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Preview: SMOTU: Secret Masters of the Universe

SMOTU: Secret Masters of the Universe

"Librarians are the secret masters of the universe. They control information. Never piss one off." --Spider Robinson

Updated: 2015-09-16T15:01:44.966-04:00


Wikipedia = authority?


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I recently came across this article about tagging and folksonomies and Wikipedia by Peter Morville. It's an interesting read, but I think I take exception to this bit:
Now, some old-fashioned librarians may claim that due to the pseudo-anonymous, multi-author nature of the Wikipedia, its articles have no authority. But they'd be wrong. Authority derives from the information architecture, visual design, governance, and brand of the Wikipedia, and from widespread faith in intellectual honesty and the power of collective intelligence.

Okay, aside from the fact that phrases like 'the power of collective intelligence' make my teeth hurt, I fail to understand how 'visual design' contributes to the authority of a resource. Information architecture as a contributing factor to the authority of a resource I can buy-- good information architecture improves the findability of data, and that (one would hope) leads to more consistent search results. I understand how governance and branding contribute to the perceived authority and/or reliability of an information resource. But I really don't get how 'visual design' would make a resource authoritative. Even after following the links and reading the articles on 'cognitive authority', I'm not sure how visual design contributes to it.

Oh no it isn't!


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According to this article on,
... Google is creating a comprehensive bibliographic database that it calls WorldCat to search for and find information formerly only found in libraries.

Hmm... I wonder what the folks at OCLC will have to say about that.

Terry Belanger wins MacArthur Fellowship


University of Virginia Professor and rare books expert Terry Belanger has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. I think it couldn't have happened to a more deserving librarian. He's done a lot to facilitate education about rare books librarianship.

There was a time when I had dreams of being a rare books cataloger, but then I realized that I'd pretty much have to wait for somebody to die to get a job in rare books cataloging and went off in other directions. I still wistfully survey the course catalog for Rare Books School from time to time, though.

Disaster recovery


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Like much of the U.S., I've been a little preoccupied with Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath lately, so I haven't had much to say about library, technology, or cataloging.

But I do want to take a moment to point to the Geaux Library Project, which is working to provide reference and other library services to Katrina survivors. See this excellent description over at Catalogablog.



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Karen Coyle has some interesting things to say about FRBR and the future of MARC. This dovetails with some of what I've been thinking about lately. At the very least, MARC standards are going to need a serious overhaul to reflect the kind of entity-relationship modeling present in FRBR and FRAR. I suspect that at the end of such an overhaul, the MARC standards would not much resemble their present form.

The bugaboo here, of course, is how to create a communications metadata standard for bibliographic data that will be backwards compatible with current MARC data while still taking advantage of entity-relationship models for data storage, communication, and retrieval. I think that our legacy data is both an incredibly rich resource and foundation for building library catalogs of the future, and the single greatest obstacle in the way of creating such catalogs.

I don't have a real answer to this issue, but I do suspect that beginning of finding a way to deal with this will be moving the MARC standards in the direction of accommodating entity-relationship data-models and effectively representing the relationships inherent in those models. That may provide a path toward maintaining the enormous legacy of bibliographic data libraries have already created while moving into more flexible ways of organizing and providing that information to users.

A follow up


"City commissioners have reinstated their public library director who had been suspended after a registered sex offender and three boys allegedly used library computers to access pornographic Internet sites."

It's good to know that reason has prevailed, though it would be better if it hadn't happened at all.

I love my job


I do. I wouldn't dream of leaving my current place of work anytime soon. But it would take a stronger soul than I not to daydream just a little about the potential of this job:
Dear librarians, Celebrity Cruise Lines Manager Edwin Rojas contacted me about finding librarians to work on their cruise ships for 6 month stints. Here's what I learned from Edwin (who can correct any mistakes I've made).
You would sign a 6 month contract and you would be assigned to a variety of cruises 7-14 days in length. You would work everyday in the library helping people find leisure reading, get their email, and plan their port activities mostly. You would work everyday, with time off everyday for lunch and dinner and an occasional block of time where you could visit a port. The pay is $1800/month plus room, board, and transportation. After 6 months you can take off 4-12 weeks before signing a new contract. Most librarians work 3-4 contracts. Summer cruises are mostly to Alaska, Baltic, and Europe. Winter mostly to Caribbean, Mexico, and South America.
You need a valid passport and a medical exam. If you are interested, or know someone who might be, send a resume to Edwin below.
Edwin Rojas
Manager of Entertainment & Cruise Programs Celebrity Cruises, Inc.
Phone: (305) 982-2771
(800) 722-5472, ext. 32771
Fax: (305) 982-2403

Why do scenes from the Love Boat keep floating through my head?

