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Christine Schwartz on WoGroFuBiCo

I realize that in writing about RDA and cataloging on Christmas Eve I’m tagging myself as someone who clearly needs an intervention (if I can use the word “tagging” without making Michael Gorman screw through the ceiling). So let me quibble by saying that I’m really just updating my earlier post by including several links to Christine Schwartz and her good posts about WoGroFuBiCo.

Christine says I am taking on the cataloging establishment. That surprised me; all I did was comment on a report, and as a non-cataloger, I doubt the “cataloging establishment” feels one bit tooken-upon by me, if that is the right verb.

However, I’ll expand on something I said in a comment on her blog: the WoGroFuBiCo draft report seems to be at war with itself. There are at least two authorial voices: the voice of resistance and the voice of change.

The voice of resistance says to suspend work on RDA (though note, work has proceeded so slowly it might be hard to detect its cessation…); it also says to do a lot more testing of FRBR and to conduct research on user behavior. This voice is silent on funding the Dublin Core work I discussed last summer on ALA Techsource.

Voice of Resistance employs a typical librarian strategy: resistance by obfuscation. I’ve seen it in action in libraries, and I saw it on ALA Council. Stall. Postpone. Resist timelines. Do more “studies.” Plan actions around a massive one-time report to be released at some unidentified date in the future.

I’m all for user research, the more the merrier, but the idea that we know nothing about user behavior that can be applied to the theory and practice of information organization is sheer historical revisionism (I refuse to believe it is ignorance). Just this past summer Karen Markey published a two-part series (here’s a citation for part 2) summarizing twenty-five years of user behavior. What we need to do is start acting on what we know.

Voice of Change takes different tactics. Put authorities on the Web. Consider pulling in data from other sources. Rethink cataloging. It’s a different, fresher, more flexible voice. It’s the voice of the future. It suggests experimentation, rapid iteration, responsiveness.

Both voices are still somewhat stuck in the “record” paradigm, and by that I mean thinking in terms of bibliographic records, versus bibliographic data. We are too often still trapped in professional literalisms. A book, ergo a physical record. This gets in the way of rethinking how data is used, reused, remixed, populated into the network cloud, and associated with other rich data.

Both voices also miss the chance to discuss the question of how open we make our data. Which brings up that Christine also has some good comments about OCLC’s response — with which Talis provided its own response (Talis has its own dog in this fight — then again, don’t we all?). My initial take on the WorldCat response to WoGroFuBiCo’s draft report is that I’d be on it like white on rice if only it didn’t come from a vendor-like organization struggling with issues of sharing and trust. I think of OCLC, and I am reminded of the final, heartbreaking scene (at least as I remember it) of the movie version of The Remains of the Day, in which Emma Thompson (representing LibraryLand) crumples her face in grief as she bids farewell to Anthony Hopkins (representing OCLC), who cannot release himself into the trust necessary for love.

Really, I need some gingerbread.

In any event, I appreciate how the library community has conducted a lot of this discussion in the wild. I hope for the final WoGroFuBiCo report that community response and engagement is solicited a) with a longer time frame (they got ten months, we got 16 days) and in a more 2.0-ish, iterative, public-commentish sort of way.

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