Linked Data in the Creases | Peer to Peer Review

Blog comment to “Linked Data in the Creases | Peer to Peer Review” By Dorothea Salo on December 12, 2013.

I must take issue with a couple of points here.

1) “Linked data should cut down on redundant record rekeying.”
I have seen this sentiment expressed a number of times in various places, but I don’t see how linked data will change any amount of rekeying for a working cataloger. Ever since OPACs have appeared, if catalogers find “copy,” they don’t have to rekey anything but they derive their current record from the one that already exists and change whatever they need. I don’t see how linked data would save the cataloger any work at all, at least not in a practical way. The copy record already includes all relevant “work” and “expression” information now. (That is, so long as the record is well done)

In addition, in a linked data universe, catalogers will still be working with what they can understand, i.e. textual strings, and not the URIs. So, for instance, a human cataloger will still add:
“Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilich, 1840-1893”
“Чайковский, Петр Ильич, 1840-1893”
“Čajkovskij, Petr Il’jič, 1840-1893”
or whatever the meaningful form is instead of:

which means nothing to any human being. The URI will be added automatically as an addition or in place of the textual form. Adding the linked data may help users but not the catalogers.

2) “Will librarians feel bad that their work over the years has become obsolete?”

Is it true that our work really is obsolete? I have thought about this a lot and concluded: both yes and no. It depends on if we can figure out new ways to use the information we have and make. It is probably best shown in the movie “Other People’s Money” that depicts a hostile takeover of an older corporation that makes wire. The corporate raider (Danny de Vito) is buying up corporations that are considered “past it” and is selling off whatever he can. Now he has this wire company in his sites.

de Vito’s speech to the shareholders is really memorable and says that the company is already dead. He compares it to horses and buggies and contains the line “You know, at one time there must’ve been dozens of companies making buggy whips. And I’ll bet the last company around was the one that made the best goddamn buggy whip you ever saw. Now how would you have liked to have been a stockholder in that company?”

What was the answer in the movie? In essence, to find new uses for the “buggy whips/wire”. It turned out that somebody needed their wire to make airbags so this movie actually ends on a somewhat hopeful note.

Taking this as an analogy for cataloging (and libraries as a whole), I think that our tools and methods and values could be translated and appreciated if it were all used in different ways, but everything must be rethought. If we insist that people use it in the old ways, then we really are obsolete and dead, but I remain convinced there are other ways. I have suggested many ways in my own blog posts and papers.

But finding these new and different ways would mean real change, and I don’t know if librarians can find it in themselves to do that.