Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Session D-2: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly: Rethinking Bibliographic Services in the 21st Century

Monday, July 14 8:45 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.

Richard Amelung, Saint Louis University, Omer Poos Law Library
Diane I. Hillmann, Director of Metadata Initiatives, the Information Institute of Syracuse

This session began with Richard Amelung, the AALL representative to the Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control presenting an overview of the Group's members and of its final report, which was disseminated in November 2007. Along the way he clarified several aspects of the report, the role of the Working Group, and the involvement of non-library parties that have evidently been causing misconceptions among libraries and librarians:

  • Working Group members have been careful to make sure they are all sending out the same message to various library communities when individual members of the Group are invited to speak. However, they are not speaking on behalf of the Library of Congress, only the Working Group. Only LC speaks for LC.
  • The Working Group is not responding to responses to the report. (As Richard noted, "the report's done, folks!") However, Working Group members are staying on in an advisory capacity to LC.
  • The report was structured to identify what would happen if nothing was done, then provide several recommendations for action and the anticipated outcomes if the recommendations were implemented.
  • The report was intentionally "long on ideas, but short on 'how'" – that is, it was focused on outcomes, not how they might be achieved. In this way, all involved parties would be given the maximum flexibility to develop their own ideas as to how best to achieve a given outcome. Planning for how to achieve these outcomes is what needs to happen next – the detailed steps behind how we will get from Point A to Point B.
  • LC is involved with a vast amount of projects, but communication between various areas within LC– and to the outside world in general – about what is going on has been an ongoing problem. Many of these projects are in various stages of development, from fully implemented to pilot stages only, but they all seem to get mentioned as if they are all at the same stage – which they're not.
  • The Working Group made recommendations to many entities outside of LC and the library/cataloging community, but many of these groups (publishers, vendors, etc.) need to be convinced of the importance of bibliographic control to their community, and to get involved.
  • Standards creation currently takes so long that by the time a standard is completed the community has moved beyond it. Multiple groups are usually involved in standards development, and unfortunately they aren't necessarily working in a coordinated fashion.

After Richard's presentation, Diane Hillmann took the podium to present "After the Report," where she described what she agreed and didn't agree with in the final version of the report. Her detailed PowerPoint slides are available at http://hdl.handle.net/1813/11115 (with even more detailed comments at http://docs.google.com/View?docid=dn8z3gs_51dsqc77), but here are some of the highlights:

  • In the age of mashups, is there any need to continue seeking the "holy grail" of a "unified philosophy of bibliographic control"? Libraries are no longer the only players in the information universe – yes, we may "do it better" than others, but maybe "good enough" is in fact good enough. Can we survive and thrive if we continue to insist on "unified" anything? Do we all have to agree on everything before any progress can be made?
  • While the report recommended increasing efficiencies, it's possible we may have wrung all of the efficiencies possible out of our current systems. It's time to explore alternate distribution systems beyond our current networks. "Sharing materials" does not necessarily have to take place only within bibliographic utilities. OCLC doesn't handle images, single items, and media well on an item-level basis. Sharing data about these types of materials may be better handled through other distribution methods.
  • Two big "YES"es from Diane: internationalizing authority files & transforming LCSH.
  • Traditional cataloging has focused too long on the secondary products of research. The new mindset needs to be more like that of archivists and Metadata Librarians, focusing on primary materials.
  • Without improved abilities for machines to manipulate our data, we are going to be locked out of participating in a world where the Web is everyone's platform. While we need a more flexible and extensible metadata carrier than MARC, LC is not necessarily well prepared to create it.
  • The idea of "return on investment" is a non-starter, because right now we really don't know what that means, or how to achieve it.
  • Suspending work on RDA made vendors breathe a sigh of relief (one less thing to do!) but it isn't realistic.
  • For a good explanation of why user data will be important in relevance ranking and selection, Diane referred to LibraryThing founder Tim Spaulding's ALA presentation on his Thingology blog, http://www.librarything.com/thingology/2008/07/future-of-cataloging.php. (BTW, in the interests of full disclosure, I recently joined LibraryThing and think it's a blast.).

This was a very stimulating discussion, and for folks (like me, sorry) who just couldn't quite motivate themselves to read the final report in its entirety when it came out, a good overview of the highlights. It looks like the report will be generating discussion for some time to come, and stimulating the library profession to do some serious thinking about what we will want and need to do with "our" data (if we can even call it "ours" any more!) in the years ahead.

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