Re: [NGC4LIB] The Return of Cards?

Posting to NGC4LIB

On 10/5/2013 2:25 PM, Alexander Johannesen wrote:

So what are libraries doing with information design of their data? Do they care?

This is really the main point, and I think there is kind of a misunderstanding what library data really is among lots of people–including librarians and catalogers. In your message, you mentioned how in Google you found recipes for pancakes, and found it even in Norwegian although you are in Australia. It would be interesting to find out if you searched in English (the word “pancakes”) if you would still get something in Norwegian because of everything Google knows about you (you have a gmail account).

You could never get anything like the same result in a library catalog. Why? Because there are no recipes in the library catalog. The recipes are in the library’s collection. This is why I have said that the public is not really interested in our catalogs. They are interested in the information in the collection and if they are to get to that information, they must go through the catalog (or wander helplessly in the stacks) but that doesn’t mean either that they want to use the catalog or that they enjoy it. Someone who is interested in pancakes can use the catalog all day long, looking at the records and sorting them and rearranging them, and at the end still not have the slightest idea what is a pancake or how to cook it. But you would have an idea of what had been published about pancakes. That is a completely different experience from what people have in the Googles, where the information itself is digested and immediately accessible with a click on a link.

If there were no access to full content from Google searches (as happens so often in Google Books where you only get a snippet or nothing at all) then people would experience the same thing as using the library catalog, where they could search all day long and still know nothing. In library catalogs, you are not searching the data you are interested in, such as recipes and other information about pancakes, but you are searching only the data about the data you want: when it was published, who did it, where it can be found etc.

So, when you ask: what are libraries doing with the information design of their data? The library’s data (i.e. the information in the catalog, which is titles, authors, publication information and so on) is not what people want from the library. They want the information that is in the books and maps and scores and so on. While people certainly want to manipulate the information about pancakes, or whatever topic that interests them, I think very few are interested in manipulating the information about the information on pancakes, or whatever interests them.

The catalog is nothing more than a tool that people want to use as efficiently as possible so that they can leave it behind to get at what they really want. Just like we use Google. It is fast and efficient and the reason we like it so much is that we don’t have to spend a lot of time in Google, but on the pages we want.

This may be obvious to people like you, but when I have pointed this out, it has left some catalogers angry or hurt since it seems that I am saying what they are doing isn’t important. On the contrary, what they are doing is important but people have to understand that the less time people spend with the catalog, it must be considered a success because it shows that the catalog is an efficient tool, that is, as long as the people are finding materials successfully.

Returning once again to your question: what are libraries doing with the information design of their data? We must ask: what is their data? Most library data is not very interesting except perhaps circulation information (especially to the National Security Agency!) otherwise, because of copyright, libraries mostly do not own the information in their books, etc. Google scoops it up off the web and web masters love them for it, while when libraries for digitize materials, publishers sue them.

I do think that catalog information could be very useful to people however but it has to be reconsidered in  the electronic environment, and sadly it seems as if few want to do that.