Data in our catalogues

If you agree with Karen Coyle that libraries need to move to Linked Data, let us take a look of what data we have in our catalogues.

“Library catalog data is a language and a communication system all its own. Who else creates things that look like:

xii, 356 p. ; 23 cm.

Few outside of the library world have any idea what that means. What about:

Hamlet. French. 1923

It’s like the secret language of twins, but shared over generations and with tens of thousands of initiates. We can have our secret inner circle, sure, but the library catalog is supposed to be our face to the world. It hasn’t been that. And it’s not going to be that if we continue to see the catalog of resources as our primary interaction with users. Taking the data we have today in the catalog and converting it to linked data would be a repetition of what we did when we went from the catalog card to the MARC format: translating the same functionality into a new data format. It’s not going to make our data any more user friendly or any more useful.

In addition, the catalog primarily organizes things; resources, books, CDs and DVDs. Where we need to go is to KNOWLEDGE ORGANIZATION. Not STUFF organization.”

Before we celebrate our success in using controlled vocabulary in our cataloguing, something we might think that we win over the search engines, let us read how Karen commented our subject cataloguing:

“Our cataloging rules do not address subject access. This includes FRBR and RDA, and these are the models that are supposed to take us into the future. AACR, FRBR and RDA provide a stub in the resource description for a classification number or subject heading, if you happen to have them, but none of them helps you create organized knowledge…..

….. We’ve spent the last 15 years re-making cataloging (for the fourth time in 50 years), but we are still using the Knowledge Organization (Library of Congress Classification, Dewey Decimal Classificatin, Library of Congress Subject Headings) from a century ago; three Victorian era knowledge schemes. They are like information retrieval of Brideshead Revisited. Yes, cookery has just now become cooking, but that is simply too little, too late. All of these knowledge schemes precede computers and have the limitations of the analog world. Today’s technology could help us do much better topical access.

With computing, a classification is no longer limited to having only one place for a topic in order to make relationships like broader and narrower; and you can give any resource as many places in the classification as you like because we aren’t constrained by physical space. The other big constraint, and especially on the use of faceting, was that of notation: the entire topic, no matter how complex, had to be represented by a single notation that not only conveyed the meaning of the topic but also had to fit on the spine of a book. Facets became a topic in the 1930’s with Ranganathan. The Classification Study Group in the UK in the 1960’s and 70’s was heavy on faceted classification. Yet it never made it into our repertoire, even though facets, based on LC subject headings which is only partially faceted, have proven to be useful. The only topical ‘advance’ has been FAST – by OCLC. Faceted Application of Subject Terminology. And it was just a way to make use of LCSH without adding anything. FAST would be interesting to experiment with, but is virtually unknown: it was developed without community input (internal to OCLC research) so there isn’t buy-in, and it has to be licensed from OCLC, so it isn’t really available for experimentation.”

The Message

“We’ve got to move beyond the catalog. It is not longer an end in itself, and it is no longer a primary user service. Yes, we need the metadata that describes our holdings and our licensed resources, but this inventory isn’t for our users but is fodder for services that will be used in a larger information environment. It needs to be like the OpenURL server database that sits between information resources on the network and the library user. This also means that FRBR and RDA will have to evolve. The catalog that they address, that they create, is no longer serving our users. Our data needs to focus on making connections outside of the library that will bring library resources to users as they interact with the world of information. Those connections can’t be limited to connecting to the names of authors and titles, or to works and manifestations, but absolutely have to have a knowledge organization component. In fact, our main emphasis should be on knowledge organization, quite the opposite of where we are today.”

[Source: On the Web, of the Web]