Consistency (Was: Conflicting instructions in Bib Formats about ETDs being state government publications)

Posting to Autocat

On 10/29/2014 4:18 PM, MULLEN Allen wrote:

To catalog is to have faith (a word chosen pointedly) that both common sense and helping people are served through consistency and the integrity of information that has been created via the rules. Most any aspect of cataloging rules in isolation, if closely and critically examined, could yield different interpretations as to how they could be modified (or ignored) to better serve goals of common sense and helping people. Overall, the integrity and usefulness of a catalog, whether local or larger scale, is served by consistent attention to these rules so that those that do transcend the mundane, ignored, and senseless will work as faith enshrines – helping our users find the resources.

I agree with this, and I will take a backseat to no one concerning the importance of consistency. It is one of the reasons why I have been against a lot of changes with RDA.

BUT (there is always a “but”), the fact is: we are living in transitional times. At one time–and not that long ago, just 10 or 15 years ago–the library catalog was a world apart. It was a closed system. A “closed system” meant that nothing went into it without cataloger controls, and when the catalog records went out into the wider world, they went into a similar, controlled union catalog, such as OCLC, RLIN, etc.

The unavoidable fact is, that world has almost disappeared already and the cataloging community must accept it. The cataloging goal of making our records into “linked data” means that our records can literally be sliced and diced and will wind up *anywhere*–not only in union catalogs that follow the same rules, not only in other library catalogs that may follow other rules, but quite literally anywhere. That is what linked data is all about and it has many, many consequences, not least of all for our “consistency”.

Plus there is a push for libraries to create a “single search box” so that users who search the library’s catalogs, databases, full-text silos and who knows what else, can search them all at once. Again, the world takes on a new shape because these other resources have non-cataloger, non-RDA, non-ISBD, non-any-rules-at-all created metadata, or no metadata at all: just full-text searched by algorithms. Those resources are some of the most popular materials libraries have, or have ever had. They are expanding at such an incredible rate that they would sink entire flotillas of catalogers working 24 hours a day. The very idea of “consistency” in this environment begins to lose its meaning.

For example, if a normal catalog department can add, let’s say, 70,000 AACR2/RDA records to their catalog per year, but the IT department is adding hundreds of thousands or even millions of records that follow no perceptible rules at all from the databases the library is paying lots of money for (this is happening in lots of libraries right now), then in just a few years, the records from non-library sources will clearly overwhelm the records from catalogers. That is a mathematical certainty.

Even without data dumps into the catalog itself, instituting the single search box will result in exactly the same thing from the searcher’s perspective: records of all types will be mashed together, where there will be far more non-library-created records than library-created records.

So the logical question about consistency is: Consistency over what, exactly? It is hard to escape the conclusion that it is consistency over an ever diminishing percentage of what is available to our users.

Nevertheless, I still believe very strongly in consistency, but it must be reconsidered in the world of 21st century linked data and the abolition of separate “data silos”. It is all coming together, and both the cataloging community and the library community seems to want this. I want it too.

The idea and purpose of consistency will change. It must change, or it will disappear. Is it at all realistic to think that these other non-library databases will implement RDA? Hahaha! But if a huge percentage of a catalog follows no rules at all, how can we say that consistency is so important? If consistency is to mean something today and in the future, it will have to be reconsidered. What are its costs and benefits?

I consider these to be existential questions for the future of cataloging. I don’t see these issues being discussed in the cataloging community, but I have no doubt whatsoever they are being discussed in the offices of library administrators, whether they use words such as “consistency” or not.