March 21, 2007

Enabling Effective Discovery of Library Resources -- The Future of Bibliographic Control

Karen Coyle took detailed notes of this one day meeting of the Library of Congress' Working Group on Bibliographic Control.

I've selected a few quotes from the talks and papers from this meeting that highlight the challenges and opportunities for libraries.
Pink Eraser

I’m to the point where I think we’d be better off to just utterly erase our existing academic catalogs and forget about backwards-compatibility, lock all the vendors and librarians and scholars together in a room, and make them hammer out electronic research tools that are Amazon-plus, Amazon without the intent to sell books but with the intent of guiding users of all kinds to the books and articles and materials that they ought to find, a catalog that is a partner rather than an obstacle in the making and tracking of knowledge.
Dr. Timothy Burke, Burn the Catalog, 2004


Electronic catalogs, wherever you go in the academic world, have become a horrible crazy-quilt assemblage of incompatible interfaces and vendor-constrained listings. Working through Tripod’s article and specialized subject indices, in a relatively small collection, you still have to navigate at least five completely different interfaces for searching. Historical epochs of data collection and cataloguing lie indigestibly atop one another. The Library of Congress subject headings, which long ago slid into uselessness, now actively misrepresent existing nodes and clusters of knowledge in many academic fields.
Dr. Timothy Burke, Burn the Catalog, 2004


Andrea Spells by mastermag

(cc) Photo by mastermag.

Timothy Burke's remarks remind me of a game called Twister where a group of people have contort themselves to execute arbitrary commands like "Right Hand Red". But researching in a library is not a party game where we find the exotic moves and extraordinary measures amusing.

Karen Markey recently published a thoughtful article on how the catalog came to be what it is today. She tells "why the online library catalog fell from grace and why new directions pertaining to cataloging simplification and primary sources will not attract people back to the online catalog. (Karen Markey. The Online Library Catalog Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained? 2007) She also goes on to describe why Google is preferred.

Why Do People Prefer Google as a Starting Point?

To answer this question, this section summarizes a quarter-century of research findings about people's information-seeking behavior.

Searching for Information in the Library Puts People on an Emotional Roller Coaster

"I despise searching the library for books and other sources. It takes a long time and rarely can you find sources needed. This difficult process is the first thing I think of when I think of using the library" (De Rosa et al., 2005, 1-22).
Karen Markey. The Online Library Catalog Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained? 2007


One key part of this article is the recommendations made in 1991 to improve library catalogs. What is striking is that many catalogs have only a handful of these recommendations by 2006, fifteen years later. Markey describes why these changes did not happen. But it's still mind boggling to consider that key recommendations for improvement have been around for fifteen years.

Research libraries are spending a fortune on creating metadata that is mismatched to our users' needs. Karen Coyle's Notes of Bernie Hurley presentation, Users and Uses, Research Libraries.
Lorcan Dempsey summarized this with a concept from Eric Hellman: the difference between lakes and rivers. Libraries are lakes; a little comes in a little goes out, but it pretty much stays the same. Information as we use it in the networked world is a river, fast moving and you never step into the same place twice.
Karen Coyle, Users and Uses - Karen's Summary, March 9, 2007


I think it might be fair to say that libraries were like lakes and great research libraries were like rich oceans of knowledge. Today we need to find ways to be connect lakes, rivers, oceans and tiny streams and deal with the fluidity of information, discourse and knowledge.

Find out more:

Brief Meeting Summary - Users and Uses of Bibliographic Data Meeting
March 8, 2007 Mountain View, CA

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