Professional Development

In the 'metadata' Category...

Steve at ALA Annual 2011

Tuesday, July 5, 2011 5:33 pm

I’m a bit late in writing up my report about the 2011 ALA in New Orleans, because I’ve been trying to find the best way to explain a statement that profoundly affected my thinking about cataloging. I heard it at the MARC Formats Interest Group session, which I chaired and moderated. The topic of the session was “Will RDA Be the Death of MARC?” and the speakers were Karen Coyle and Diane Hillmann, two very well-known cataloging experts.

Coyle spoke first, and elaborated a devastating critique of the MARC formats. She argued that MARC is about to collapse due to its own strange construction, and that we cannot redeem MARC, but we can save its data. Coyle argued that MARC was great in its day, it was a very well developed code for books when it was designed. But as other materials formats were added, such as serials, AV materials, etc., additions were piled on top of the initial structure. And as MARC was required to capture more data, the structure of MARC became increasingly elaborate and illogical. Structural limitations to the MARC formats required strange work-arounds, and different aspects of MARC records are governed by different rules (AACR2, the technical requirements of the MARC format itself, the requirements of ILS’s, etc.). The cobbled-together nature of MARC has led to oddities such as the publication dates and language information being recorded in both the (machine readable) fixed fields of the record and in the (human readable) textual fields of the record. Coyle further pointed out the oddity of the 245 title field in the MARC record, which can jumble together various types of data, the title of a work, the language, the general material designation, etc. This data is difficult to parse for machine-processing. Although RDA needs further work, it is inching toward addressing these sorts of problems by allowing for the granular recording of data. However, for RDA to fully capture this granular data, we will need a record format other than MARC. In order to help develop a new post-MARC format, Coyle has begun a research project to break down and analyze MARC fields into their granular components. She began by looking at the 007/008 fields, finding that they have 160 different data elements, with a total of 1,530 different possible values. This data can be used to develop separate identifies for each value, which could be encoded in a MARC-replacement format. Coyle is still working on breaking down all of the MARC fields.

After Karen Coyle, Diane Hillmann of Metadata Management Associates spoke about the developing RDA vocabularies, and it was a statement during her presentation that really struck me. The RDA vocabularies define a set of metadata elements and value vocabularies that can be used by both humans and machines. That is, they provide a link between the way humans think about and read cataloging data and the way computers process cataloging data. The RDA vocabularies can assist in mapping RDA to other vocabularies, including the data vocabularies of record schemas other than the MARC formats. Also, when RDA does not provide enough detailed entity relationships for particular specialized cataloging communities, the RDA vocabularies can be extended to detail more subproperties and relationships. The use of RDA vocabulary extensions means that RDA can grow, and not just from the top-down. The description of highly detailed relationships between bibliographic entities (such as making clear that a short story was adapted as a radio play script) will increase the searching power of our patrons, by allowing data to be linked across records. Hillmann argued that the record has created a tyranny of thinking in cataloging, and that our data should be thought of as statements, not records. That phrase, “our data should be thought of as statements, not records,” struck me as incredibly powerful, and the most succinct version of why we need to eventually move to RDA. It truly was a “wow” moment for me. Near the end of her presentation, Hillmann essentially summed up the thrust of her talk, when she said that we need to expand our ideas of what machines can and should be doing for us in cataloging.

The other session I went to that is really worth sharing with everybody was the RDA Update Forum. Representatives from the Library of Congress and the two other national libraries, as well as the chair of the PCC (Program for Cooperative Cataloging), discussed the results of the RDA test by the national libraries. The national libraries have requested that the PCC (the organization that oversees the RDA code) address a number of problems in the RDA rules over the next eighteen months or so. LC and the other national libraries have decided to put off implementing RDA until January 2013 at the earliest, but all indications were that they plan to adopt RDA eventually. As the PCC works on revising RDA, the national libraries are working to move to a new record format (aka schema or carrier) to replace the MARC formats. They are pursuing a fairly aggressive agenda, intending to, by September 30 of this year, develop a plan with a timeline for transitioning past MARC. The national libraries plan to identify the stakeholders in such a transition, and want to reach out to the semantic web community. They plan for this to be a truly international effort that extends well beyond the library community as it is traditionally defined. They plan to set up communication channels, including a listserv, to share development plans and solicit feedback. They hope to have a new format developed within two years, but the process of migrating their data to the new format will take at least several more years after the format is developed. Needless to say, if the library world is going to move post-MARC format, it will create huge changes. Catalogs and ILS systems will have to be completely re-worked, and that’s just for starters. If some people are uncomfortable with the thought of moving to RDA, the idea of moving away from MARC will be truly unsettling. I for one think it’s an exciting time to be a cataloger.

