Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Meeting 3, Briefly

This third meeting of the Library of Congress Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control focuses on the economic and organizational issues. Unsurprisingly, most of the conversation was about the high cost of cataloging. The suggested solutions fall into these areas:
  1. Be willing to accept imperfection. In particular, take in copy cataloging without scrutiny, or with very select scrutiny, only paying attention to areas that are important for retrieval.
  2. Put less energy into the easy cases (recently published books) so that more can be spent on the special cases (archival materials, digital materials).
  3. Use vendor-supplied cataloging that comes with purchase of materials
  4. Find new partners. Many speakers suggested that libraries partner with publishers to get some metadata creation earlier in the supply chain.
  5. Do more cooperative cataloging; spread the work across more institutions
However, much of the conversation showed how hard it will be to implement these suggestions in the real world. Mary Catherine Little of Queens Public Library talked about having a very diverse customer base that requires them to catalog in a couple of dozen languages. Susan Fifer Canby of the National Geographic Society talked about storing the digital photographs that are now produced by the thousands.

Interestingly, no one was willing to give up authority control. In fact, there was a desire to expand it into other areas such as article databases, although in the journal publishing area there were thoughts that authors could self-identify as part of publishing. There was a negative reaction to the idea of "social tagging." And there wasn't much discussion of the possible use of full text to either generate cataloging or to function in the place of cataloging.

In the end, none of the proposed solutions really appear to solve much of the problem. To begin with, any savings will merely free up staff to work on cataloging items that make up the real or virtual arrears: paper archives or the vast digital world that libraries hardly touch today. Many of the suggestions are details that would chip away at cataloging time but not really change how we do things. Nothing really radical or revolutionary was put forth.

I'll try to put out more detailed notes soon.


arkham said...

A couple comments:
"Find new partners. Many speakers suggested that libraries partner with publishers to get some metadata creation earlier in the supply chain." - in theory, this is fine, but in practice, publishers would need to put more emphasis on creating metadata that is of use to libraries, which will mean that they would have to employ professional catalogers/metadata specialists themselves.
"There was a negative reaction to the idea of 'social tagging.'" - I fail to see why social tagging should be a problem...I don't think it should be the primary means of access, but would be a good supplement to subject cataloging, IMO.
"And there wasn't much discussion of the possible use of full text to either generate cataloging or to function in the place of cataloging" - I don't think that full text can really be used in place of subject cataloging. Again, it is a good supplement. Not to say that it shouldn't be discussed, but the text of an item doesn't always provide the same subject assistance that can be supplied by a cataloger.
Generally, I'm in favor of using technology wherever possible, but at the moment, much of it is not able to provide the same level of access as a professional cataloger. I'm all for supplementing traditional cataloging with full-text searching, social tagging, and anything else that might contribute to findability.

jrochkind said...

I, for one, am glad that nobody wanted to 'give up' authority control.

To me, that would be just about the LAST thing to give up, if you were paying attention to no part of the record except for that.

On the other hand, figuring out ways to do it more efficiently, especially taking more advantage of cooperation, that should probably be high on the agenda. Rather than 'giving it up'.

I think there is quite a bit of promise in figuring out how to leverage cooperation with the full power of the internet. Look what a bunch of hobbyists on LibraryThing have managed to do in their free time! [The workset grouping of LibraryThing is indeed a form of Authority Control]. We need to make it easier for librarians (and others?) to enhance and repair metadata, and have that metadata be promulgated to the distributed environment in an automated way. To me, that's the promise.

Karen Coyle said...

Jonathan, some of the facts about name authorities should lead us to think about what we do in that area. For example, the vast majority of authors write only one work, and use only one name form. I remember looking at how many LoC name authorities records have 4xx's and it was surprisingly low. Also, there may be other items in the bibliographic records that will help users choose among authors with similar or the same names (e.g. book title). In fact, the book title may be much more useful for the library user than are dates of birth, and the book title does not require extensive research on the part of the cataloger. And some people mentioned that users of A&I databases don't appear to have difficulty finding things in spite of the lack of authority control. In part that may be because searching in that corpus is based more on topic than authorship, but that means that not all works are equal in terms of authority needs. So I suppose I should have said that attendees didn't seem to consider that authority control needs to change greatly, which is odd because it is reported to be about 40% of the time spent on original cataloging of books.

jrochkind said...

Karen, authority control of author names is what allows the system to present the set of all works by a given author, no more and no less.

Whether or not the user actually _identifies_ this author by the traditional 'controlled heading' or not. Indeed I agree with you that things such as titles or subjects associated with an author may be more useful than dates of birth. Indeed, the traditional 'controlled heading' string may perhaps (optimistically) be replaced by a URI.

But it is vital to understand that the essence of creator authority control is the _unambiguous, explicit relation_ of works to author entities. Whether that is done by controlled heading string identfier, or by a URI--it's authority control. (And I doubt the latter is appreciably 'cheaper' than the former, either).

Now, one could argue that this is unneccesary. Amazon provides a very good example of a database _without_ this kind of authority control. It can be very difficult in Amazon to assemble the list of things by a certain person, without missing any, without getting other things mistakenly included. Perhaps this doesn't matter? If this doesn't matter, then that would indeed be an argument that authority control is unneccesary. Strawmen about dates of birth are _not_.

Without authority control the system could not allow the user to distinguish between similarly named people by work title or subject _either_. That to relies on authority control (and indeed, our current system of authority control is quite capable of supporting that, although our interfaces are not).

Likewise, the fact that many authors only have one work _may_ be an argument for more judicious application of authority control. The fact that most authority records do not have a 400 is _not_. The purpose of authority control is to establish unambiguous identifiers for entities, and to use these identitifiers to unambiguously relate entities to each other with precision. If this is important, than so is authority control. I think it is.

[Worth saying that as the purpose of _person/corporate_ authority control is to unambiguously relate the set of works by a person/corporate body----the purpose of work authority control is to unambiuguosly relate the 'editions' of a work. In the FRBR regime, we could have work, expression and manifestation authority control, likewise.]

Karen Coyle said...


I know that is the cataloging gospel, but I'm not ready to drink the koolaid. I need facts. I need a cost-benefit analysis. I need some testing of alternate methods. Gospel just isn't enough for me, especially if it leads to expensive practices that we can't defend with real data.

searchtools said...

I think the idea of Authority Control is a very powerful one. Librarians have decades more experience than anyone else and it's one of the things we can bring to the table of this brave new world.

The implementations may have systemic and unfixable problems, but at at least we know what not to do?