Bibliographic Control and the Web: An Oxymoron?

Michael Gorman (ALA President, California State University-Fresno) spoke to a full room just before the conference luncheon.

Michael Gorman likes cataloging. His talk focused on the challenges of metadata schemes in libraries and other information finding environments. Gorman terms this emphasis on metadata “the third way” – an alternative to expensive and time consuming full cataloging and search-engine-esque free text searching.

But the third way is not necessarily a good way, says Gorman. AARC2 and MARC are complex because the world is complex. The rules and subdivisions arise from reality—a real representation of the human record. The coherence and control of the vocabulary is core to making information organized and accessible.

Gorman contends that on the opposite end of the spectrum, search engines like Google give you more hits than you can deal with, in no useful order, no guarantee that all received items are relevant, or that all relevant items have been received.

Consistency and standards for metadata are lacking. From discipline to discipline, standards and formats range wildly. This is metadata’s failure.

Gorman says that cataloging’s historical failure can be found in two fatal flaws:
• The mechanisms by which cataloging information was conveyed (printed media)
• The lack of uniformity in cataloging formats (different element sets, data standards, and orders)
If, with present technology, we can continue to address these two flaws, cataloging could have a new renaissance, Gorman believes.

Gorman seems to believe that “the third way” (useful metadata) is ultimately impossible—that our choices truly are either firm cataloging or free text searching.