Bibliographic control does have a future. Though, after spending 30 minutes last night describing the problem to my wife, I sure wish we had called it “the future of finding stuff online.”
I’m headed out this morning for a meeting convened by the Library of Congress’s working group on the Future of Bibliographic Control. It is an austere group that I think has real potential to make some serious recommendations. Boy, that sounded like I’m running for office, didn’t it?
Anyway, I am giving a short presentation on “New Services,” which is really just a euphemism for the fact that MPOW has a pretty cool faceted navigation catalog and a homegrown electronic resources management system. So, I’ve been thinking a lot about data, relevance, and subject access to metadata records. It seems that everyone is after a less expensive way to do what libraries have always done. Not a bad goal.
As a systems guy, I am confident that computational analysis of data will be able to accomplish some measure of what has traditionally required human intervention. (Politician-speak again, eh?…I think I just said that computers should replace people). As a librarian, I am stuck on the paradox that better analysis (even computerized analysis) is only accomplished with the aid of human intervention.
Let me put that another way: Some have suggested that “subject keywords” should replace Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). The paradox is that those very keywords are most logically derived from LCSH. “Tagging” (or “social tagging”) would be another option, but that is human intervention writ large, and while the effectiveness of tagging is not shrouded in great doubt, I think the jury is still out on its comparative effectiveness and precision in controlling bibliographic data. I will say, however, that I am very, very impressed by the work of Tim Spalding at LibraryThing. Libraries should be licensing his database’s social tags. LibraryThing’s interface design is also very, very good. I’m sure Amazon.com has taken notice.
Of course, one more option would be to just scan all the books. Every last one of them. And then rely on a really good algorithm to sort things out. Did I mention that the meeting I’m going to is at Google Headquarters?
I don’t disagree that we should always be in pursuit of faster, better, cheaper. I remain skeptical that all three will be accomplished at the same time. And there’s the rub. One thing’s for sure: I’m happy to be on the ride while it lasts.
[This post originally appeared as part of American Libraries’ Hectic Pace Blog and is archived here.]