Now that I have your attention with that bizarre title, let me explain. Recently I gave a keynote talk at the IATUL Annual Conference in Bolzano, IT. Since I had an 11-hour flight to Frankfurt, I bought a neck pillow at the airport. One time I flew back from Australia in economy and it took two months and multiple trips to the chiropractor to get my neck back in shape, so I wasn’t eager to repeat that.
Meanwhile, my talk was on my mind. Called “Data Designed for Discovery,” which I had given several times before, I talk about how MARC was designed for description and that linked data is designed more for discovery. I also realized that MARC really only makes sense in library systems — once it’s outside of a library system no one knows what to do with it. That’s when it hit me.
After being introduced at my keynote, I slipped on my neck pillow and went to the front of the room. I said, “You’re no doubt wondering why I’m wearing this neck pillow. You’re all world travelers, so you understand that there is one and only one context where wearing a neck pillow makes sense — on a long distance trip where you are expected to sleep sitting up. Outside of that context, like now, it is not just useless, it’s ridiculous. Similarly, there is one and only one context in which MARC, our foundational bibliographic standard, makes sense — inside a library system. Outside of that context no one knows what to do with it. Therefore, MARC is the neck pillow of bibliographic data.” Unfortunately, I don’t think BIBFRAME is any better in this regard, as it is in a schema that only libraries will care about.
I then went on to describe the many ways in which bibliographic data in linked data form can be used both within our systems, to solve long-standing discovery problems, as well as outside of our systems for web crawlers and others to find and use (in Schema.org form).
I don’t expect this metaphor to take off like my “MARC must die” statement, soon to be 15 years old, but if it works for you, feel free to use it.
Roy Tennant works on projects related to improving the technological infrastructure of libraries, museums, and archives.