And now, for the final installment of the RLG Forum report…
Following lunch on Tuesday, we reconvened with a set of talks on folksonomies, or user supplied tagging. Daniel Starr (Metropolitan Museum of Art), our pinch-hitter for Rich Cherry, delivered a true home-run. Daniel got pulled into folksonomies when the collections side of the house at the Metropolitan started looking at how they wanted to provide access to digital images. They thought that it wouldn’t hurt to have a librarian at the table, and while Daniel found himself chairing a group on subject access and arguing in favor of authority control. However, the economic realities on the ground and first experiments with user-supplied keywords at the Metropolitan convinced him that tagging was worth exploring. While he on his last slides he quibbled that he still wasn’t sure whether his flirtation with social tagging was a librarian “seeing the light” or “descending into hell,” we know for sure that his talk on the topic left us thoroughly entertained and illuminated.
Michael Winkler (University of Pennsylvania) followed on with a report on the “Penn Tags” project, which has just celebrated a one-year anniversary. The focus of the project was to do something “like del.icio.us, but different,” that would allow the library to overcome some limitations of the catalog, such as not being able to bookmark resources. This project allows U. Penn community members to add descriptive tags or evaluative comments to resources. It has been primarily used for web pages, but also for catalog records, and electronic resource descriptions, and used to create annotated bibliographies. One of the most valuable contributions of this talk was the introduction of “side-by-side architectures,” a term that was new to us at least. This allows for the most authoritative, best record or description to be held in a separate system than the contributed data, so you can maintain the purity of the system of record.
Bill Moen (University of North Texas) gave an overview of his research on the use of the MARC encoding and content designation in WorldCat. Of the over 2000 potential fields in MARC, only a relatively handful are used in practice. While you can find the detailed results on the project website, we took notes on his analysis of LC records within WorldCat: the 7,5 Million records use 167 fields; 21 of these fields account for 90% of element use. Bill’s work is very interesting, and certainly very important, but also leads to even more questions, such as, would the results have been the same if the RLG Union Catalog was analysed?
Sally McCallum (Library of Congress) walked us through “MARC futures,” by highlighting the various features of MARC – it can be expressed in XML, offers granularity, versatility, extensibility, modularity, is cooperatively managed, and probably most importantly pervasive. Some of the features have also proved to be pitfalls. On the downside, MARC does not support a lot of hierarchy, and although it can (and has been) crosswalked against a number of related standards, this could be an endless chore, so the Network Standards Office at LC could spend all of its time crosswalking and keeping crosswalks current. Sally speculated about future possible directions for MARC, including internationalization features. In the Q & A session after her talk, the audience clearly still had Bill’s remarks in mind, and questions were raised about freezing MARC. Sally’s response made it clear that there are strong community pressures against pruning, so freezing the standard was unlikely, and not in the spirit of use by a broad community.
Finally, Diane Zorich (“the hardest working woman in the room”) did a great job of summarizing synergies and tensions that were revealed during the meeting. Among these were the usual tensions between library, archive, and museum mission and approach. Viewing materials as being grouped into collections may help bring these disparate practices together. Other commonalities are professional pressures – colleagues from all fields experience “dirty looks” or suspicion from colleagues when they are trying something new. How can professions shift with these pressures? Information professionals need to serve users by providing the best data possible, frequently without knowing who the users are or what they want, and this is an area for more work. Backlog reductions need to be integrated into mainline practices, not relegated to “rogue” activities. At the same time, we all need more evaluation and empirical studies so that we can “know what we are loosing” when we stop doing something, or do something differently. Finally, we need to look to projects like RAVNS, which have successfully reframed the problem from “seeing the trees to seeing the forest,” as Carol Butler so aptly put it, or to not fear tipping sacred cows (to paraphrase Diane).
To sum up, it was a great two days, thanks primarily to excellent speakers and an active audience made up of a broad range of RLG Partner institutions, but also to the Folger for providing an excellent space and playing host. We never did get to go on one of those tours due to housekeeping issues, but we look forward to doing so the next time we are in Washington. We’re traveling back home to the Bay Area with a suitcase full of CDs, and once we’ve figured out how to extract MP3s, those of you who were not able to attend the Forum will at least be able to hear the talks!
Here’s an image that sums up the spirit of the Forum In case you can’t read it, the motto says, “Insanity is when you do things the way you’ve always done them and expect a different result.” (Variously attributed to Albert Einstein and Ralph Waldo Emerson.)
Merrilee and Günter