Portals and metasearch and OPACs, oh my


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Lorcan Dempsey of OCLC has yet another insightful post about presenting an integrated library web presence, including this bit:
We tend to talk about the integration of library services, one stop shops, portals, and so on. I would argue that integration of library resources should not be pursued as an end in itself, but rather as a means to better integrate resources into user behaviors.
This goes back to something I've been thinking about a lot lately, about how folksonomies and tagging services tend to use a person's own gestalt as their entrance point into information. It's personalized information access, in ways that formal classification schemes have a difficult time managing. When a person can tag his or her own information with keywords, then finding it becomes easy, because the tags are personally meaningful to that person. Education experts have been studying the different ways in which people learn and adapting teaching methods to accommodate different learning styles for years. Isn't it about time that librarians started making more concerted efforts to study information-seeking behavior and adapting our presentation of information to accommodate different styles?

Librarian=Internet Cop?



It's been all over library blogs today, and has even been slashdotted, but it's worth mentioning that a Florida Library Director has been suspended and may be fired outright because users of the public library she runs have viewed 'offensive content' on the web using the library's computers.

I hear an awful lot from various politicos in the current administration about the importance of encouraging a 'culture of personal responsibility' when it comes to thinks like Social Security reform and Medicaid/Medicare and other government-funded social programs. And yet when it comes to what people view on the Internet, those same politicos seem to give blanket approval of things like internet filters in public libraries. Does anyone else find this to be a bizarre inconsistency?

I don't understand how it's important to personal responsibility to let people squander their retirement savings in the stock market and at the same time the people who are punished for the viewing of questionable material on library computers are not the patron who looked at the stuff, but the director of the library. Of course, I realize that the two issues are not directly related and that there are plenty of people out there who support the current plans for Social Security reform but don't support internet filtering in libraries or vice versa. What I don't understand is how one would believe that a 'encouraging a culture of personal responsibility' is in any way compatible with internet filtering. And yet obviously people do, because many of those in the 'culture of personal responsibility' camp are also in the internet filtering camp.

Some days I despair of ever understanding the society in which I live.

Billions and billions...



As has been posted in several blogs, Worldcat has now exceeded one billion records.

Trying to comprehend the vastness of that amount of data leaves me speechless.

(Really. See? I have nothing more to say.)

More on folksonomy


So I've been thinking more about Clay Shirky's 'Ontology is Overrated' article, and reading several interesting analyses of it.

I have to admit to being caught up in Shirky's rhetoric for a little while. He's quite a clever and entertaining writer, and finding that in a tech person is rare (says the English major). But it didn't take long for me to get past my enamourment with his writing style to questioning his ideas, specifically the either/or nature of his arguments.

Personally, I think that whether or not collapsing synonyms (or closely related terms) results in signal loss or a more complete range of information depends largely upon context and the purpose of one's search. I suspect that scholarly researchers tend to look for more comprehensive sets of data, whereas those involved in social communities, light research, and simple fact-finding may be satisfied with a limited set of information so long as what they need is there. To go back to Shirky's memorable 'homosexual agenda/queer politics' example: A student doing a dissertation on the gay rights movement in the United States may very well want to bring together the 'homosexual agenda' information with the 'queer politics' information. Said student may not choose to engage in online communities in zir off-research hours, but collecting information for research and scholarship is just as important a use of online resources as building social networks.

Tangentially, this has also gotten me thinking about several scattered remarks I've seen in recent weeks about how the increasing tendency to gather news information online means that more and more people are reading only those news sources with which they share political/social/personal values. I'm not sure I buy that assumption wholesale, I do think there's a kernel of truth to it. I know that I'm most often drawn to online communities and information sources with which I agree. (On the other hand, I do make an effort to read at least some stuff with which I don't agree-- partly on the 'know thine enemy' philosophy, and partly because life is boring when my assumptions are never challenged.) In any case, I wonder how deeply that tendency to build communities of those who agree with us plays into Shirky's folksonomies good/ontologies bad dichotomy. After all, if the 'homosexual agenda' people never have to acknowledge the existence of the 'queer politics' people it reduces conflict in online communities, right?

Search Engine Divergence



Nearly everyone I know has a favorite Internet search engine, and most non-librarians I are confident that they get the information they need from their chosen search engine.

However, in a recent SearchEngineWatch article, Chris Sherman elaborates on the tendency for search results to vary widely among search engines.
Looking at the organic or natural listings for more than 485,000 first page search results, the study found that:

* 84.9% of total results are unique to one engine
* 11.4% of total results were shared by any two engines
* 2.6% of total results were shared by any three engines
* 1.1% of total results were shared by any four engines

I'm relatively certain that the folks I know who are devotees of a particular search engine are probably not aware that they could find completely different information by searching an engine other than their chosen one. I wonder if an awareness of this fact would influence their searching behavior.