Leslie at MLA 2010

Sunday, March 28, 2010 8:08 pm

Music librarians are inured to battling winter weather to convene every year during February in some northern clime (during a Chicago snowstorm last year). So it was almost surreal to find ourselves, this year, at an island resort in San Diego in March (beautiful weather, if still a bit on the chilly side). Despite the temptations of the venue, I had a very productive meeting this year.

REFERENCE

In the Southeast Chapter session, it was announced that East Carolina’s music library had scored top place among music libraries participating in a national assessment, sponsored by the Wisconsin-Ohio Reference Evaluation Program (WOREP), of effectiveness in answering reference queries. Initially, the East Carolina staff had misgivings about how onerous the process might be for users, who were asked to fill out a one-page questionnaire. As it turned out, students, when informed that it was part of a national project, typically responded “Cool!” and readily participated. The only refusals were from users who had to rush to their next class.

INSTRUCTION

A panel presentation titled “Weaving the Web: Best Practices for Online Content” resulted in a case of what might be termed the Wake Forest Syndrome: walking into a conference session only to find that we’re already “doing that” at WFU. It was largely about music librarians implementing LibGuides. One item of interest was a usability study conducted by one school of their LibGuides. Its findings:

Users tend to miss the tabs at the top. One solution that was tried was to replicate the tabs as links in the homepage “welcome” box.

Users prefer concise bulleted lists of resources over lengthy descriptions.

Students tend to feel overwhelmed by long lists of resources; they want the top 3-4 resources to start with, then to see others as needed.

Users were confused by links that put them into other LibGuides without explanation.

Students had trouble identifying relevant subject-specific guides when these were offered in a comprehensive list display.

One attendee voiced concern over an apparent conflict of objectives between LibGuides that aim to transmit research skills (i.e., teaching students how to locate resources on their own) and course-specific LibGuides (listing specific resources). Is the latter spoon-feeding?

COLLECTION DEVELOPMENT

A panel presentation on scores approval plans gave me some useful tips, as I’m planning to set one up next fiscal year.

In another panel on collecting ethnic music, Liza Vick of Harvard supplied a gratifying number of acquisition sources that I didn’t know about (in case other liaisons are interested in these, Liza’s presentation, among others, will be posted on the MLA website: http://www.musiclibraryassoc.org). The session also produced an interesting discussion about the objectives of collecting ethnographic materials in the present era. Historically, libraries collected field notes and recordings done by (mostly European) ethnographers of (mostly non-Western) peoples, premised on producing the most “objective” or “authentic” documentation. The spread of technology in recent years has resulted in new situations: “sampler” recordings produced by the former “subjects” with the aim of representing their culture to a general public (once dismissed by academics, these now benefit from a new philosophy that views the ways people choose to represent themselves as worthy of serious attention); in the last twenty years or so, a new genre of “world” music has appeared, fusing elements of historical musical traditions with modern pop styles; and of course the former “subjects” are now documenting their own cultures in venues like YouTube. As a result, there is a movement on the part of ethnographers and librarians away from trying to define authenticity, and towards simply observing the ongoing discourse between traditional and modern communities.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Lynn has remarked on the need to reduce the percentage of our collections devoted to print bibliographic tools where the online environment now offers equivalent or superior discovery methods. In an MLA session that seemed to constitute a demonstration of this very principle, musicologist Hugh McDonald talked about his work in progress on a born-digital thematic catalog of the works of Bizet. Thematic catalogs have a long and venerable history in print, as definitive sources for the identification and primary source materials of a given composer’s works. They typically provide a numbering system for the works, with incipits (the musical notation for the principle themes) as an additional aid to identification, and cite manuscript materials and early editions. When freed of the space restrictions of print, McDonald envisions these catalogs as “theoretically” (i.e., when copyright issues have been ironed out) capable of documenting not just early editions but all editions ever published; not just the premiere performance, but all performances to date; not just incipits but full-text access to scores, recordings, reviews, and correspondence – compiled and updated collaboratively by many hands, in contrast to the famous catalogers of Mozart and Beethoven, who labored alone and whose catalogs are now “seriously out of date.” There are already many websites devoted to individual composers, but none, McDonald claims, presently approaches the kind of comprehensive compendium that might be realized based on the thematic catalog concept. One attendee, voicing a concern about the preservation of information in the online environment that is certainly not new and not unique to music, wanted to know if edits would be tracked and archived, noting that many librarians retain older print editions on their shelves for the light they cast on reception history and on the state of scholarship at a given time.

