Re: [RDA-L] Access to the knowledge of cataloging

Posting to RDA-L

On 12/6/2013 7:12 PM, Kevin M Randall wrote:

FRBR doesn’t “promise” anything. It just describes what was always being done, and shaped into a model to help us better understand what was being done.

The newer functionalities we are seeing, such as the faceting in Jim’s Hamlet example, are real-world examples of the principles that FRBR describes. I highly suspect that there is a strong link between their development and the FRBR report. Even if FRBR hadn’t been written, they very likely would have come about anyway, because FRBR isn’t telling us “how to”, it’s telling us “what is”; the “what” that “is” was always there–we just see it more clearly through the FRBR report. And seeing it more clearly facilitates the development.

If we don’t need what FRBR talks about, then that means we must not need that stuff we find at Might as well just tell OCLC “No thanks, take it away, please.” If we don’t need what FRBR talks about, then we don’t need to know who the creator of a resource is, who published it, when it was published, what other resource it is related to, etc. Because that’s all that FRBR is about.

Please, everyone, stop seeing FRBR as a model for bibliographic records in a user display. That is NOT at all what it is. It is a model of the data underlying the bibliographic records. Those are very, very, very different things.

FRBR is not so benign, as I have tried to show and as many library departments are beginning to understand. Accepting FRBR (and RDA) has many implications, some of which are surprisingly huge. I think everybody understands clearly that we are seeing only the very beginnings of the ultimate costs of FRBR.

FRBR is actually an entity-relationship model that is used for setting up a relational database. The very first step in making such a model is to determine what people want to do with the database you are going to make (i.e. figure out the “user tasks”) and from there you can figure out the entities, attributes and relationships in order to fulfill those user tasks. This is fraught with many problems in today’s environment, but the very first part is supposed to demand working with the people who will use it to find out what they want. The very simple fact is: there was not any effort to figure out what the public wants to do with information in a bibliographic database. The paper by Amanda Cossham pointed this out clearly. It still hasn’t been done!

Here was a tool that the public never cared for (the card catalog), then it was transferred with almost no changes into another tool (the OPAC) where in many ways it worked much worse than the original card catalog, and after all of that, should it come as any surprise to discover that the public abandoned the card catalogs/OPACs just as soon as they had a real choice (keyword, full-text relevance ranking)? Does it then make any sense to set out in relational database format what was “already being done” and has already been abandoned by the public?

To be fair, the original version of FRBR came out before (or at least not long afterward) the huge abandonment by the public of our OPACs. Google had barely even begun to exist when FRBR appeared. Still, there could have been a chapter on the newest developments back then. But even today, nowhere in it is there the slightest mention of “keyword” or “relevance ranking” much less anything about Web2.0 or the semantic web or linked data or full-text or Lucene indexing (like what we see in the Worldcat displays). It’s as if those things never happened.

So, the purpose of the Worldcat search I demonstrated, where anybody can do the FRBR user tasks for Shakespeare’s Hamlet, isn’t to conclude “No thanks, take it away, please.” It is to say that we don’t need the entire FRBR structure because what it envisions can be done today, right now with what we have and without the incredibly expensive changes either to the content or to the format that FRBR demands. That is a simple fact and it should be celebrated, with huge kudos going to the programmers. As a rather incredible addition, the technology that allow it is… FREE!! Instead it is ignored, to the detriment of the entire cataloging community, with vast resources wasted to build something that has already been done.

If some other purpose has replaced the FRBR user tasks, but still demands the FRBR structures, whoever has decided that should let everyone else know–and perhaps it could be…. debated?! As it stands now, we must assume that huge resources are being used to create something that has already been done, and done far more cheaply and quickly, and perhaps, even better.