Standards Watch

“Structures and Standards for Bibliographic Data” (pt.1)

This second in a series of ‘hearings’ under the aegis of the Library of Congress Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control occurred at ALA Headquarters in Chicago, in a large spare room that Keith Michael Fiels, ALA Executive Direction, quipped reflected the “opulence of the organization.” But there was juice, coffee, and high-end pastries, so few complained. The room was packed full (around a hundred, based on number of full chairs), with both locals and out-of-towners.

Deanna Marcum welcomed the group, introduced its task and expectations and mentioned the group’s website: She mentioned LC’s strategic planning process (38 working groups—whoa!), and in particular a report that is in process on the history of bibliographic control, from 2000 B.C. forward. She promised that this report would be made available when completed.

José-Marie Griffiths emphasized that the group welcomes feedback from the community, and invited the participants to engage with the group on these issues.

Brian Schottlaender moderated the “Biblio-palooza.” He mentioned that the format had changed from the Oakland meeting in March, which he described as “more of a talking heads meeting.” This was designed to be more interactive, with most of the afternoon devoted to open discussion. He expressed his hope that the ideas discussed would allow the WG to make their recommendations. He also mentioned that the non-discreet cameras at each side of the room were there for the purpose of recording audio and video for a cybercast to be made available by the Library of Congress. [Brian mentioned an article that I didn’t get the cite for] which described the rapidly changing landscape and the new difficulties in creating order from this yeasty chaos. He then read the questions that the WG distributed for discussion at this meeting:

1. What kinds of structures and standards are needed to provide effective bibliographic control in the environmental spectrum spanning consumer uses and management uses? How can we make better use of current structures and standards in meeting both consumer and management user needs? What relevant communities need to have input and what organizational structures would best support this?

2. Libraries and related cultural heritage organizations have made a major investment in controlled data. These include structures for organizing subjects, personal and corporate names, place names, roles and relationships, time periods, etc. What role will these data play in networked environments? What is the relationship to the semantic web, tagging, or other newer approaches? How do these data work across database silos? How are supporting infrastructure pieces (gazetteers, controlled vocabularies, etc.) situated and maintained?

3. Data are created to be processed by applications. We mine data for meaning; merge and manipulate data for display; use data to support supply chains and inventory control; share data between repositories and discovery environments. Are our structures and standards appropriate to this reality?

4. What requirements are placed on our bibliographic structures through new application areas, such as mass digitization and greater off-site storage, or the desire to create richer user interfaces and integrated discovery environments?

5. Libraries now manage different flows of data, created within different regimes, much of it outside the library environment. They also want their data and services to appear in other environments. At the same time, we see more reuse and flow of data across publishers, libraries, agents, other bibliographic services, etc. What does this mean for our bibliographic structures and standards?

The first speaker was David Bade of the University of Chicago. David is a cataloger, and distributed to the group a written paper that he read almost word for word. The paper itself was 12 fully packed pages, followed by an appendix with “ten examples of bibliographic records found in OCLC (before and after correction) [that] clearly demonstrate problems in the organizational infrastructure for creating and maintaining bibliographic information in an environment of different flows of data … ]. Further, “ … the theory of librarianship which informed the [Working Group’s] background paper is unmistakably a theory of industrial production, transportation and storage, in which meaning is ‘mined’ rather than created, and information flows and is merged and manipulated but never interpreted, evaluated or corrected.” [emphasis the author’s]

It goes on, a passionate rant from a frustrated intellectual, but sadly, its ideas were not effectively presented, and whatever germ of usefulness contained therein was tainted by the inability of the author to understand the realities of how technology has changed our environment. This was a deeply ‘conservative’ (in the classic sense) screed, delivered by a rather improbable Don Quixote (in t-shirt and beret). But the windmill he tilts at is whirring madly, and he is unequal to the task of stopping it.

The second speaker is me, and since I have no ability to speak and blog at the same time, you’ll have to wait for the cybercast or look at the slides.