HOT TOPICS

Arriving late for the “Hot Topics” session, I walked into the middle of a lively debate on the comparative benefits of having a separate music library in the music department vs. housing the music collection in the main library. Those who headed departmental music libraries argued passionately for the special needs of performing musicians, and a librarian onsite who speaks their language. Those who work as generalists in main libraries pointed to music’s role in the arts and humanities as a whole, and in the increasingly interdisciplinary milieu of today’s academe. In terms of administrative clout, a sense of isolation has always been endemic to departmental libraries: one attendee who “survived” a move of her music collection from the music department to the main library reported that she now enjoys unprecedented access to administration, more effective communication with circulation and technical services staff regarding music materials, and daily contact with colleagues in other disciplines that has opened opportunities she would not have had otherwise.

Another hot topic was “MLA 2.0″: in response to dwindling travel budgets, a proposal was made to ask conference speakers to replay their presentations in Second Life.

CATALOGING

There were presentations on RDA and FRBR, two new cataloging standards, and I got to see some helpful examples for music materials, and well as a report on “deferred issues” that MLA continues to negotiate with the steering committee of RDA (these involve uniform titles and preferred access points; lack of alternative options for the principle source of information – problematic when you have a CD album without a collective title on the disc, but one on the container; definitions and treatment of arrangements and adaptations; and LC genre/form terms for music – which to use anglicized names for, and when to use the original language).

Indiana U, in their upcoming release of Variations, a program they’ve developed for digitizing scores and recordings collections, is “FRBRizing” their metadata. Unlike other early adopters of FRBR, they plan to make their metadata structure openly accessible, so that the rest of us can actually go in and see how they did it – this promises to be an invaluable aid to music catalogers as they transition to the new standard.

Another presenter observed that both traditional cataloging methods and the new RDA/FRBR schema are centered on the concept of “the work” – an entity with a distinct title and a known creator. Unfortunately, when faced with field recordings (and doubtless other ethnographic or other-than-traditionally-academic materials), a cataloger encounters difficulty proceeding on this premise. Does one take a collection-level approach (as archivists do with collections of papers) and treat the recording as “the work,” with the ethnographer as the creator? Or does one consider “the work” to be each of the often untitled or variously titled, often anonymously or collaboratively created performances captured on the recording? Music materials seem to span both sides of the paradigmatic divide, with Western classical repertoire that requires work-centered descriptors of a very precise and specialized nature (opus numbers, key, etc.) and multi-cultural research that challenges traditional modes of description and access.

Finally, I’ve got to share a witty comment made by Ed Jones of National University, who gave the introductory overview of FRBR. Describing how FRBR is designed to reflect the creative process – the multiple versions of a work from first draft through its publication history, to adaptations by others – he noted how the cataloger’s art, working from the other end, is more analogous to forensics: “We get the body, and have to figure out what happened.”

EAD Workshop in New Orleans

Monday, March 1, 2010 12:00 pm

Last Thursday and Friday, I participated in a workshop on Encoded Archival Description from the Society of American Archivists. Kris Kiesling from the University of Minnesota and Michael Fox from the Minnesota Historical Society are two of the founding developers of EAD and have been teaching this workshop for years.

Welcome to Tulane

After a thorough review of SGML/XML and the EAD standard, we practiced encoding a sample finding aid using the EAD tag library (which is available online) with the oXygen XML editor. We were able to ask lots of questions about the EAD DTD structure, including elements and their attributes. Because we use Archivists’ Toolkit at WFU, we can easily export EAD files (and MARC and container labels and more) instead of encoding them by hand or using a template.

Perhaps the most useful part of the workshop was our discussion of implementation issues for EAD, which included an exploration of publishing methods and stylesheets. In order for all of Special Collections and University Archives’ finding aids to appear online, we need a functional (and hopefully visually appealing) stylesheet. Right now we’re using one from the NC EAD working group and we’re working on making it work better with our EAD files. A stylesheet can make our finding aids more interactive, linked to other pages and digital objects, and show the finding aid in multiple formats (like PDF and printer-friendly).

Another cool thing: we talked about embedding digital objects into EAD, which I think is a great way to liven up text-driven finding aids. Maybe we can have a representative object/icon for each finding aid, and connect finding aids to our digital collections like ECU and other repositories are doing.

