Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Future trends, past traditions

The new paper put out by Richard Gartner this month in the JISC is....well, it's not saying anything that we don't already know. I've noticed that much of academic writing is just common sense stuff put down into words. If I could ever figure out how to do that, I would be a great and accomplished academic writer.
The paper is interesting; you can find it here (warning:pdf).
Basically, to use a metaphor (simile?), metadata schemas are like the parts of a car (simile!). METS is the frame, MODS is the engine, DC is the transmission, MIX is the mirrors....this simile is breaking down, a little, but you get the point. Gartner's idea is that once we figure out a way to bolt all the pieces together in a systemized way, we'll have a car and then everyone will be driving. So, once we finally, as a library community, decide to systematize all these different schemas and link them together and decide upon common access points, we'll have something akin to MARC and AACRII, where all the records can transfer to any library system, and everyone uses the same rules, and we can trade records and federate searches and everyone will eat ice cream every day and there will be puppies at every computer terminal.

The thing is, he's not that far from reality. I figure it really is just a matter of time before we come up with a standard for digital object description that uses pieces of MODS, or DC, or PREMIS, all within a METS wrapper. I mean, we're there NOW, we just haven't codified it yet. Who doesn't use those metadata schemas? It's the most organic kind of creation, without rules, yet we all follow a kind of Pirates' Code where we try to take into account all the traditions of library cataloging, use LCSH when possible, etc. (Also, if we could call this new code that will someday be created the Pirate Librarians' Code, I would be cool with that). There is a ton of tradition behind new metadata creation.

RDA is certainly our first step towards a system of creating metadata content that is standardized, and will work with both paper and digital, and is not based on the idea of catalog cards. At least I hope that they ditch all those crazy rules that only come from the idea of having a finite amount of space to write. I'm sure they will, the RDA group seems pretty smart. Much like AACRII and MARC, though, someone is probably going to have to come along and write one of those books like "Cataloging with AACRII and MARC21", because the RDA people will not want to tie their content standard to anything concrete, and all the librarians will just be sitting there wondering how in the hell they translate their rules from physical to metadata to digital. And I imagine that in five years, my reference shelf will have a copy of RDA, and a copy of "Cataloging with RDA and MARC" and a copy of "Cataloging with RDA and MODS" or something.

Ooh, maybe I can write one. Then I will be a Great and Accomplished Academic Writer.

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"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.