I also need to think about how this may or may not relate to Clay Shirky's article on folksonomies. In the article, Shirky talks about how traditional library cataloging tends to be focused on pulling together all works on a particular subject, regardless of the language used within the work or the point of view of the author. He argues that this collapsing of subject terminology leads to 'signal loss'. Using the example of 'movies' and 'cinema', Shirky argues that the two terms actually represent very different concepts, and that collapsing the two into one category means that information retrieval is less precise. He goes on to say:
When we get to really contested terms like queer/gay/homosexual, by this point, all the signal loss is in the collapse, not in the expansion. "Oh, the people talking about 'queer politics' and the people talking about 'the homosexual agenda', they're really talking about the same thing." Oh no they're not. If you think the movies and cinema people were going to have a fight, wait til you get the queer politics and homosexual agenda people in the same room.

Looking at these two articles together, I have to think that the success of a given search engine for a given user has to do with the degree to which the search enginge does (or does not) collapse categories in its results and the degree to which the user wants (or doesn't want) to have categories collapsed.

NISO Newsletter Available



Via Catalogablog, the August issue of the NISO Newsletter is available. I'm particularly glad to see that the Serials Online Holdings format is a production release. Slowly, we inch toward the ability to integrate data from e-resource management systems and PAMs into our ILSs more seamlessly.

Series treatment



My current place of work handles monographic series in a way that just seems wrong to me, even though it's perfectly valid. It only seems wrong to me because it's different from the way I've dealt with series at every other library I've worked at. Here's our current practice as I understand it:
  • Any numbered monographic series to which we subscribe is treated as a serial with analytics. Volumes are classed together, holdings are maintained on a serial record, and each issue gets a monograph record (e.g. an analytic record) with a series tracing to the serial title.
  • Any numbered monographic series to which we don't subscribe is analyzed, traced as a series on the monographic records, and classed separately. There is no serial record to unify the holdings, and searching collocation is handled by the series authority record
  • Unnumbered series are usually analyzed, traced, and classed separately
It's the first of those categories that I have trouble with. I understand the need for acquisitions to have a check-in record for anything we subscribe to. What I'm not sure I understand is why we go to the trouble of doing full CONSER serial records and displaying them to the public when the series authority record is meant to collocate series holdings. Our ILS is pretty good at collocating based on series tracing, so I'm just not sure what we gain by maintaining publicly viewable holdings on a serial record. But I am fairly certain that creating both serial records and series authority records for these titles is a waste of time. We have to have the SAR in order to trace the series, so unless we stop creating the serial records, I don't see a way around doing both.

On the other hand, I'm not sure what we'd gain by eliminating the practice either. My gut feeling is that it would create less confusing OPAC displays if someone searched by the series title, but I need to do some testing to verify that.

One thing that we could gain by changing our practice is to bring us more in line with LC/NACO practice regarding series, which is to treat most numbered monographic series as fully analyzed, traced, and classed separately. It would let us make more effective use of PCC bib and authority records with fewer local changes, which could have significant benefits.

There. That articulates the issues well enough for now. Now I just need to think through them and figure out whether I want to propose changes.

RDA Prospectus



The Joint Steering Committee for the Revision of AACR has just released the RDA Prospectus that was promised after their April meeting. I've just finished reading it, and my initial impressions are positive, for several reasons:
  • I like the fact that they've made this a public document, and that they've provided clear information about the structure and intended content of the full document.
  • I like the way they're relating the code to FRBR, in particular the way they explicitly connect elements to FRBR user tasks.
  • I heartily approve of including authority control and greater support for expressing relationships between resources.
  • I also like the fact that guidelines for using the code with different dispay standards, not just ISBD, will be included in the appendices. Since most OPAC displays aren't really based on ISBD, it makes sense to provide some explicit guidance for using our descriptive cataloging rules with other display standards besides ISBD.
I'm sure I'll have more to say after I've had more time to think this over, but those are my initial impressions.

First post


I've been somewhat hesitant to enter the world of blogging, but I'm finding far too many fascinating conversations online about librarianship and technology to remain on the sidelines. I'll put in the standard disclaimer that any thoughts I record here are strictly personal and do not reflect the opinions of my employer, the President, Shirley McLean, my cats, or anyone else who lives outside my head.

My current concerns and interests include:
  • How folksonomies may or may not intersect with controlled vocabularies and hierarchical classification schemes, and how libraries can utilize folksonomies to improve search and retrieval of library materials.
  • FRBR, in particular how we can utilize FRBR concepts to make existing library databases more useful as we're migrating to new and more flexible modes of organizing, storing, and retrieving bibliographic data.
  • How the above affect catalogers.
  • Wikis, in particular the concept of using a wiki to maintain internal procedural documentation within libraries.
Expect posts on any or all of the above in future.