Thursday, December 20, 2007

Networking and Subject Headings

I got to meet some new people yesterday. All of them were technical service librarians/digital librarians. And twice I heard the same comment/question: "What do you think about folksomonies?"
I think that they're a fad? I think that people only use them because they have no idea that other subject searching is available? I think that LCSH needs to stop being a browsing list?
I got the feeling, though, that the idea of controlled language "death" is very scary for librarians.
And then TODAY, I see this:
University of Chicago Libraries

Which is EXACTLY what I've been thinking about! Do a search in the UC catalog now, and you get not only the list of things the catalog thinks you might want, but the ability to refine that search within the LC classification schema. We have the classification scheme already laid out for us, which roughly corresponds to the LCSH , and why not use it to help make LCSH more hierarchical? I've been gushing over AAT since as long as I can remember, because it takes the headings and makes them hierarchical. I can actually use the headings to help me find more headings! What a concept!
Now, obviously LCSH hasn't always been this way. The books are actually pretty useful when it comes to finding other headings that might be useful. But when everything went online, we really lost that ability. There aren't nearly as many cross-references anymore, or see alsos.
We need to reclaim that heritage, and make our LCSH work FOR us again, instead of against us, and I think that folksonomies will end up following. All people really need is a way to understand a system for them to use it.
I mean, if enough people adopt it, everyone knows what "h8r" means, right? Why not understand subject headings?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Functions of Cataloging

What do I believe a cataloging department is charged to do?

Call me a product of my environment (and people do!), but I do not think that new technologies are dragging cataloging departments away from their primary responsibilities. As an information organizer, I see my role in any place to be one of facilitation. Although cataloging departments are not traditionally known for their social and outgoing ways, cataloging itself is about serving the user. Of course, all departments of a library are about serving the user: we are a service industry. And I think that cataloging is no different. All of our systems, all of our rules and notations, are about serving the user and helping him or her to find what they need with as little trouble as possible.

Now, that is not to say that the library catalog is good at this. In fact, I think that in many ways its not that good at all. When even reference librarians complain about the Library of Congress Subject Headings, something is definitely wrong. When I would rather use Google than a library catalog, something has to be wrong. So we're at an intersection—the intersection between traditional cataloging tools, users, and emerging technologies. Because I do not think that our mandate as catalogers has changed; rather, I think that the user has always been at the center of what we do. It’s the technologies that are starting to fall in our laps that will really make a difference in the next few years, and how flexible we can be in response to those.

Some scholars say that libraries have already missed the boat. RDA (Resource Description and Access) is dead before it ever lived, because it is going to be too much like AACRII and not enough like Vannevar Bush’s Memex. Some of the same people have given in to quiet resignation over LCSH, which, because it of its basic opposition to clustering, should have died a long time ago. MARC is too clunky, authority records are useful but may not be widely known enough to make the leap from libraries to other users in the digital world who might find them useful, too.

Other problems also arise as we start to imagine how a library might better use the new resources at hand in the form of metadata schemas. One is that there aren’t that many people in the library world who are thoroughly familiar with all the available resources for digital organization. Unlike traditional cataloging, which has produced thousands of people versant in AACRII and MaRC, there are so many different metadata standards and technologies blooming all the time, that there is very little knowledge transfer in the typical mentor-mentee model. This leads to a lot of reinventing the wheel. Listservs have become the standby community for many of us (I subscribe to at least 7), but so many social networking utilities are clunky and not conducive to actual substantive conversation in the way that typical workshops and classroom environments offered with ease.

Another issue is that the Web has simply not developed along the lines of creating machine-readable documentation. Tim Berners-Lee said “The web has developed most rapidly as a medium of documents for people rather than data and information that can be processed automatically,” and he is absolutely right. Even now, some 4 years after his statement, the semantic web is still growing. Most users notice it only when they type in “real estate” into the google search engine and get maps of all the real estate in a given area, or when they search for a person and get their phone number. These are the beginnings of the semantic web, but so much is left to be done that it seems, at times, insurmountable, especially when one thinks of all the published resources that are out there, unused because they are not accessible via the web. The Principle of Least Effort is alive and well in the Interwebs, and it is not going away anytime soon. The mandate to librarians is to make the numerous diverse collections of materials into one coherent and searchable whole. Although daunting, the institutions that do this (like NCSU’s catalog) will find they have happier and better informed users (not to mention MORE users).

I do think that the role of catalogers is changing, though, even though the mandate remains the same. As we inevitably move away from books and move past other forms of media into more raw data, our means of making it available are changing.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Metadata Standards

