Thursday, October 7, 2010

RE: Displaying Work/Expression/Manifestation records

Posting to Autocat

This has turned into a very interesting thread indeed! I will only point out once again that there is the Cooperative Cataloging Rules at, so there is a choice! For many libraries out there, there is no choice since they no longer have a budget that could cover the costs of redoing everything.


On Wed, 6 Oct 2010 16:03:59 -0500, Kevin M. Randall wrote:

>Mac Elrod wrote:

>> Seems to me we are thinking in terms of philosophical categories, not
>> patron needs.
>The philosophy behind FRBR is quite definitely geared toward meeting patron

This idea that FRBR is geared toward meeting patron needs requires serious rethinking. Why do we believe this? I have seen absolutely no evidence for it, but it seems it is just accepted. Are our patrons demanding to find works/expressions/manifestation/items by their authors/titles/subjects? Not my patrons. They want something else. In fact, in the many reports I have read discussing what people want and expect from information today, I have never seen mentioned anything similar to FRBR user tasks.

And yet, the cataloging sector of the library world insists that people want the FRBR user tasks. In examining this, we must first recognize that the library catalog *right now* allows people to do the FRBR user tasks. The current library catalog *right now* allows users to search by varying types of uniform titles, authors, subjects, and to bring together *right now* the works, expressions, manifestations and items, as shown in FRBR. FRBR does not posit *anything new* (except for some possibly useful new attributes, e.g. extent of an expression). FRBR describes in another way exactly the same thing that we do now and have done for a long time. This fact needs to be accepted, understood, and examined.

What FRBR defines as "new" are the *displays*, it posits nothing new in the way of access, and in essence, eliminates the unit card (or unit records). So, if I have 100 different versions of Beowulf in various translations and editions, the user can find all of these right now using traditional catalogs, but in an FRBR world, would not have to look at 100 or so different unit cards, and they will get the FRBR displays, which are almost exactly (if not exactly) the same displays as those found in 19th century printed catalogs.

Once we recognize that FRBR does *not* bring in anything new to the matter, but is a matter of display, and changes nothing in access (aside from eliminating the rule of three, which is only a single rule change that does not need an entirely new cataloging code), other things start to make sense, e.g. typing out abbreviations, or changing "1962-" to "born 1962", which are also matters only of display.

What would be new are the attempts to eliminate ISO2709/MARC21 and to put catalog information in RDF, or any other type of XML format. But this could be done today and you do not need FRBR/RDA to accomplish this.

Research has shown that fewer people are finding the library catalog useful, and are turning to other tools. The scientists left some time ago; the social scientists have been leaving for awhile; and now even the humanities are starting. These problems that people find with our catalogs: are they based on "display"? Or do they lie elsewhere? I ask, does FRBR merely restate the functions of the traditional catalog in late 20th-21st century terminology, or does it offer something new? To me, it is obvious that it offers nothing new. And to be fair, I don't think that FRBR even suggests that it does.

I am not claiming that we give up, or conclude that the records we create are useless. I believe completely the opposite! But we must rethink what we are doing in this new reality (which isn't even so new anymore!), and this can be a terribly daunting path to embark upon.

This is what I am trying to discuss in my podcast series of my "personal journey", by the way. (Apologies for yet another bit of self-promotion. Series at:

Friday, June 25, 2010

Discussion of Cooperative Cataloging Rules

There has been a lively discussion on the listserv NGC4LIB about the future of library services under the topic ALA Session on MODS and MADS: Current implementations and future directions. I have taken the chance to mention the Cooperative cataloging rules and explain them in some more depth.

It's an interesting conversation.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

RE: [RDA-L] Signatory to a treaty

A discussion on the RDA-L list about the new rules concerning how to deal with treaties turned very interesting.

I hate to make lots of copies of my postings, so here is a message I posted today, which is now on my personal blog.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

RDA, Worldcat Policies and so on

There has been a lot of thought-provoking and active comment concerning the draft policy on WorldCat Rights and Responsibilities for the OCLC Cooperative on Autocat and NGC4LIB and I have taken a rather active part. I think this discussion has a lot to do with the very future of librarianship so it is a vital debate.

In a lot of ways, I feel that the Worldcat issue is realted to RDA. Both want to create environments that are primarily closed instead of opening up our data to the world for sharing and innovations. Who knows who is right?

You may wish to follow along and/or join in on Autocat or NGC4LIB.

By the way, I added a link to a tool in the upper-left corner that has come in handy for me: an easy way to keep up on the Latest Library News.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

RDA, AACR2 and a simple, commonsense implementation plan

I sent this posting to Autocat, in response to Alan Danskin, Chair, Joint Steering Committee for Development of RDA
Dear Alan,

Thank you so much for your answers, but the main question still has not been addressed:

You state: "In developing RDA JSC established guiding objectives and principles, including the objective of consistency, which we defined as follows, "The data should be amenable to integration into existing databases (particularly those developed using AACR and related standards)." This consistency helps to control the burden of training and will reduce the impact of implementation on productivity. Future changes are planned to bring RDA closer into alignment with international principles and standards, but it was agreed with constituencies to take a gradual approach rather than making all of the changes at once."

