I arrived a few days before the CLA conference to catch my bearings, do some sightseeing, and go to a preconference event sponsored by the CLA Technical Services Interest Group of which I am a member.
First up was Rick Anderson, Director of Resources and Acquisitions, University of Nevada at Reno. Rick Anderson advocated a mindset change in technical services because of some fundamental shifts in the world in which libraries operate.
The key shifts are:
scarcity of information > abundance of information
permanent ownership > leased access
physical collection > virtual collection
library as monopoly > library has competition
“just in case” collection management > “just in time” collection management
It’s time to question our core values, Anderson proclaimed. There are too many rule followers and not enough problem-solvers. Librarians need to embrace risk. Usefulness is more important than completeness.
Anderson echoed the user-centric sentiment I felt has been growing in intensity over the last several years in the library professional literature. “Don’t try to think like a good librarian; try to think like a bad patron.” Librarians should not try to be educators, even in the area of bibliographic instruction. A service-oriented approach means we should not follow the mantra of “teach a man to fish”– we should just be giving away more fish. We need to put the library’s resources where the users are and can find them. We cannot change the big forces in information delivery that are occuring around us so we should not expend energy in trying to redirect the river, but rather we should be putting our resources in the middle of the river. We need to celebrate efficiency– minimize our time wasted but also minimize wasting our patron’s time.
In the end Rick Anderson said he was being deliberately provocative to make us think about various trends. In fact, as I suspected would happen, some of his examples were addressed by later speakers, particularly by those giving a presentation on RDA– Resource Description and Access, the new name replacing the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (AACR). Many of the problems in catalogues stem from the card-based rules and codes. Cataloguing still has to be done with one eye on support for the printed catalogue card format while supporting the new web-based OPACs. This means there are both inefficiencies and ambiguities in the current cataloguing practice. A lot of extra information is implicit in a catalogue card, but it needs to be explicit to be more usable in an online environment. Enter FRBR, the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records, which was introduced at a cataloguing conference in Toronto in 1997. The new RDA rules are substantially based on FRBR.
One of the chief problems that FRBR and RDA deal with is the need to clearly distinguish between the book as intellectual content and the book as physical carrier. The same work (an intellectual or creative entity) can be embodied in more than one physical format (such as print, large print, paperback, book on tape, book on CD, downloadable audiobook, Adobe PDF file, etc.). Another complicated situation that needs greater clarity is that the work can be expressed differently (such as translations, performances, revised editions, etc.) as well as be contained in different formats. What FRBR does is map out the relationships between all these different ways of thinking about intellectual content and physical carrier. And then FRBR branches out and maps out the relationships to other entities such as authors, editors, illustrators, performers, and all the subject headings (which can include works, authors, etc. in addition to topical headings). The ideal catalogue should allow the user to see all these relationships so that the most appropriate resource can be selected. This last point about FRBR meeting user needs is a key reason why the cataloguing rules need to be updated.
A common response to RDA is that it seems to be just another way to accomplish the same end– the construction of a unit record representing a book or other bibliographic resource. I thought there was an electrifying moment when one of the presenters, Lynne Howarth, of the Faculty of Information Studies, University of Toronto, said that while RDA is about producing “just data”, RDA is also about data that can be “sent out to populate the world.” I see this as taking the constituent entities contained in a bibliographic catalogue– author, work, publication, subject for examples– and creating unique records that can be stored on the Internet and called upon to construct local catalogues, or to serve functions in a variety of computer and web applications. A web service– a smart web service in fact, and the term “semantic web” is used to describe this– is what RDA could lead to. Astonishingly, the data of a library catalogue could be the connecting glue for truly enriched library services. RDA-based web data could point to local library holdings, but also to book stores or blogs, reviews or course curricula, related works or suggestions based on usage statistics, full text depositories or citation indexes.
ERMS – Electronic Resources Management Systems
Three vendors offering ERMS software participated in a panel question-and-answer session. Those companies that had integrated ERMS into the traditional Integrated Library System (ILS) were better able to answer some of the tough questions. ERMS has strong links to the acquisitions function in an ILS because of the purchasing and licensing processes in obtaining access to electronic resources. The purchasing of e-books and electronic journal databases has many complexities. Often these purchases are done with a consortium, which complicates the collection development process. Tracking the status of an electronic resource is an important function that ERMS software provides, and this tracking is made useful if integrated with the staff workflow and library communcations system (primarily with e-mail alerts).
A new draft standard protocol is now part of the ERMS world– SUSHI, or, Standardized Usage Statistics Harvesting Initiative. SUSHI is a standard that allows for the automatic collection of usage statistics from the licensed electronic content. Previously librarians had to visit each database’s administrative web site and download the statistics (typically an Excel file). The usage statistics are very important for making collection development decisions in part because of the financial impact of the licensing of electronic resources.
Sharing authority control of author names
The last event of the TSIG meeting was a set of round-table discussions. I participated in the authority control discussion. In the cataloguing world, authorities are the records controlling the standardized forms of author names, as well as some titles and subject headings. Authority records contain identifying information as well as the list of references from alternate forms of the name or heading. Authorities are a powerful tool in bibliographic control because of the precision they offer. Strictly keyword-based searches of names may miss all the variations in spelling or completely different forms of the name used.
Authority control is expensive though, and the recent Library of Congress decision to stop creating authorities for series titles is of concern. Many libraries continue to use series authorities, and some contribute these and other authority records to global authority databases in formal processes. This collaborative effort in authority creation was the main focus for this round-table discussion. A number of libraries in Canada participate in contributing researched and established name headings to global authority databases. Memorial University in Newfoundland has contributed a lot of local names. However, there are not many other libraries contributing to these shared authority databases. Most libraries have the ability to create authority records internally with their library system software, but few have taken the extra step of sharing that work. The main potential of contributing to a shared database of authorities is that the work need not be duplicated when names on bibliographic resources are encountered for the first time by a cataloguer.
In the mailing lists I participate in, the idea of using web 2.0 collaborative tools such as wikis for spreading the workload of authority control has come up. Everyone points to Wikipedia as a model to emulate. The main suggestion is that every library could contribute to and verify the data stored centrally and accessible to all cataloguers. I did learn in the TSIG round-table discussion that the existing collaborative efforts do embody web 2.0 characteristics in many respects. The official collaborative authority processes do however require extensive training, but that would seem consistent with the desire for high quality input. The other main hurdles seem to be the lack of awareness of these existing processes, and perhaps the lack of desire to be contributors in the first place. Perhaps even in the library world the majority may want to be primarily consumers of good data, and not so much producers. In the past the main producer of good data was the Library of Congress, and libraries may have become overly reliant on it. But as financial pressures mount, and the demand to provide access to a wider array of resources, in particular digitized resources, increases, there may be a new push to create collaborative structures to pick up the slack, especially now that the web 2.0 ethos is very much herding everyone in that direction. The fact that shared authority data processes came up as a TSIG round-table discussion topic at all seems to be a confirmation of that trend.
A rainy night in St. John’s for the pub crawl
During the CLA pub crawl on a rainy night, we crazy librarians stopped at Bridie Molloy’s on St. John’s famous George Street. The Celtic band, The Navigators, played some great songs. I had thought about joining the TSIG for supper, but I thought I would meet more people on the pub crawl. It turned out that the TSIG had supper downstairs in the restaurant called The Celtic Hearth, and they came up later to share in the music and drinks where I had a chance to chat with them.