At the end of the day on Friday, we got the opportunity to encode one of our own finding aids. The workshop helped me gain a better idea of how to read and fix EAD, so we can put more finding aids out there!

Success!

Saturday at ALA with Carolyn

Wednesday, July 15, 2009 11:13 pm

On Saturday, I attended “Workflow Tools for Automating Metadata Creation and Maintenance” which was a panel discussion comprised of individuals who work on digital projects at their institutions.

Much of the talk was highly technical and I didn’t quite understand everything, but one of the most interesting projects discussed was by Brown University’s Ann Caldwell, Metadata Coordinator for the Center of Digital Initiatives, who spoke about their recent project in assisting the Engineering Department with its upcoming accreditation. Engineering professors wanted to digitize materials such as syllabi and assignments so that the accreditation team could have them in advance of their visit. The Center created an easy way for professors to put stuff into the repository by creating a very simple MODS (Metadata Object Description Schema) record form with required fields to fill in (e.g. date, title, genre) and providing an easy way for individuals to upload files (i.e. digital objects). Faculty decide how they want to set up folders for their stuff; they can dump everything in one folder or create multiple folders down to the micro-level. Faculty also determine who and what individuals can see. Because of the enormous amount of material being brought in to be digitized, the Center developed a tracking system. Due to the success of this project, the Engineering Department will continue digitizing their materials for future accreditations, and Ms. Caldwell indicated other departments were interested in doing the same.

In regards to metadata creation workflow, consistency, automation, streamlining and true interoperability between systems are of utmost importance. With the help of metadata tools, librarians can do their jobs better and more efficiently. Smart systems are possible and necessary. We need to pay attention to user interface design for cataloging tools because it is critical to the success of our data.

Next, I attended a four hour panel discussion titled “Look Before You Leap: Taking RDA for a Test-Drive.” Again, a highly technical presentation. RDA is the acronym for “resource description and access” and is a new cataloging tool to be utilized for the description of all types of resources and content. It is compatible with established principles, models, and standards and is adaptable to the needs of a wide range of resource description communities (i.e. museums, libraries, etc.) Tom Delsey began the session by comparing and contrasting AACR2 and RDA. Nanette Naught followed by previewing the RDA Toolkit which is currently in the alpha testing stage. Sally McCallum of the Library of Congress spoke on new fields developed for the MARC record in conjunction with RDA. John Espley, Director of Design at VTLS, gave attendees a preview of what an RDA record would like like in the ILS he represents. His presentation finally shed some light for me as to how an RDA cataloging record would appear in an online catalog. National Library of Medicine’s Barbara Bushman described the upcoming testing of RDA at 23 select institutions. The testing will occur in OCLC Connexion as well as in various ILS. Voyager being one. Once the RDA Online software is released sometime in November or December 2009, a preparation period which includes training for the testing institutions will occur in the months of January-March 2010. Formal testing will commence in April-June, followed in July-September with a formal assessment. October 2010 a final report will be shared with the U.S. library community.

If and when RDA is approved for use, training for catalogers will be the next step. Knowledge and training about RDA for all library staff will need to take place as well. People on the front lines working with patrons in catalog instruction will need to know the differences between a specific work and its possible multiple manifestations (work and manifestation being FRBR terminology).

For more information, one can visit the RDA web site.

Needless to say, after this session ended, I was ready to head back to my hotel for some rest. I will post more information on the rest of my conference experiences on Friday.

Leslie at MLA 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009 7:59 pm

I’m back from this year’s annual conference of the Music Library Association, held in Chicago (during a snowstorm) Feb. 17-21. This year I also attended the pre-conference hosted by MOUG (Music OCLC Users Group). Some highlights:

Sound Recordings and Copyright

Tim Brooks of the Association of Recorded Sound Collections described the ARSC’s work lobbying Congress to reform US copyright law on pre-1972 sound recordings. These recordings are not covered by federal law, but are often governed by state law, which tends to give copyright holders, in Tim’s words, “absolute control.” Tim cited some startling statistics: of all recordings made in the 1940s-70s, only 30% have been made available by the copyright holders; of recordings made in the 1920s-30s, only 10% are available; and of the enormous corpus of ethnic and traditional music from all over the world that was recorded by Columbia and Victor in the early years of the 20th century, only 1% is available. Because US copyright law for sound recordings is the most restrictive in the world, early recordings of American artists are currently legally available in other countries but not in the US — which means that American libraries and archives are unable to preserve this portion of our own heritage.

