Re: [RDA-L] Automatically adding relationship designators (was Cost of Retrospective Conversion for Legacy Data…)

Posting to RDA-L

On 12/10/2013 8:52 PM, Kyrios, Alex ( wrote:

James, would it be too cynical of me to summarize your position as “Our data isn’t good enough, so why bother improving it?” Is it wrong to hope that a catalog can do more than help someone locate an item on a shelf?

No, that is not at all my position and I have always been concerned that this is how it may seem when I criticize something. I blame myself. That is always the danger of criticism.

I believe that our catalogs–if they worked correctly–and they haven’t for many, many years now–would give the public something that is unique today and something that the Googles and Yahoos and Bings will not and cannot provide. And that is: reliable, consistent, and confidential access to materials that have been specially selected and organized by experts, all who work without any goals of personal monetary gain, and who do not advance personal or organizational ideals that are political or moral or religious. All methods of selection and arrangement we use are open to anyone who is interested in examining them.

It seems to me that this represents the antithesis of what people experience with the web today and also the antithesis of the future direction the web promises to take. I think people are now becoming concerned about that. Perhaps 5 or 10 years ago, a person would have read something like what I just wrote and would roll their eyes because they would have thought it was too backward or just plain silly, but now I believe that some may be beginning to think, “If only I could have something like that!”

When you went to a library in the past where all the librarians had done their jobs in a professional manner (and had high morale!), the public saw what I described above, even though they were probably not aware of it. The information the public got wasn’t necessarily always the “best” information or the “newest” or today’s strange idea of the “most relevant”–but the library always offered something different. What people found in a library was also not the FRBR user tasks, which in the past was only one type of a method–and LOTS of people complained loudly about that method from the beginning and were happy when it bothered them no more. With earlier technology however, there was little room for flexibility and genuine cooperation. Today, there are many methods in addition to the FRBR user tasks that lead to the same goals I laid out above. With the power and flexibility of today’s tools, and the fact that cooperation among people of all levels is much simpler than ever before, the possibility of employing multiple methods of access can be considered very seriously. This was never possible before.

The public has actually been crying for a tool that does exactly what I described. I say: let’s give it to them! But in a form that means something to the society of today.

Achieving this would take work and genuine cooperation, plus a sense of humility. I have tried my best to illustrate the “unique” kind of access made possible by catalogs along with the problems achieving that kind of access today in my podcast “Cataloging Matters Podcast no. 18: Problems with Library Catalogs”

So yes, I think there is a lot that the catalog can offer. As I keep pointing out: the problem is the catalog and not the catalog records.