Saturday, June 18, 2011

Opportunity knocks

There will soon be a call for reviews of the draft report by the W3C Incubator Group on Library Linked Data. As a member of that group I have had a hand in writing that draft, and I can tell you that it has been a struggle. Now we seriously need to hear from you, not the least because the group is not fully representative of the library world; in fact, it leans heavily toward techy-ness and large libraries and services. We need to hear from a wide range of libraries and librarians: public, small, medium, special, management, people who worry about budgets, people who have face time with users. We also need to hear from the library vendor community, since little can happen with library data that will not involve that community. (Note: a site is being set up to take comments, and I am hoping it will be possible to post anonymously or at least pseudonymously, for those who cannot appear to be speaking for their employer.)

In thinking about the possibility of moving to a new approach to bibliographic data in libraries, I created this diagram (which will not be in the report, it was just my thinking) that to me represents a kind of needs assessment. This pyramid is not just related to linked data but to any data format that we might adopt to take the place of the card catalog mark-up that we use today.

We could use this to address the recent LC announcement on replacing MARC. Here's how I see that analysis, starting with the bottom of the pyramid:
  • Motivation: Our current data model lacks the flexibility that we need, and is keeping us from taking advantage of some modern technologies that could help us provide better user service. Libraries are becoming less and less visible as information providers, in part because our data does not play well on the web, and it is difficult for us to make use of web content.
  • Leadership: Creating a new model is going to take some serious coordination among all of the parties. Who should/could provide that leadership, and how can we fund this effort? Although LC has announced its intention to collaborate, for various reasons a more neutral organization might be desired, one that is truly global in scope. Yet who can both lead the conversion effort and be available for the future to provide stability for the long term maintenance that a library data carrier will require? And how can we be collaborative without being glacially slow?
  • Skills: Many of us went through library school before the term "metadata" was in common usage. We learned to follow the cataloging rules, but not to understand the basic principles of data modeling and creation. This is one of the reasons why it is hard for us to change: we are one-trick ponies in the metadata world. The profession needs new skills, and it's not enough for only a few to acquire them: we all need to understand the world we are moving into
  • Means: This is the really hard one: how do we get the time and funding to make this much-needed change? Both will need to be justified with some clear examples of what we gain by this effort. I favor some demonstration projects, if we can find a way to create them.
  • Opportunity: The opportunity is here now. We could have made this change any time over the past decade or two while cataloging with AACR2, but RDA definitely gives us that golden moment when not changing no longer makes sense.