Professional Development

Steve at ALA Midwinter 2013

Friday, February 8, 2013 2:10 pm

Although my trip to Seattle for the ALA Midwinter Conference had a rough start (flight delayed due to weather, nearly missed a connecting flight, my luggage didn’t arrive until a day later), I had a really good, productive experience. This Midwinter was heavy on committee work for me, and I was very focused on RDA, authority control and linked data. If you want a simple takeaway from this post, it’s that RDA, authority control and linked data are all tightly bound together and are important for the future of the catalog. If you want more detail, keep reading.
My biggest commitment at the conference was participating in two long meetings (over four hours on Saturday afternoon and three hours on Monday morning) of CC:DA (Cataloging Committee: Description and Access). I’m one of nine voting members of CC:DA, which is the committee responsible for developing ALA’s position on RDA. The final authority for making changes and additions to RDA is the JSC (Joint Steering Committee), which has representation from a number of cataloging constituencies, including ALA, the national library organizations of Canada, the UK, and Australia, as well as other organizations. ALA’s position on proposals brought to the JSC is voted on by CC:DA. Membership on this committee involves reading and evaluating a large number of proposals from a range of library constituencies. Much of the work of the committee has so far involved reviewing proposals regarding how to form headings in bibliographic records, which is, essentially, authority control work. We’ve also worked on proposals to make the rules consistent throughout RDA, to clarify the wording of rules, and to make sure that the rules fit with the basic principles of RDA. It has been fascinating to see how interconnected the various cataloging communities are, and how they relate to ALA and CC:DA. As I said, I am one of nine voting members of the committee, but there are about two dozen non-voting representatives from a variety of committees and organizations, including the Music Library Association, the Program for Cooperative Cataloging, and the Continuing Resources Cataloging Committee of ALCTS.
During our Monday meeting, we saw a presentation by Deborah Fritz of the company MARC of Quality of a visualization tool called RIMMF, RDA In Many Metadata Formats. RIMMF shows how bibliographic data might be displayed when RDA is fully implemented. The tool is designed to take RDA data out of MARC, because it is hard to think of how data might relate in RDA without the restrictions of MARC. RIMMF shows how the FRBR concepts of work, expression and manifestation (which are part of RDA) might be displayed by a public catalog interface. It’s still somewhat crude, but it gave me a clearer idea of the kinds of displays we might develop, as well as a better grasp on the eventual benefits to the user that will come from all our hard work of converting the cataloging world to RDA. RIMMF is free to download and we’re planning to play around with it some here in Resource Services.
I also attended my first meeting of another committee of which I am a member, the Continuing Resources Cataloging Committee of the Continuing Resources Section of ALCTS). Continuing resources include serials and web pages, so CRS is the successor to the old Serials Section. We discussed the program that we had arranged for that afternoon on the possibilities of using linked data to record serial holdings. Unfortunately, I had to miss the program due to another meeting, but I’m looking forward to seeing the recording. We also brainstormed ideas for our program at Annual in Chicago, and the committee’s representative to the PCC Standing Committee on Training gave us an update on RDA training initiatives.
The most interesting other meeting that I attended was the Bibframe Update Forum. Bibframe is the name for an initiative to try to develop a data exchange format to replace the MARC format(s). The Bibframe initiative hopes to develop a format that can make library data into linked data, that is, data that can be exchanged on the semantic web. Eric Miller, from the company Zepheira (which is one of the players in the development of Bibframe), explained that the semantic web is about linking data, not just documents (as a metaphor, think about old PDF files that could not be searched, but were flat documents. The only unit you could search for was the entire document, not the meaningful pieces of content in the document). The idea is to create recombinant data, that is, small blocks of data that can be linked together. The basic architecture of the old web leaned toward linking various full documents, rather than breaking down the statements into meaningful units that could be related to each other. The semantic web emphasizes the relationships between pieces of data. Bibframe hopes to make it possible to record the relationships between pieces of data in bibliographic records and to expose library data on the Web and make it sharable. At the forum, Beacher Wiggins told the audience about the six institutions who are experimenting with the earliest version of Bibframe, which are the British Library, the German National Library, George Washington University, the National Library of Medicine, OCLC, and Princeton University. Reinhold Heuvelmann of the German National Library said that the model is defined on a high level, but that it needs to have more detail developed to allow for recording more granular data, which is absolutely necessary for fully recording the data required by RDA. Ted Fons of OCLC spoke of how Bibframe is an attempt to develop a format that can carry the data libraries need and to allow for library data to interact with each other and the wider web. Fons said that Bibframe data has identifiers that are URIs which can be web accessible. He also said that Bibframe renders bibliographic data as statements that are related to each other, rather than as self-contained records, as with MARC. Bibframe breaks free of the constraints of MARC, which basically rendered data as catalog cards in electronic format. Bibframe is still going through quite a bit of development, but it is moving quickly. Sally McCallum of the MARC Standards Office said that they hope to finalize aspects of the Bibframe framework by 2014, but acknowledged that, “The change is colossal and the unexpected will happen.”
Actually, I think that’s a good way to summarize my thoughts on the current state of the cataloging world after attending this year’s Midwinter, “The change is colossal and the unexpected will happen.”


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