I don't think of myself as a complete novice when it comes to metadata schemas. But I've never really taken the time to make a concerted effort to learn about them, either. I take them as they come. MaRC, EAD, Dublin Core--all of these I learned through practice, not a class.
However, I am taking a class right now! On metadata of all things! And while sometimes it's boring, many times it's....enlightening? Edifying? Anyway, it's pretty cool.
Something I've learned: even though I've always thought MaRC and EAD were the same thing, they actually aren't. MaRC is "discovery" metadata and EAD is "structural" metadata. Although they both facilitate use (which is why I thought they did the same thing), they come from different places. MaRC is for helping users search, and EAD is for...well, helping users search. But searching different aspects of the collection, not the subject of the collection itself.
I also learned about PREMIS (administrative metadata for preservation), and rights management metadata (also administrative). Having actual, bonified metadata standards is pretty cool.
When I was in grad school (lo these many 3 years ago), there really weren't any metadata "standards" per se. People were trying to pretend that there were standards, but no one was using them. Archivists weren't comfortable enough with digital anything, and librarians were still too invested in paper. My "digital archives" professor felt like she was banging her head against the wall when it came to getting archivists to start preserving digital materials. She would always, at every conference, stand up and tell archivists to start preserving their own born-digital records, in order to get experience in preserving other peoples' born-digital records, but I think that people thought she was just crazy. And she kind of was, but in a really great way.
Because now, not that far along in the future, people really ARE starting to preserve born-digital things, and to use the metadata standards that OCLC and ISO were creating back then. I used to feel kind of awash in fake-standards, but now, I feel very good about the tools that are out there, waiting to be used for creating records for born-digital items.
I even heard the term "digital archaeologist" yesterday. Yes, a person who used the preservation metadata to figure out what the digital object was, and try to bring it back to its former glory. This is particularly useful, these days, for things like 5-inch floppy disks and 8-bit files. At any rate, I love it. When are archaeology departments going to start offering digital classes? Get out your brushes!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Integrated Library Systems

There are several ILSes out there....and my library should know, since we're probably going to purchase one of them soon.
I think I've talked a little about Koha and Evergreen, the new kids on the block. They're both open source, which means that a couple of American companies have moved in to provide support for these free systems, for a nominal (!) fee of course. I've heard mixed things about the Koha support company, LibLime, mostly because they purport to support Evergreen, but in reality try to keep people from getting it. So all of their users use Koha. Equinox, which I believe was started by the people who originally built Evergreen, is the main supporter of Evergreen. There are a few other companies that support these open source systems, one in Canada, I think, one in France, a couple in Australia.
There are also the proprietary systems. From conversations I've had and overheard, people think it's a foregone conclusion that proprietary ILSes are going the way of the dodo. I don't know that i believe this. The systems themselves might eventually become obsolete, but these companies can just follow the path of LibLime or Equinox, and start their own open source support (LibLime certainly charges as much as a proprietary vendor).
The PVs (proprietary vendors) are: III (Innovative), Ex Libris, AGent (Auto-Graphics), Polaris, SirsiDynix, and Liberty3 (Softlink).
There are a lot of proprietary systems, although the numbers do seem to be dwindling. I was talking to my husband about the apparently anti-competitive behavior on the part of SirsiDynix in relation to Horizon, and he said "ah, but it's really just good business practice."
And he's right. All of these companies just do what they have to do in order to make money. Lots of library people (and the library vendors) like to talk about how they're all just librarians at heart, and they really want what's best for us. But in actuality, they're just a business, and they want to make money. That's their real mandate. All the rest is just fluff. And I think that the third-party vendors who are riding the wave of open source software will end up the same way--in it to make a buck.
But hey, this is America! That's why we're all here.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Learning Metadata

I've been going through "the literature", as the kids say nowadays, on metadata creation. Reading snippets of books published 3-4 years ago, reading blogs, reading articles, reading powerpoint presentations, watching webcasts (tangentially, have you noticed how many ways there are to disseminate information these days? whew!).
A question has been put to me "describe how cataloging departments can balance traditional cataloging functions with emerging technologies." Ok, that's not a question, really, but you get the idea.
And the answer is---I'm not sure. I actually think the question has a lot more to do with the idea of a "traditional" cataloging function than it does the emerging technologies. Traditional implies "old", doesn't it? Maybe "quaint". Something that's been around the block a few times, at least. But I don't think that, at core, cataloging functions are changing at all. And I certainly don't think it's about striking a balance. Because technologies are just tools.
I know that many catalogers (and computer scientists) think that the technology IS the function. MaRC is what we do in cataloging! EAD is what we do in archives now! But that's just not true. In reality, we SERVE. That's what we do.
As I've said before, I can be what many catalogers would call "lax" about the AACRII. The only reason I am, though, is because I don't see how it benefits users, in all cases. If a user needs to see something in order to understand the work better, then I give it to them, in any way I can. This can lead to bending or breaking of the rules, but so be it. I'm not a cataloging slave (that's reserved for my student-workers).
When we were in graduate school, I remember the students in the cataloging course that needed to know the exact right way to catalog everything. My cataloging professor told them over and over that the "rules" are not really rules at all; that there exist many different ways to catalog any given work/manifestation/item.
I think that the question I've been posed could benefit from this advice. Why do I need to balance my duties with technology? Don't I use my technologies to do my duties? Isn't that the point? I think maybe the question was designed to make me think about how cataloging is changing. And it is, I know it is. But I think that all these "monster" changes that are taking place are just semantics. If I start using Dspace instead of Horizon, the only thing that has changed is that I'm now focused on making electronic resources available rather than paper resources. And my goal is the same--give the user everything I possibly can to help them get their information. The balancing act is how do I serve, not how do I remember to put a colon after the title statement.
"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.