Archive for January, 2011

Is the future of libraries local and unique?

Thursday, January 27th, 2011 by Merrilee

About a week ago, I came across a talk by Eli Neiburger in two parts (included below) that is widely referred to as “How Libraries are Screwed” (the actual title is “How eBooks Impact Libraries,” but the other is more catchy, don’t you think?). Despite having been around since September, I only caught up with this last week.

The talk focuses on the situation for public libraries, and presents a picture of institutions caught between their strong association with the codex (borne out by OCLC’s most recent Perceptions report), and unable to make an effective transition to the eBook due to market factors. The talk is very good, and I urge you to devote the 20 minutes to watch it and consider the implications (which are different but similar for academic libraries).

The part of the talk I do have an issue with is at the end of the second part, when Neiburger says that libraries may evolve into organizations that focus on unique content and local experiences. (This part of the talk is called out a this blog posting over at KeepingTime.) Keeping in mind that the talk is about public libraries, I do not think that this is true. If this were true, we would be seeing a renaissance among historical societies and other local history organizations. I would love to see evidence that supports that.

I do agree that unique materials, and items that document local history, will be valued, but I don’t see that happening in the context of public libraries — I think it’s much more likely to be folded into the academic library sector, where special collections have already been established.

And if you doubt the eBook market implications for public libraries take a look at this whitepaper by Overdrive (the major provider of eBooks to public libraries) which essentially says that public libraries will be great for eBook sales because they will never be able to fill demand. This choice quote neatly sums it up: “Libraries are simply not meeting demand for eBooks, but they are whetting the consumer appetite.”

To end on a positive note, in pulling together materials for this post, I ran across a new organization called Library Renewal, which seeks to coelese effort around getting e-content flowing to libraries.

Thanks to Eric Hellman for highlighting the Eli Neiburger talk and to Cliff Lynch for calling my attention to the Overdrive report.

What does it take to catch a thief?

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011 by Merrilee

I recently listened to the recording of the 2010 ALA conference program sponsored by RBMS, To Catch a Thief: Cataloging and the Security of Special Collections (the recording is available on the RBMS website).

Nina Schneider (William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, University of California, Los Angeles) moderated the session and kicked things off with a series of questions about balancing the need for efficiency in cataloging with the possible risk posed by less attention to including details likely to identify (and recover) stolen books. In an era of budget constraints and heightened expectations about availability of collections, “what happens if something happens?”

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Peeking out the porthole window

Friday, January 21st, 2011 by Merrilee

I’ve spent some time this week looking at ARL’s Envisioning Research Library Futures project, and am intrigued by the idea of using scenarios that venture well beyond the library walls, in order to provoke discussion about what our institutions will look like in the future. In fact, the importance of staying abreast of what’s going on in the larger community was a point that was made in the July 2010 webcast for the project.

This got me thinking about my favorite resources for staying on top of what’s what outside of the library and archives world. I thought I would share two:

  • Above the Fold: this is our own weekly awareness newsletter for analysis of issues that are around us and impact us, but that we may not normally notice. Jim is the usual commentator, although we all get a chance to engage periodically. This is not a shameless plug! It really is a favorite and you should check it out.
  • O’Reilly Radar, it’s not as much about publishing as you would think, although electronic publications trends are certainly a frequent topic. Recently there has been a lot of conversation about open government and also on managing data. (Big data. I mean really big data.)
  • In the relatively new year I’d like to expand my list. What are your suggestions for outside reading?

    And, getting back to where I started, how many of you have used the ARL scenarios for internal planning?

    The Core of Bibliographic Description

    Monday, January 17th, 2011 by Roy

    In trying to make our metadata work harder, as we have with WorldCat Identities, WorldCat Genres, and other such projects, OCLC Research does a lot of looking at what our collective metadata holds. And frankly, in some ways I think it is less than you might think.

    For example, my colleague Karen Smith-Yoshimura produced a while back, as part of the work she was leading to “gather evidence to inform changes in MARC metadata practices”, a scatterplot of the number of times various MARC elements appear in WorldCat records. The vast majority of record elements fell to the bottom of the chart at a very low occurrence rate. But as is the case with any scatterplot, the point is to identify the outliers. The outliers in this case are those elements that appear in a large number of records — that is, what might be considered “core” elements that are used to describe the vast majority of library owned material.

    Those “outliers” can be categorized according to three general purposes:

    • Provenance and Identity: identifiers (e.g. ISBN, OCLC, etc.) and cataloging source (040)
    • Elements useful for discovery: title statement (245), personal names (100, 700) and subject (650)
    • Elements useful for understanding and evaluation: publication statement (260), physical description (300), and notes (500)

    That’s it. In a nutshell you have the very core of bibliographic description as defined by librarians over the last century or so. Are all other MARC elements useless? That’s not necessarily what I’m suggesting, although I do believe it calls into question the utility of a number of MARC elements. What I’m really trying to say is that if you want to know what librarians feel is useful or important in bibliographic description for the vast majority of library owned content, you only have to look at the evidence. It’s no more and no less than what is described above.

    Image courtesy of Jeff Kubina, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License

    Cloud-sourcing Research Collections: Managing Print in the Mass-digitized Library Environment

    Thursday, January 6th, 2011 by Jim

    The report of this project is now available. We blogged about it recently in the series of posts summarizing our major activities at year end.

    The importance of shared print initiatives is growing and the Hathi Trust is poised to become an important element in the library infrastructure of the future. Their participant list now shows 52 institutional participants and three major consortia. It’s clear that mass digitization, the flip to electronic resources and space demands have resulted in a new view of the print collection in academic libraries. There is now motivated discussion among research libraries about how to construct a new system of services based on the digitized aggregation, local collections and shared storage repositories.

    To quote my colleague, Lorcan Dempsey, “we are pleased that much of the empirical context for this discussion and quite a bit of intellectual leadership has come from OCLC Research work being done for the RLG Partnership. Constance Malpas has been leading this activity, and has been creating and supporting links between various community initiatives and relevant product areas in OCLC.

    Her much-awaited report detailing the initial work that formed the basis for this activity has now appeared. It is likely to be quite influential in future planning activities.”

    Even if this is not a core interest you should be familiar with the major findings. You’ll be pleased to see that the report has an excellent executive summary ;)

    What is a Book?

    Wednesday, January 5th, 2011 by Roy

    In discussing a problem we were trying to solve the other day, we got into a discussion about how you define a book. This is the kind of question that likely only a cataloger can love, so if you’re not one you may want to surf off to some other spot.

    It turns out that it is much more difficult than you might think at first blush. Dictionary definitions are singularly useless in this context, as they are vague enough to include all manner of printed and bound material that is unlikely to interest a library user who probably thinks they can recognize a book when they see one. This calls to mind the oft-told tale of the judge who failed to come up with a definition for “porn” beyond “I’ll know it when I see it.”

    But meanwhile it leaves us floundering in our attempts to authoritatively identify books in WorldCat. It seems that the best we can come up with (so far) is to take everything away that clearly isn’t a book (e.g., records coded as manuscripts, images, serials, etc.), and anything left we can consider a book. Sloppy, perhaps, but it’s the best we have right now.