ACAT ALCTS webinar on Future of Technical Services

Posting to Autocat

On 5/12/2016 6:28 PM, Katrina Austin wrote:
I know this is Autocat, but it is striking to me that discussion on this listserv regarding the death of technical services immediately reached a level of technical granularity that brings to mind Jeff Edmund’s funny and succinct mention of “exuberant chaos.” My staff may be better served by Keith Webster’s slideshare presentation “Leading the library of the future: w(h)ither technical services?” and recent Pew research on what people think of and expect from libraries.

The technical granularity may be partly my fault, but I agree with what you say here. What seems to be missing from all of these discussions (I did not see the webinar by the way) is what the catalog should do and where it should be. Without some agreement on these very basic points, it’s difficult to get anywhere. We have FRBR’s goals to find/identify/select/obtain… etc. vs. the goals of linked data to slice and dice our records into various pieces and send them anywhere and everywhere, so that they will show up in the search engines, sites such as Linked-in, perhaps even Facebook, and anywhere else the public happens to be (virtually). These goals are not the same at all.

I think we can assume that libraries will always need complete inventories of their collections, so that they know what they have and don’t have, and where everything is. Traditionally, catalogs were supposed to allow people to do what we now call “resource discovery” and that was the purpose of the classification and headings, especially the subject headings. The structures of our headings are based on left-anchored alphabetical searching however, and as a result, have never worked coherently with keyword. That’s been the case for only over a couple of decades now….?!

Since it is clear that these methods haven’t worked very well, there have been increasing discussions on variations of the topic “giving up on discovery” where the task of resource discovery is assumed will take place *outside* the catalog. (One of the latest papers is by Deanna Marcum “Library Leadership for the Digital Age” There was also an interesting discussion about this on the RadCat list) People will be expected to find what they want elsewhere and only then will they use the catalog to get a copy. This can be done automatically, so someone could search Google Books, find a book of interest, and behind the scenes the computer could search your catalog and if it finds a copy, a little pop-up would say “Borrow it!” or something. If it finds nothing, you see nothing.

Of course, that could be done right now even with just a browser extension and I am sure, has been done already. This same scenario can work with other web pages, and with other programs as well: emails, pdfs, docs, Excel sheets and so on. None of it requires linked data or FRBR, and most especially, it doesn’t require headings. It just requires shared standard numbers and/or descriptive elements that are largely the same.

Is this the catalog of the future? Something that the public doesn’t even realize exists, pops up only when required, while all searching is done on other tools? It is what I think many want, at least in the library literature that I have read.

If that is the future, then technical services will change to provide for it. It would be much simpler, and cheaper. That would appeal to many.

I don’t like that scenario, but I think many would–especially the decision makers. There needs to be a vigorous debate because otherwise, I suspect the cheaper option will win.