The third speaker was Jane Greenberg on the faculty at the University of North Carolina. Jane started with a cartoon (helpfully labeled as “comic relief”) having to do with cats, boxes, and doing things outside said receptacles, then moved on to one where a grandmotherly type introduces a range of books to a child, saying “It’s a library, honey—kind of an early version of the World Wide Web.”

Jane described the standards landscape as she saw it, consisting of three silos: Data Structure Standards, Data Communication Standards, Data Value Standards. She discussed in general how these standards have developed and where they might fit together in the future.

She then attempted to address the specifics of the questions asked by the WG, by ‘classifying’ them (which the audience appreciated). She suggested that we needed a broad range of standards and that context should determine the most appropriate ones to the task. She plugged the upcoming publication “Knitting the Semantic Web” she edited for CCQ, as well as my NSDL Registry (thanks, Jane!) In attempting to discuss the ‘continuum’ where traditional bibliographic control meets social tagging, she showed a slide I couldn’t see that well, but which illustrated this “ontology continuum’ as she called it. She closed with a set of her own questions (some more research questions than ones that could be answered immediately), expanding on the questions asked by the WG.

To be continued …


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  2. Jeffrey Beall

    This blog entry contains a personal attack on David Bade, mocking his clothing and his beliefs. Is this the way we do business in LITA and ALA?

  3. Diane Hillmann


    I was trying to convey the flavor of the testimony not to attack David personally. If my intention was misinterpreted, I apologize.


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  5. Nathan

    In full disclosure, I am a cataloger. Having read David Bade’s paper (he emailed it to me), I’m pretty disappointed with your assessment of his presentation. I’m not sure how David read his fully packed paper, or what his clothing has to do with its content, but I would hardly classify it as a “rant from a frustrated intellectual”. Nor do I think David is unaware of what technologies can and can’t do, Web 2.0, etc, as he addresses these realities in his paper. Re: the paper’s usefulness, I’m guessing that it will prove to be far more than a “germ”, but will show itself to have been more relevant than many realized at the time…

  6. Jennifer

    “Conveying the flavor of the testimony”? That’s not usually the job of a reporter. Your remarks come across as rude and condescending. Deconstructing his argument in a professional manner would be more becoming of someone in your position. But sneering at him? Such comments I would expect on a JournalSpace weblog, from someone who has nothing more to say than to deride a person for his clothing and style of speaking.

  7. Tracy

    Cleary, David Bade’s presentation annoyed you, which has been manifested in your biased, unprofessional, condescending response.

    I attended the Working Group, and I heard David’s excellent presentation. Neither I nor Mr. Beall have “misinterpreted” your remarks. You decided to take cheap shots, rather than address his arguments, and it is, indeed, disappointing but not surprising.

    I agree with Nathan, that David’s paper will be referred to quite often when RDA becomes an inevitable reality. The fact that he made us all read rather than look at pretty PowerPoint pictures was, in this old-school, “conservative’s” opinion, magnificent.

    FYI: you probably know this, but saying, “if I’ve been misinterpreted, I apologize,” doesn’t count as an apology.

    Finally, being an “intellectual,” frustrated or not, shouldn’t merit ridicule.

  8. Diane Hillmann

    I find it interesting that most of the commentary on my report responds to me in exactly the same mode they accuse me of employing. I don’t deny that I have a point of view, and though I try very hard to be fair, my attempt to be both fair and honest in my reactions aren’t always interpreted the way I’d intended, but so be it. I do think that it would be useful for some of the folks who disagree with me to move out of personal attack mode and engage a bit with the ideas. If you think David was right, please tell us why.

  9. Jennifer

    “I do think that it would be useful for some of the folks who disagree with me to move out of personal attack mode and engage a bit with the ideas.”

    We are not in personal attack mode; we are simply challenging your notion of professionalism. However, I’d love to read Mr. Bade’s paper, if you have it handy in a PDF or Word document, please e-mail it to me if you are allowed to do so. I was unable to attend the work group and have been catching up by reading summaries such as yours.

    The main reason your remarks concerning Mr. Bade are shocking is that you wrote these two weblog entries as if they were “minutes of a meeting,” not your personal observations and thoughts. It reads as such until one reaches that fateful section. For one who was unable to attend the meeting in Chicago, your summary was useful until that point. Your digression from simply reporting of the happenings to personal observation and attack was unprofessional.

