Re: RDA and Flatlands

Posting to Autocat

On 1/18/2012 4:10 PM, Aaron Kuperman wrote:

The classic book “Flatlands” deals with how beings existing in a 2-dimensional universe function, appear to and can interact with beings such as ourselves who exist and perceive in 3-dimensions. […] I am suggesting that for those of us who have spent their entire professional lives in an AACR/MARC universe, we are unable to comprehend an RDA/FRBR universe, just as 2-dimensional beings can’t perceive “normal” human, and humans can’t perceive a 5-dimensional universe. To understand an RDA/FRBR universe, whether for training purposes (my concern), or making policy decision (something I only “kibbitz” on), requires adopting an RDA/FRBR mindset, which I suspect will lead to very different perceptions than when a “2-dimensional” AACR/MARC being trys to follow the RDA rules. Learning the new rules is an aspect, but the big part of the change in learning about the new dimensions.

Well, I am the eternal skeptic. From my point of view, all of this assumes quite a bit. First, it assumes that the FRBR structure of entities, etc. are necessary to achieve the FRBR user tasks. Second, that the FRBR user tasks provide what the public *really* wants. Third, that in order to enter the linked data/semantic web/whatever-people-call-it-today universe, you need FRBR. And fourth, that the linked data universe itself is something that the public *really* wants. Therefore, to get into this lane, we have to adopt RDA. None of this is logical to me.

I have mentioned several times that the FRBR user tasks provide nothing essentially new, and that catalogs today can achieve those user tasks right now. Perhaps it’s kind of a pain at the moment in some catalogs, but in Worldcat and other catalogs, it can be done now. With some programming magic, the public can very easily “find, identify, select, obtain: works, expressions, manifestations, items by their authors, titles, subjects”. The undeniable fact is, our catalogs provide FRBR capabilities right now, they just haven’t allowed it through keyword until relatively recently, but anyway, catalogs have always aimed to provide this kind of access.

Next, I have personally seen no evidence that for most people, it is vital for them to be able to do the FRBR user tasks, so calling them “user tasks” is a misnomer. Sure, some people want to do all of that occasionally, but this represents only a small percentage of the population, and on top of that, it is a small percentage of the total searches that small percentage makes. In fact, I have seen quite the contrary where people, including myself, have completely different needs other than those in FRBR. It seems only logical to ask: if the public really did want to find, identify, select, obtain: works, expressions, and so on and so on, then why do they overwhelmingly prefer tools such as Google where they can’t even begin to do any of that at all? You can’t even limit a search to a person’s name! And yet, people like it a lot.

Third, FRBR is also not needed to enter the linked data universe. All you need to do is open up your data in a decent format and link it. You don’t even have to have RDF which is incredibly complex and there are far simpler ways of doing it. But I admit that you cannot do it with MARC21/ISO2709 records that are shut away in databases.

Finally, there is an unspoken assumption that the public wants the linked data universe, and that when everything is linked, something wonderful will happen, although it is unclear exactly what that something wonderful is. Nevertheless, the Holy Grail for information developers is “Linked Data”. And yet, I have never seen any research that shows this is what the public wants at all. Of course, it would be really difficult to do research on “linked data” because it barely exists as yet, but once again, we are left with promises of a radiant future without any evidence that it is what anyone wants. All that we have left is sheer faith that this future state will be a major advance, but I lost my faith quite some time back.

I think that FRBR does not envision anything new and to follow your analogy, merely seeks to impose a 2D universe onto a 3D universe that we still barely understand. Some parts can be salvaged from our 2D universe, but we must find new paths forward or risk being left further and further behind.