While I understand and sympathize with this sentiment, I still do not see how the adoption of any RDA rule, or collection of rules, that I have seen will change the situation in a more forward looking way. Which rules will do this? Elimination of the rule of three? Changes in the abbreviations? Using "place of publication not identified"? Changing from "Selections" to "Works. Selections."? These look to me like mere changes in procedures that are neither positive nor negative. In fact, in general I do not understand how changing any cataloging rule, i.e. a guideline on input for describing and/or arranging resources for later retrieval, could have that much of an impact on our user communities. Getting rid of the rule of three will most probably have an impact on cataloging productivity, but I doubt if any patrons will even notice it because they don't understand the rule of three in the first place. Certainly they will not notice any other of the current changes, except for the administrators of our budgets who will notice when they decide whether or not to pay to retrain catalogers and rewrite the current local cataloging documentation to refer to the new rules. Plus, the administrators will have to decide whether or not to pay for online subscriptions to RDA *on an ongoing basis*.

On the other hand, sharing our data in accessible formats (i.e. non-MARC) and enabling URI linking to authority records could make a huge difference to our user community. Look what happened already with the CERN library that simply let their catalog records out and within just a couple of days, people were using them in innovative ways. Just think what people could do with our stuff! There are many things that the cataloging community could do right now that would make a difference to our patrons.

"AD: While we all look forward to the day when funding is not under threat, experience suggests it would be a mistake to sit on our hands until it arrives. The underlying business model for resource description is changing and RDA is part of the adjustment libraries are making in response to that change."

This is difficult to answer. If there simply is not enough money, there will be no choice for many libraries. They simply *cannot* adopt RDA even if they want to because the funding does not and will not exist. I personally do not see any advantage in RDA over AACR2 aside from ethereal statements such as: "JSC would contend that this is the most exciting aspect of RDA development. RDA is based on the FRBR and FRAD models with a focus towards the semantic web and its use of linked data. Aligning RDA with these models positions us to benefit from future convergence of the conceptual models for the different sectors within the domain of resource description," which, while I am sure you and the JSC are sincere, such a statement is exceedingly vague and unsatisfying.

I would like to close this by once again emphasizing that I have the greatest respect and appreciation for all the work everyone has done on RDA. I understand it has been a massive undertaking by some of the best minds in cataloging in the world. But at some point, if a person honestly thinks something is seriously wrong, that person has to stand up and say that we are going down the wrong road and therefore we must find another path.

Libraries need a real choice and that is the reason why some concerned librarians have put forward the Cooperative Cataloging Rules to provide an alternative that would promote consistency with current practice as well as providing a forum for continued development. For more information on the initiative, see:

James Weinheimer

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

FW: [NGC4LIB] The future of the academic library

B.G. Sloan wrote:

Barbara Fister writes a nice essay on the future of the academic library:
Bernie Sloan

Thanks for pointing to this excellent article. It's a nice summary about how various people are dealing with a world they see as disintegrating. The main problem is that we are in a moment of transition and it is impossible to know which way choose. These are matters that seem much easier in retrospect, and I'm sure in 30 or 40 years as people reflect on whatever is in store, many will conclude that, "Well, really they had no choice but to do ..." So, people often conclude that Lincoln had no choice, Wilson, Roosevelt, Johnson (just to take U.S. presidents) were all compelled by outside forces to do what they did and had little personal choice. Of course this ignores their reality which in fact, was filled with anguish and doubt.

It seems to me that there are essentially two ways of dealing with major transitional moments like this: the technical, bureaucratic way (or as I prefer to call it, CYA :-), or the dynamic way.

Both ways assume that the future cannot be foretold, so the 1st method wants to avoid eventual blame if something goes wrong (as it most probably will), so you include as many people as you can; you form committees with pro/con papers, debates, maybe even take votes occasionally along the way. This method may take quite literally forever, but it has the undoubted advantage of diffusing any blame when bad decisions are made because no single person, i.e. "nobody" can be found to be at fault.

The other way is much more dynamic. Someone gets an idea and runs with it, fixing problems encountered along the way. Some ways may turn out completely wrong and those involved have to face up to their mistakes, but if they are allowed to admit the problems quickly enough, the mistakes may not be so dire. More importantly, they may find others doing something similar and they can collaborate. Therefore, we have the old idea of "trial and error" which works so long as people have the freedom to make "trials," while "errors" are freely admitted and not punished, or at least not too badly.

One method is not necessarily better than the other--a lot depends on the moment of time you happen to be living in. In peaceful, predictable times when changes are more or less predictable, the first method may be fine and in fact, much better than the second method, which is almost always highly disruptive. But in moments of tremendous change, the first method can lead to extinction.

And now, to bring this back to the topic of "Next Generation Catalogs for Libraries," it is obvious that libraries are prime examples of the first method, while Google represents the second.

I think libraries must begin to freely admit that some things they cherish most are obsolete today. (This appears finally to really be happening now) But once they accept these truths, I believe that libraries, i.e. as a collective endeavor, *can* have a huge advantage over organizations such as Google which, after all, is a company that must show a profit. As a result, Google needs to drive people to Google products in all kinds of innovative ways, but we know that there is much, much more out there than Google products. Google is only one tool for us. As a result, we have far more at our disposal then Google does.

