James Weinheimer | 7 Jul 12:05 2011
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Library data: why bother? by Eric Hellman

I recently read Jeffrey Beall's review of Eric Hellman's talk, "Library 
data: why bother?" that he gave at ALA 
http://metadata.posterous.com/review-of-eric-hellmans-talk-at-ala-annual-20 
and I finally managed to find the actual slides of so that I can get my 
own impression of his controversial talk. The slides are at: 
http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fbit.ly%2FipVVoH&h=4AQDVSolC. I 
suggest people look at these slides as a good example of how catalogs 
are viewed by many highly influential "information experts".

Jeffrey Beall did not like the talk, "Hellman's talk was among the most 
arrogant and flippant I had ever attended at an ALA conference. His talk 
was supposed to be about linked data, but he exploited his position as 
speaker to unwarrantedly trash libraries, library standards, and 
librarians." I sympathize with his anger, but I think it is vital today 
to accept that many non-librarians--and even librarians--share Eric 
Hellman's conclusion that the library and its catalogs are becoming 
obsolete, if they have not already been obsolete for some time. Lots of 
people agree with Hellman that the replacement is/will be full-text 
searching and they put their faith in SEO, that is, "Search Engine 
Optimization". Especially in today's economic climate, there is a lot of 
pressure on administrators to reconsider everything that their 
organization is doing to maximize their options and if someone could 
convince administrators that they had a "magic machine" some, if not 
many, would snap at it.

I think Hellman brings up a point that is highly important where he 
says: "We don't need surrogates", which I take to mean that we do not 
need separate catalog records. Although he doesn't say it in so many 
words, I believe Hellman is saying that if metadata has a use, it is to 
*improve* the SEO by inserting more specific dates, some type of 
description, perhaps even some authorized forms, by using metadata or 
microdata, but the emphasis of searching should be on SEO.

Whether it turns out that these methods would work or not--my own mind 
remains open on this suggestion--Hellman's declaration that "we don't 
need surrogates" is a feeling that I have witnessed myself. Most people 
do not like to use the catalog and use it only when they have to so that 
they can get into the books, etc. that they want. Often, they search a 
book they know they want just so that they can get into the stacks and 
browse. In any case, they would much prefer to browse the shelves and, 
in spite of a lot of my protesting that shelf browsing is OK but one of 
the least efficient methods of searching, many patrons still resolutely 
refuse to use the catalog. I don't think this is anything new; after 
all: the information people want is in the books and serials and maps 
and in the other parts of our collections, not in the catalog. I 
remember how I rarely used the catalog myself before I understood 
exactly what it was and how it was structured. As I remember, I would 
look up an author's name with the sole idea of getting into the stacks 
and browsing the shelves where I assumed all the books were that I would 
need sat together.

It also turns out that people do not realize that Google is based on 
metadata. The Google search result has a short summary of each resource, 
where you see the URL and a bit of the keyword you searched in its 
context (this is "data about data"), and if you select a time frame in 
the left-hand column, e.g. "Past month", you miraculously see the dates 
of the pages, or when you click on "Timeline", "Reading level" and so 
on, it becomes clear that there is some kind of metadata being utilized 
behind the scenes. There is undoubtedly a lot more metadata that we 
don't see, so these are of course, metadata records. Still, people do 
not relate to these records in the same way as they do with our catalog 
records and see it as working directly with the digitized resources.

Of course, I think that library catalog records (or "surrogates") are 
still very important for information retrieval, but it is clear that the 
*functionality of our catalogs* need to be rethought completely. 
Nevertheless, we should no longer think that this attitude is simply 
taken for granted any longer by the powers-that-be. Such statements must 
be proven today, often to people who are less than sympathetic. Many 
love full-text searching, they are familiar with it and find it far more 
useful than our tools that are conceptually difficult and definitely 
more complex. Maybe it should not be that way, but the fact that the 
traditional methods are being seriously questioned is simply a fact of 
life today.

-- 
James Weinheimerweinheimer.jim.l@...
First Thus:http://catalogingmatters.blogspot.com/
Cooperative Cataloging Rules:http://sites.google.com/site/opencatalogingrules/

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-- 
James Weinheimer  weinheimer.jim.l@...
First Thus: http://catalogingmatters.blogspot.com/
Cooperative Cataloging Rules: http://sites.google.com/site/opencatalogingrules/

--
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