In response, the ARSC has made the following reccomendations:

  • Place pre-1972 recordings under a single federal law.
  • Harmonize US copyright law with that of other countries.
  • Legalize use of “orphaned” works (whose copyright holders cannot be identified).
  • Permit use of “abandoned” works, with compensation to the copyright holders.
  • Permit “best practices” digitization for preservation. Libraries and archives are the most likely to preserve early recordings (they have a better track record on this than the recording companies themselves) and the least likely to re-issue recordings (so they’re no financial threat to copyright holders).

Of ARSC’s experiences lobbying Congress members, Tim reports that many were simply unaware of the situation, but were sympathetic when informed; that libraries are seen as non-partisan and a public good, “the guys in the white hats”; and that there is now much “soft” support in Congress. Other ARSC activities include a “white paper” for the Obama administration, and the establishment of an organization called the Historical Recording Coalition for Access and Preservation (HRCAP) to further lobbying efforts.

In another copyright session, attendees and speakers offered some good tips for approaching your legal counsel re digitization projects:

  • Present your own credentials (copyright workshops you’ve attended, etc.) pertaining to libraries and copyright.
  • Cite specific passages of the law (section 108, 110, etc.)
  • Show you’ve done due diligence (e.g., you’ve replaced LPs with CD re-issues where available; you’ve determined other LPs are in deteriorating condition, etc.)
  • Try to persuade counsel to adopt a “risk assessment” approach (i.e., just how likely is it that a copyright holder will challenge you in this case) versus the more typical “most conservative” approach.
  • File a “contemporaneous writing” — a memo or other document, written at the outset of a digitization project, in which you explain why you believe that you are acting in good faith. This will go a long way towards protecting you if you are in fact challenged by a copyright holder.

Is the Compact Disc Dead?

This was the question addressed by a very interesting panel of speakers, including a VP of Digital Product Strategy at Universal Music Group; the CEO of the Cedille recording label; a concert violinst (Rachel Barton Pine); a former president of the American Symphony Orchestra League; and a music librarian at Northwestern U.

The panel quickly cited a number of reasons to believe that the CD remains a viable format: among these, the universal human desire to own a physical artifact “to give and to show”; the ability to listen on room speakers, not just earbuds; violinst Pine noted that she sells and autographs some 40-70 of her CDs after each performance, that people enjoy the personal contact with the artist, and relish being able to take home a souvenir of the concert. Flaws of downloadable releases were cited in comparison: garbled indexing, making identifying and retrieving of classical works difficult; frequent lack of program notes to provide historical context; the inferior audio quality of compressed files. Changes in student behavior were also noted: in online databases, students tend to retrieve only selected works, or excerpts of works; there doesn’t seem to be the inherent incentive to browse like that offered by physical albums, with the result that students don’t develop as much in-depth knowledge of a composer’s works. On the other hand, the reduced cost of digital distribution has enabled smaller orchestras and other groups to reach a larger audience.

Concern was expressed over an increasing trend among major labels to release performances only in the form of downloadable files, often with a license restricted to “end user only” — preventing libraries from purchasing and making available these performances to their users. The panel proposed that performers and IAML (the International Association of Music Libraries) put pressure on the record companies. Alternative approaches? CDs-on-demand: Cedille’s boss sees this as a growing trend. Also, consortial deals with individual record companies: OhioLink has recently done one with Naxos.

Finally, a concern was expressed about the aggregator model of audio-steaming databases: that these hamper libraries’ responsiveness to local user needs, and the building of the unique collections important for research. The music library community needs to negotiate for distribution models that enable individual selection for traditional collection development.

How Music Libraries are Using New Technologies

  • Videos demonstrating specific resources, such as composers’ thematic catalogs (similar to Lauren’s Research Toolkits).
  • “Un-associations,” in informal online forums like Yahoo or Google groups. There are currently groups for orchestra libraries, flutists, etc.
  • Use of Delicious to create user guides.
  • Meebo for virtual ref.
  • Twitter for virtual ref and for announcements/updates.
  • Widgets and gadgets to embed customized searches, other libraries’ searchboxes, and other web content into LibGuides, etc.
  • ChaCha (a cellphone question-answering service) for virtual ref. Indiana U is partnering with ChaCha in a beta test.

