Re: [BIBFRAME] Failure

Posting to Bibframe

On 02/02/2017 21:29, Karen Coyle wrote:

My fave scenario for library linked data, the data flows in the opposite direction. Look at how rich an author page is in WorldCat Identities.[1] Look how rich it is in Wikipedia.[2] Look what Google does when you search on an author’s name and you get that nice box that pulls from Wikipedia and other sources.[3] That’s done with linked data. Then do a search on an author in a library catalog. No information beyond the author’s name. A name is an identifier, not an information source, and it doesn’t tell users anything about the author.

Linked data, to me, means being able to use resources on the net to better serve library users. By connecting place names in library data to the geonames database [4] you could show users those places on maps. This ability already exists because even small sites on the web often show you maps. It’s not big tech to do this. You could give author bios for at least some authors. Many books have a Wikipedia page that has coded information included awards won and links to reviews. All of this is available as linked data, but we aren’t making use of it.

It also means being able to make easier use of many tools arriving on the scene; better searching, visualization of data (put books on a topic in a timeline), etc. You see some of this in WorldCat Identities, in subject searches in the Open Library,[5] in the Agris database[6]. Other communities are giving their users a rich information experience, but we are not. We are not helping our users understand what they’ve found. You get more information about a refrigerator online that you do about a book in a library catalog. That’s what has to change to bring users back to the library as an information source.

I think this shows a basic difference of opinion. From my point of view, my life has been inundated with a flood of all kinds of information: ads for almost every product, both conceivable and inconceivable, “suggestions” for reading or watching, “other people liked…,” or “your friends liked …” or “information” popping up on my smartphone. I have had a belly-full of “information” and I am far from alone.

So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that when someone mentions a tool, I immediately wonder how useful it really is. Take Worldcat Identities. This was a truly new idea: to mine the Worldcat database to find out new kinds of “information.” There may be nothing wrong with it but we have to ask seriously: is it genuinely useful for people? To be honest, when it came out I was really impressed and I showed it to all kinds of people, from undergraduates to senior faculty. All agreed that it was pretty cool, but they couldn’t even imagine how they could use it for anything. Nobody was interested in the information it provided: genres, the alternative names were bizarre, a publication timeline(?), most widely held books and so on, they saw no use in any of it. The links labeled “useful” they thought were not useful at all.

I thought the most useful, and most novel part of Worldcat Identities is the word cloud of subjects at the very bottom. I remember looking with someone at Taylor Swift’s record, who I knew, and continue to know, very little about ( In the subject cloud at the bottom, I saw terms like “Ecology” “Environmentalism” “Utopian plays” that surprised me and I thought this would be interesting for someone. Strangely enough, nobody I showed Worldcat Identities to thought the subject word clouds were useful in any way at all. I figured this was because the concept of a “subject” is becoming increasingly strange among 21st century society. I still think they could be useful but perhaps my positive opinion just makes me an anachronism.

In any case, nobody except me–a librarian–was interested in actually using Worldcat Identities. That the only person who liked it was a librarian told me a lot.

The Agris database is another interesting point. It’s pretty amazing how it searches all of these different sites and brings it all together, but we must ask: does a searcher of Agris, who is most probably an expert agronomist or skilled agricultural technician (among the main users of Agris) and is interested in this (random) record: “Intercropping Spring Wheat with Cereal Grains, Legumes, and Oilseeds Fails to Improve Productivity under Organic Management [2008]” ( need information from Wikipedia about “Field experimentation” “Intercropping” “Weed control”? Wouldn’t they have already known the relatively elementary information found in Wikipedia? Do they need a map or chart from the World Bank or does it just get in the way? The Google related articles may be genuinely useful, I don’t know. Only an agronomist could determine that and I am not an agronomist. In any case, I know that many users of Agris have complained about all of this extraneous information.

The point about adding maps. In a book chapter I wrote a few years ago (, I copied the entire “metadata record” for a Google Book and you can see quite clearly that it includes an interactive map (p. 197-198. Apologies that my finger covers up one of the page numbers!). It turns out that in the current iteration of the metadata page for this same book, the map is no longer there ( In fact, I haven’t found any Google metadata records (i.e. “About this book” page) with maps. I assume this means that Google discovered no one was using the maps so they got rid of them. But we are supposed to believe that maps in a metadata record are exciting and useful.

The point of all of this is that I think librarians today must be very, very careful to introduce even more “information” to our users who are already in danger of drowning in the flood of information they currently find themselves in. People think our catalogs are too complicated as they are now! Why will adding even more make it easier for them? Allow me my skepticism.

Librarians, developers, IT people and administrators absolutely cannot be the ones to determine if what we are making is useful or not. Each group has far too much invested in it. There must be serious attempts to do honest “market testing” among the potential users of whatever is being made and marketers know that it is far from easy to get honest answers from people. Just because we can add something doesn’t mean anyone will find it useful (such as Worldcat Identities) and it may clutter things up so much that the parts the catalog/finding aid is supposed to do gets lost, or at least becomes so difficult it irritates the searchers. Irritation is probably the most worrying of all: those are the people who will leave in an instant for something that is less irritating.

I do believe that there are many things we could do to improve the public’s experience of the catalog, which in turn would improve their experience of a library’s collection, and some of those improvements could include things like linked data.