Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Devil's Advocate

Ranganathan once wrote, of Charles Ammi Cutter's Rules for a Dictionary Catalog: "Rdc is indeed a classic. It is immortal. Its influence has been overpowering. It inhibits free-thinking even today." (Headings and Canons)

Ranganathan saw something in Cutter's rules that I think most people don't even see today: that we're still going in the same directions we've been going since Cutter wrote his rules, and we're not somehow coming to a new dawn of cataloging when we talk about FRBR or RDA. Now, lots of cataloging scholars also see this (William Denton's chapter in Understanding FRBR is a great example of this--his whole chapter is about how FRBR developed out of the past).

But I feel as though a lot of OTHER people just aren't seeing this relationship to the past. Many librarians are very worried about RDA, just as FRBR worried them 10 years ago. Why are they worried about RDA? Because it's being touted as this new, groundbreaking initiative that will change everything about cataloging as we know it.

Except that it won't.

Ranganathan's words still ring true. Cutter's rules, lo those many years ago, set us up for using card catalogs, author and subject indexing, and helping the user to find what they need. LC based most of their standards on Cutter's work, and the ALA based most of its work on LC standards, and let's face it, Cutter wouldn't find very much to be shocked about in the AACRII.

RDA likely won't be THAT shocking, either. I mean, to look at it from an outsider's perspective (say, the serials cataloging community), it's just more of the same, wrapped up in new terminology. Will the new terminology help us to catalog various formats better? I have no idea, although from looking at the vocabularies list that came out recently, I suspect it will not. They have a separate term for music publisher numbers. No term for other kinds of publisher numbers, though. Where is the overarching idealism in something like that?

I frequently worry that the library community has been stuck in a classification rut for over a hundred years, but that the reason no one is truly willing to step out on a limb and create something totally new is because it's just easier to do everything like we've been doing it**. As the amount of information increases, and we become more and more invested in one system, it gets harder and harder to scrap the concepts. When I even think about conceiving a new classification system, I usually end up (mentally) drawing away from the idea. Dr. Miksa once bemoaned the lack of true theoretical learning in the cataloging world, telling us that one big reason we would never change our systems is because we're no longer training anyone to do it. We're just training everyone in the same traditions, and letting everyone go along thinking that this is the only way to organize information. He mused that when someday a new format comes along that everyone wants and it doesn't fit into any of our organizational schemas, there will be no one to make the leap and conceive of a new system. We've been very resourceful so far, fitting the new formats into our old ways of doing things, by renaming or expanding or just tweaking the same concepts over and over. But it may not always be enough. And I feel as if I (and others, of course) have been led to believe that RDA is supposed to lead to some new, more open era of cataloging. But the more I think about it, the less I believe it.

**(this is not a new idea, by the way...somebody very recently was saying that the reason people don't want RDA is because it will lead to a change in our system requirements, and that change will cost money that people don't want to spend)


Stephen said...

Hi. Feel free to contact me so we can correct the misinformation you've received. It's a shame to have a firm opinion based on false information.
SD does have federated search and has had for many years.
It is integrated into our portal (EPS), SchoolRooms, and beyond as well as with OpenURL resolvers. Hundreds of clients have implemented this and showed this at SuperConference.
SD's Enterprise faceted search is very advanced, completely integrated and our company owns an international patent on it including fuzzy logic searching which goes beyond mere spellcheck.
Also a reading of the release notes for Symphony (at more than 500 pages it is one of the largest releases ever) will clearly show that both Horizon and Unicorn were progenitors to Symphony.
All of these were demonstrated in detail at the SirsiDynix SuperConference in dozens of specific and general sessions since these were the primary messages at the conference.

Scribe said...

All I'm reporting is what another Sirsi customer (namely, my boss) took away from the Superconference. She reported what she saw and heard, and I reported what I heard her say. Thank you for clarifying this, but surely this reflects a problem in communication between the company and the customers if something so basic is being misrepresented.

Anonymous said...

I think one of the bigger issues with SD is their lack of interest in holding onto development and support staff. There has been a huge loss of EPS, SchoolRooms and a large part of the content team. Regardless of what the "outside" marketing says.... I believe the lightbulb is out in the lighthouse.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see it wasn't just the Horizon and Dynix customers who came away from SuperConference with the "wrong" message about the products and their functionality.

I'm sure Enterprise will be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but the version I saw wasn't very advanced ("a pre-alpha prototype" was how it was described by a member of SD staff). Also, Symphony is Unicorn GL3.2 rebranded for marketing purposes -- nothing more, nothing less -- and it's sad to see someone of Mr Abram's standing and reputation trying to spin it otherwise.

Personally, I think it's such a shame that a once innovative company like SirsiDynix is having to play catch up to their rivals. Your boss is sadly correct -- Primo and Encore are much better developed products.

Heck, I'd happily settle for having mere spellchecking in my OPAC!!! Is that too much to ask for in this day and age?

Anonymous said...

Funny how this thread ended up on the wrong post.

Regarding the question "is symphony just Unicorn GL3.2" I took away this from the 2008 SuperConference:

1. Unicorn customers can upgrade to go to Symphony. Horizon/Dynix customers must migrate to go to Symphony. This may seem an obvious statement, but some customers seemed to be learning this for the first time and some seemed to need to hear it face-to-face to feel reassured. SD execs and staff wanted to assure Unicorn customers that they were not needing to migrate to start using the new features in Symphony. Customers already running SD Symphony 3.2 systems confirmed this.

2. Many of the features introduced in 3.2 and 3.2.1 are indeed designed to bring Horizon/Dynix functionality into Symphony. Sorry, I don't know enough about Horizon 8.0 to point to specific enhancements in 3.2 or 3.2.1.

3. Many of the features introduced in future versions of Symphony will also be designed to bring still more Horizon/Dynix functionality into Symphony.

So Unicorn customers have the assurance that things are not changing radically. Horizon/Dynix customers (there were some at the conference) received promises that future development will bring still more features that Horizon/Dynix expected in Horizon 8.0. Of course the proof is in the pudding, especially for Horizon/Dynix customers.

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