JSTOR

A JSTOR rep presented palns to add 20 more music journals to the database, including more area-studies and foreign-language titles. Attendees pointed out that popular music serials (Downbeat, Rolling Stone, etc.) are becoming primary source material for scholarly research — would JSTOR consider including them? The rep replied that JSTOR originally required that journals be peer-reviewed, but had recently begun to relax this rule. A dabate ensued among attendees as to whether the pop publications were sufficiently relevant to JSTOR’s mission — some believed that JSTOR should stick to its original focus on scholarly literature, and that others could preserve the pop stuff.

Bibliographic Control and the LC Working Group (or: Music Catalogers Freak Out)

The MOUG plenary session gave catalogers a forum to discuss ramifications of the LC Working Group’s recommendations on bibliographic control (see my blog posting for RTSS 08). Concerns expressed:

If collaboration is properly defined as “doing something together for a purpose,” then the disparate (and sometimes opposing) purposes of publishers, vendors, and libraries means that LC’s vision of collective responsibility for metadata and bibliographic control will not constitute true collaboration, but merely exploitation.

The Working Group appears to some to harbor a naive faith in digital architecture to meet all discovery and retrieval needs (it reminded one attendee of predictions that microform would solve all our problems). This is perceived to cultivate a gobal, generalist, one-size-fits-all outlook divorced from existing patterns of scholarly communication and “communities of practice” (e.g., the subject specialist and the community of practitioners that he/she serves). Bibliographic control should be “a network of communication between communities of practice.” An MLA liaison to ALA’s RDA committee noted that the RDA folks expected local catalogers to help fill in the gaps in the currently-vague RDA code — but when specialist communities actually propose details (such as a list of genre terms for music), they’re “dissed.”

Others fear that if LC backs away from its historical role as national library, relying on the larger community of publishers, vendors, and libraries to collaborate in bibliographic control, the actual effect will be that library administrators will think: “If LC isn’t doing this work, then we don’t have to either” — and collaboration will disappear.

Yet others fear the “commodification of cataloging.” With the increasing availability of MARC records and other metadata from third-party sources, there seems to be a growing perception that all metadata is the same — and a concommitant decline in willingness to investigate its source and quality. Administrators increasingly speak of metadata as a commodity.

Remember Katrina?

I’ll close with an item from the business meeting of SEMLA (the Southeast chapter) which was a cause of great celebration: our colleagues from Tulane University in New Orleans, whose music collection was flooded in Hurricane Katrina, announced that 70% of their collection has successfully been restored, and the last portion of it recently returned to them. They brought along a few representative items for show and tell — including a score died pink by its red paper covers. Recalling photos of the original damage, a 70% recovery rate seems a miracle!

NCLA RTSS Spring Workshop

Monday, May 26, 2008 3:56 pm

RTSS 2008 – The Future of Bibliographic Control

At NCLA’s Resources & Technical Services Section’s Spring workshop, held this year on May 22 in Raleigh, the keynote speaker was Jose-Marie Griffiths, Dean of the Library School at Chapel Hill, and also a member of a working group charged by the Library of Congress to:

(1) Explore how bibliographic control (formerly known as cataloging, also including related activities) can support access to library materials in the web environment;

(2) Advise the Library of Congress on its future roles and priorities.

The group published its report, titled “The Future of Bibliographic Control”, in January of this year. It’s available on LC’s website: http://www.loc.gov/bibliographic-future/

Concerning the web environment, Giffiths began by noting that many users nowadays turn first to Google or some other web browser for their information needs; that despite the number of web-based library catalogs, there are still many separate library databases that are not accessible by a web search; that, due to the web’s worldwide reach, our users are increasingly diverse, using multiple venues (vendors, databases, social networking, etc); also, that bibliographic data now comes from increasingly diverse sources via the web; and that, as a result, bibliographic control must be thought of as “dynamic, not static”, and that the “bibliographic universe,” traditionally controlled by libraries, will in future involve “a vast field of players” (including vendors, publishers, users, even authors/creators themselves).

As for LC’s role, the report reminds us that LC’s official mandate is to support the work of Congress. It has never been given any official mandate — and most importantly, the funding — to be a national library, providing the kinds of services (cataloging, authority control, standards) for the nation’s other libraries that national libraries typically do. Of course, over the years LC has become a de facto national library, providing all the above services, upon which not only American libraries but libraries worldwide rely heavily. As this unfunded mandate is rapidly becoming unsustainable, pressures are building to “identify areas where LC is no longer the sole provider” and create partnerships to distribute the responsibility for creating and maintaining bibliographic data more widely (among other libraries, vendors, publishers, etc.); also, to review current LC services to other libraries with an eye to economic viability, or “return on investment.”

