal to people’s minds, their imaginations, their hopes and so on, you can succeed. Google doesn’t strive to make something that is “perfect” or that fits some pre-arranged intellectual construct, but something that appeals to the mass of people in the here and now.
Neither RDA nor FRBR are based on a knowledge of how our information environment is changing. They are based on how the catalog was supposed to be structured and those basic structures were created in the 19th century. It should be kept in mind that the public has always complained about those structures. FRBR and BIBFRAME are just new formats for individual pieces of data that have made up library catalogs: printed, card, or online. When these individual pieces of data are brought together in specific ways, these structures allow certain powers found nowhere else: authority control, conceptual searching, consistent results and so on. Much of this became broken with the advent of OPACs–and especially keyword–and was never fixed.
At the same time however, because the information environment has changed so radically, these powers have become strange to the public and as a consequence have not appealed to them. For instance, in a recent private email exchange, one cataloger told me that this person’s head librarian believed that authority control is “backward thinking”. So here it is: something found nowhere else on the web, something that people would like if it worked, and instead of concluding that this is a unique thing to build upon, a head librarian decides that it is “backward thinking”. There are many important librarians who think this way. If we can’t even appeal to others in our own profession, how can we appeal to those outside?
Adaptation occurs in small steps; it does not and cannot take place in a “giant leap” from trilobyte to bird, no matter how brilliant or forward-looking the trilobyte may be. Google has evolved in single small steps, so has Yahoo, Amazon and the others. And yet, it may turn out that none of them will exist in ten years because the environment will have changed and they will not succeed in changing with it. Of course, catalogs are not magically immune.
It is just as true for libraries as for the giraffe or the trilobyte: whether anybody likes it or not, the catalog and the library must adapt to the environment as it exists now–not to the environment as we would prefer it to be, or how we think it may be in 10 years because that is impossible for anyone to know–but now. It is both that simple and that difficult. This adaptation can happen with or without RDA, FRBR and BIBFRAME, or perhaps libraries will find a way to survive but their catalogs will be jettisoned in favor of making everything digital and using algorithmic retrieval. There may be other possibilities we have not yet imagined.
But the very first step is to distance ourselves from pet theories and to concentrate on what makes library catalogs (not necessarily their individual records but catalogs) unique. Then, figure out how to get that uniqueness to appeal to the popular mind.
That would be very interesting for everyone, I think! Somebody will do it sooner or later. I just hope library catalogers will be in the forefront.