    At the very least, you could have conveyed the flavor of his testimony in a parenthetical aside; such a grammatical convention would have been of great benefit to you here. Everyone is welcome to her opinion; no one is arguing with you on that!

  10. Tracy

    If you’ve interpreted my comments as an “attack,” I apologize.

    However, I disagree that my comments are in “exactly the same mode” as yours. If they had been they’d have discussed your style of dress and the fact that you’re an unintellectual who is “passionately” enamored with shiny penny technology. I don’t think this about you at all; I’m just saying that a similar response would have been in this vein.

    I don’t think discussing who is “right” or wrong would be at all helpful here. RDA and the like are realities, and they all have positive and exciting possibilities. But they are also why we’re where we are regarding series authority control, and we should acknowledge this. I think that David’s presentation was and is relevant, and your treatment of it–especially when compared with how you treated the other presenters, those with whom you agree–is extremely unfair. His presentation posed important questions. He prefaced it by explaining he wrote it in the spirit of debate, and he has received nothing but derision here. That’s all I’m saying.

    By the way, I enjoyed your presentation also and learned a lot from it.

  11. Diane Hillmann

    Tracy & Jennifer:

    Thanks for your comments. Let me be specific: I have a lot of sympathy for David’s point of view, and I don’t think that “frustrated intellectual” is a pejorative term. He’s a very bright guy and very passionate about his views (a good thing–in my view). He is, however, much more comfortable communicating in writing and clearly that’s an important venue for discussion. But this was a “hearing” not a paper presentation, and I think much of his message got lost (and not just for me) because he misjudged the venue and what was expected from him as spokesperson for a particular point of view. That was unfortunate, for a lot of reasons, but I think the WG was able to pull some good points from his presentation to add to the discussion and they should be congratulated for that–it wasn’t all that easy to do if you didn’t have his detailed paper to digest ahead of time. And no, I can’t distribute a copy of his paper–I don’t have anything but a printout of it. Don’t you think that’s part of the problem? (I do.)

    I take your points about how I might have done better in separating my personal opinion from my notes, but frankly, I don’t find it that easy, especially under time pressure. My style is less formal than some people find “professional” but for me that’s part of the lure of blogging. It’s not formal reporting–it’s more immediate than that, and perhaps a bit less filtered. Wouldn’t it be nice if other people blogged the meeting and we could have their point of view too, instead of just reactions to mine? I’d sure welcome it! But how do we encourage that if the people who do put themselves out get flogged for doing so?

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  14. Jonathan Rochkind

    I wasn’t at the hearing, but from reading Mark Linden’s summary, I have to say I’m surprised at seeing Bade’s and Hillman’s comments as being presented as if they were in opposition. They didn’t seem that way to me at all.

    In general, I think our community spends too much time looking for where we disagree, and not enough time looking for where we agree, though.

    I do agree entirely with what Linden preseneted as Bade’s general point, which is that we ought to be making sure we meet the needs of what I’ll call “the information power users”, the advanced researchers and such. Even if they are a minority of our users, they are an _important_ minority, they are a bigger part of our mission than they are proportion of demographic served.

    But to me, the sorts of ‘modernizations’ being advocated by Hillman et al don’t contradict this at all! There is an idea that the ‘modernizers’ want to ‘lowest common denominator’ ‘googlize’ everything, and don’t think sophisticated control is neccesary. I don’t think this is so!

    Of course, we ALSO need to meet the needs of the majority of our less sophisticated users.

    I think we can do both.

    I think we need to spend more time identifying and developing our areas of agreement.

  15. Linda Dausch

    I was at this meeting and thought Bade’s presentation was the most thought provoking of all, followed by Marcum’s. His discussion of the plethora (and our tolerance) of errors/inaccuracies in bibliographic records and the problem of quality control in libraries are topics rarely raised these days. He is right– we pay vendors the same amount of money for a lousy record as for a good one. Libraries should also be high reliability organizations.

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