To achieve these aims (exploiting the web environment, and sharing responsibility), the working group offers 5 recommendations:

(1) Increase efficiency in producing and maintaining bibliographic data. Griffiths noted that duplicated effort persists not so much in creating bib records nowadays (thanks to OCLC and other shared databases), but in the subsequent editing and maintaining of these records: many libraries do these tasks individually offline. Proposed solutions: recruit more libraries into the CCP (Cooperative Cataloging Program, those other large research libraries that contribute LC-quality records to OCLC). Convince OCLC to authorize more libraries to upgrade master records (the ones we see when we search) in the OCLC database. Also, exploit data from further upstream: Publishers and vendors create bib data before libraries do. Find more ways to import vendor data directly into library systems, without library catalogers having to re-transcribe it all. (This may cause some of us who’ve seen certain vendor records in OCLC to blanch; however, the Working Group’s report adds: “Demonstrate to publishers the business advantages of supplying complete and accurate metadata”[!]). Similarly, recruit authors, publishers, abstracting-and-indexing services, and other communities that have an interest in more precisely identifying the people, places, and things in their files, to collaborate in authority control. Team up with other national libraries to internationalize authority records.

(2/3) Position our technology, and the library community, for the (web-based) future. We need to “integrate library standards into the web environment.” Proposed solutions: Ditch the 40-year-old MARC format (only libraries use it), and develop a “more flexible, extensible metadata carrier [format]“, featuring “standard” “non-language-specific” “data identifiers” (tags, etc.) which would allow libraries’ bib data to happily roam the World Wide Web, and in turn enable libraries to import data from other web-based sources. Relax standards like ISBD (the punctuation traditionally used in library bib records) to further sharing of data from diverse sources. “Consistency of description within any single environment, such as the library catalog, is becoming less significant than the ability to make connections between environments, from Amazon to WorldCat to Google to PubMed to Wikipedia, with library holdings serving as but one node in this web of connectivity.” Incorporate user-contributed data (like we see in Amazon, LibraryThing, etc.) that helps users evaluate library resources. Take all those lists buried in library-standards documentation – language codes, geographical codes, format designators (GMDs), etc. – and put those out on the web for the rest of the world to use. Break up those long strings of carefully-coordinated subdivisions in LC subject headings (“Work — Social aspects — United States — History — 19th century”) so they’ll work in faceted systems (like NC State’s Endeca) that allow users to mix-and-match subdivisions on their own. (This is already generating howls of protests from the cataloging community, with counter-arguments that the pre-coordinated strings provide a logical overview of the topic — including those aspects the user didn’t think of on their own.) The Working Group supports development of FRBR (Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records, a proposed digital-friendly standard), but like many in the library community, remains skeptical of RDA (Resource Description and Access, another proposed standard meant to bring the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules into the digital age) until a better business case can be made for it: “The financial implications … of RDA adoption … may prove considerable. Meanwhile, the promised benefits of RDA — such as better accommodation of electronic materials, easier navigation, and more straightforward application — have not been discernible in the drafts seen to date…. Indeed, many of the arguments received by the Working Group for continuing RDA development unabated took the form of ‘We’ve gone too far to stop’ or ‘That horse has already left the barn,’ while very few asserted either improvements that RDA may bring or our need for it.”

(4) Strengthen the profession. Griffiths noted that in many areas we lack the comprehensive data we need for decision-making and for cost-benefit analysis. We need to build an evidence base, and “work to develop a stonger and more rigorous culture of formal evaluation, critique, and validation.”

(5) Finally, with the efficiencies gained from the above steps, LC and other libraries will be able to devote more resources to cataloging and digitizing their rare and unique materials. The Working Group feels that enhancing access to more of these “hidden materials” should be a priority.

Griffiths shared with us LC’s immediate reactions to the Working Group’s report. The concepts of shared responsibility, and of accepting data from multiple sources, were “expected.” More controversial were the shifting of priorities to rare materials; the relinquishing of the MARC format; and the focus on return-for-investment in assessing standards, such as RDA.

LC’s final decisions regarding the Working Group’s recommendations are expected to be announced this summer.