If we to build tools that take what Google has, plus Yahoo, the Internet Archive, Gallica, scanned library materials scattered around, open archives, etc. plus input from academics, and most important, really and genuinely *cooperate* closely with our colleagues from all over the world in the areas of libraries, archives, publishing, open archives, and on and on, broadening and building on our traditional tasks of: selection, description and organization, we could build something genuinely new.

For example, one thing is clear to me: the public (both academic and the general public) desperately wants *selection* and may want it more than description or organization. Just look at the emphasis in Information Literacy classes about "evaluating resources." Instead of putting all the onus on the end users, what can the library community do about it? Well, how about we do "selection?" After all, the public trusts us for books. Then however, multiple questions arise from all over the place: 1) How in the world can we do selection of web materials in any kind of practical way with the resources we have? (Answer: not the old way!) 2) What does selection mean when related to materials on the Internet? 3) Who else can we involve? ...

These are just a few questions which in turn provoke other questions, including those of description and organization. They go on and on. Are there solutions? The *only way* to know if solutions even exist is through trial and error, not by committees and position papers. Google has demonstrated this brilliantly. Choosing this method is provocative by its very nature, yet if (and I hope when) the library field solves these problems, I'll bet we could create something that could really appeal to the public. And the public could respond very positively.

Naturally, there would be lots of mistakes along the way. The dynamic method is exciting, but frightening at the same time.

A few musings.

James Weinheimer
Director of Library and Information Services
The American University of Rome
via Pietro Roselli, 4
00153 Rome, Italy
voice- 011 39 06 58330919 ext. 258
fax-011 39 06 58330992

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

RDA, AACR2 and a simple, common sense implementation plan

Posting to RDA-L concerning the thread RDA, AACR2 and a simple, common sense implementation plan
This has been an interesting thread, especially in light of the Cooperative Cataloging Rules initiative.

To point out once again, the idea of that initiative was to give librarians a real choice, and not only a choice of staying with a dead and never-to-be-updated AACR2, but to ensure those rules can continue after RDA arrives, but even more importantly, each cataloger can become a part of the bigger world of metadata production. Instead of waiting passively for the next set of RIs to issue from the gurus at LC, each cataloger can become an active participant in their creation and evolution.

Does this mean that I think AACR2 is "better" than RDA? No, not necessarily, but I haven't seen the opposite either. The question is beside the point: I just have not seen how RDA will improve the situation for cataloging in any way, except for some vague, theoretical promises involving FRBR tasks, which I question as well. So if there is no improvement, why go through the costs and hassle of implementation?

We are facing some major challenges from Google Books et al. and of course, from our budgets. At the same time, we must deal with the realities of a reading public who use full text keyword searching all the time and are finding the tools we make increasingly strange.

For example, I have discovered that when many people search for an author named "john white" they actually expect to go through zillions of items about the white house, the white pages, perhaps racism (all from "white") on the one side, and then combing through pages about toilets and prostitution (all from "john"), plus the hassle of finding a specific "john white" out of all of that informational goo. Today, this is seen to be just business as usual for many of our users. They have come to expect this level of sheer chaos in their information retrieval and believe there is nothing wrong with it. In some sort of bizarre twist, they think they are very good or expert searchers as well!

Many, if not most of our users, do not even realize that there is an option. Yet, this almost hopeless conclusion presents us with what I think is our greatest opportunity: a lot of what we need to do is to educate people that there is an easier way for them to find things, that is, so long as we are willing to build tools that meet them halfway, which OPACs do not do. Plus, we must shift the focus of our efforts into the directions that our users want: into the digital world. Just because library catalogers want to ignore the world wide web (and they may have good reasons for doing so, since they have so many incoming books, catalog maintenance, backlogs and so on), it does not follow that our users are not using the WWW, but rather they find it incredibly useful, and for their purposes, more useful than our catalogs, and by extension, our libraries themselves. Finding a specific "john white" in the OPAC is all right, but what would excite our users is if they could do the same thing on the WWW.

We ignore the needs of our users to our own peril, because they can ignore us just as easily. When the millions of full-text books in Google Books come online eventually, it will be easier than ever to ignore libraries, and the consequences could be disastrous.

What are the solutions? I can't say that I know them, but one thing I am sure of: it's not with the cataloging rules, to change "s.l." to "n.p." or "no place" or "nowhere" or "unknown." It's not by getting rid of the rule of three, or anything like that. To me, that's like arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. The changes must relate to our outputs, i.e. updating catalog processing, increasing cooperation, and maintaining standards so that we can increase our productivity and efficiency to a point where it is noticeable by everyone. On the other end, now that keyword access has proven itself useful, we need to discover how keyword access has changed the equation: how can it be used together with controlled vocabularies in the best ways?

I don't know what will be the purpose of the local library catalog, or even the local library collection once tools such as Google Books comes out, but I still maintain that the traditional library tasks will become perhaps almost exclusively important: selection, organization, and reference.

James L. Weinheimer