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

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