Carolyn at NISO Forum on Next Generation Discovery: New Tools, Aging Standards

Monday, March 31, 2008 10:15 am

On March 27-28, 2008, I attended NISO’s 2-day forum on Next Generation Discovery: New Tools, Aging Standards in Chapel Hill. Todd Carpenter, NISO’s Managing Director, began the conference by referencing discovery as being one of the primary reasons people visit libraries either in person or virtually and, that the standards and systems that are currently in use at many libraries are beginning to fray. Libraries are not keeping up with advancing technologies. Out of this meeting, he hopes ideas will come to the forefront in areas of standards and development that NISO needs to address.

I took notes fast and furious so as not to miss anything. Here are some of my interpretations of highlights from Day 1 talks. I hope that they are accurate reflections of what was said. Any misinterpretation is this writer’s fault.

The keynote speaker, Richard Akerman, Technology Architect and Information Systems Security Officer of NRC CISTI, began his speech with the example of SkyNet, a term from science fiction used in the Terminator movies. Terminator fans will remember that the machine (i.e. Terminator) was cold and heartless and employed a hostile user interface. Akerman went on to say that exploring ways of getting machines to function in manners that users want is vital. Machines are not meeting all users’ expectations, and that Google crawlers have shaped all discovery expectations of users today.

How can we as humans better serve the machines our users utilize? Because machines don’t speak our language or have a deep contextual knowledge, humans need to be knowledge translators for the machines so as to enable machines to bring greater discovery to users. Some suggestions he offered included:

  1. Produce information in formats that machines can easily understand, and in parallel formats that are human readable.
  2. For every web resource and its machine reader,the number of formats should be kept simple so as to enable interchange easily.
  3. Bibliographic metadata should be a first class citizen by using OpenURL and COinS. Embedding metadata in webpages can provide bibliographic services around that metadata. Functionality to users can be added by using embedded knowledge.

Humans are seeking rich information experiences, and the general OPAC is not a discovery interface. A discovery layer needs to be built over the catalog’s metadata using APIs, and the catalog should work in ways that the Google generation understands. It should go to wherever your user is (example: a Wake Forest student user is searching Amazon for a book while drinking coffee at Starbucks, a box pops up and alerts the user that the book is available at the library) and able to work at web speed. Embedded knowledge can be enriched by using XML, RDF, RSS, GeoRSS, microformats, aggregators, and recommender APIs. An interesting example of a discovery tool developed by MIT’s SIMILE project is its Timeline component. Timeline is described by MIT’s SIMILE website as a “widget for visualizing time-based events.”

Akerman stated that instead of having too much information, he feels there is too much information poverty. We need to continuously search for and find ways to provide information to users everywhere. There is much information that is not getting indexed and is therefore inaccessible to people. We must tap the knowledge of people all over the world and provide information access to all.

In another talk, Mike Teets, VP of OCLC Global Product Architecture, demonstrated new discovery tools that OCLC is currently providing and those that are in development for users. Three tools that I found most interesting were xISBN, xISSN and Identities. xISBN is a service that consolidates ISBNs of a specific title into a list. It is driven off of FRBR algorithms. OCLC is still testing its xISSN service, which will bring together a graphical representation of the history and relationships of specific serial titles’ ISSNs. Identities provides information about authors and utilizes publication timelines (books by and about an author), audience level indicators (this number is computed by what institutions hold a specific author’s work(s)), and relationships to other authors and/or organizations. You can try Identities by searching for a title in WorldCat, click on the details tab and then click on the author’s name or you can go directly to worldcat.org/identities.

Other interesting discovery tools presented were 2collab and Scitopia.org. 2collab is an Elsevier produced free collaboration tool for researchers and scientists. Information can be shared with peers by creating groups. Users can add tags, bookmarks, ratings, comments, as well as, display one’s current research activity and interests and groups in which one is a member, and highlight one’s scientific record of publications. Privacy is of utmost importance to scientific researchers. Only members within a private group can share and access each other’s information. Group owners can accept or decline membership into a group. ScienceDirect has an “add to 2collab” button that allows users to transfer metadata about pertinent articles to their profiles and they are able to share this information with their groups. IEEE has developed a web service, Scitopia.org, which is a free federated search service of 18 not-for-profit science and technical libraries. It is open to the general public, but is designed primarily for researchers. Partners pay a contribution fee to help fund the service. Subscribers to the partner libraries and members of partner societies are able to view full text included in their subscriptions or memberships; other users have a pay-per-view option.

All conference talks were recorded and the presentation slides are to be posted shortly to the NISO website on the Discovery Tools agenda webpage. For more in depth information, check out NISO’s website. Day two reflections will appear later this week.


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