Views of possible future architectures of cataloging

PALINET convened a symposium today here in Philadelphia on the future of cataloging. There was a full turnout, with over 150 library professionals attending. It appeared that the organizers had to scramble a bit to distribute lunch to the large crowd. I waited for a few minutes in a line that hardly seemed to move at all, and then some logjam cleared, enabling us all to get our food in short order. (I did notice that by the time I picked up my own box lunch, no one was checking the tickets that specified what food we were entitled to take.) Would that all our cataloging projects could resolve their workflow and backlog issues so quickly.

The opening keynote was by Karen Calhoun, now at OCLC, whose controversial 2006 report for the Library of Congress touched off a fierce debate among librarians over what kinds of changes should take place in library catalogs. Her address at this symposium was less controversial, and dealt with transitions in the work of the folks that catalog and manage collections. My Penn colleague Beth Picknally Camden took part in the followup panel, remarking on the “perpetual beta” viewpoint that we’re encouraging in our library as we shift to new responsibilities and strategies. Also on the panel were Diane Hillmann (at Cornell until recently), and Christine Schwartz, whose blog, Cataloging Futures, is well worth following if you’re interested in future directions of library catalogs. (Besides the ongoing posts, its “key resources” column gives a useful overview of many of the current debates on cataloging.)

The symposium also provided an opportunity to learn more about the Library of Congress’s 2007 recommendation on the future of bibliographic control (in a presentation by Nancy Fallgren), as well as FRBR and RDA, two bibliographic standards proposed to become the new basis for bibliographic description (and featured in a presentation by John Attig.) I would have loved to go to both talks, preferably one right after another– if nothing else, the contrasting points of view would have been interesting. (The LC report recommended that work on RDA be suspended, in part due to concerns about the practicality of FRBR.) Alas, they were at the same time, so I attended Attig’s talk, which covered material less familiar to me than the contents of the LC report.

I also had to miss Christine di Bella’s talk on special collections cataloging to give my own talk. I’m not firmly settled into any established camp in the cataloging debate, but I’ve noticed that architectural issues– information architecture, systems architecture, and social architecture– underly many of the ongoing cataloging debates, and aren’t always explicitly considered or fleshed out. So I tried to address some of them in my talk, using projects I’m involved with such as subject maps, ILS discovery interfaces, and PennTags, as examples of designs that aim for a more robust catalog architecture. The slides I’ve used, which include pointers to more information about all these projects, are now posted on my Selected Works website. PALINET also intends to put the audio and slides of all of us who spoke on their website (though I’m not quite sure where they will end up, or whether they will be all accessible to the general public.)

I was happy to see several people raise the importance of freely sharing cataloging data, something that’s all too often hindered by existing contracts, and which severely impairs the community’s ability to improve the catalog collectively. Diane Hillmann was particularly eloquent on this issue, urging people to consider open source-like business models that support themselves by providing the best services, not by hoarding data. My talk also touched on “open data” issues. (And Karen Coyle recently blogged on an example of the kind of damage we’re inflicting on ourselves by not agreeing to share.) I did hear some encouraging hints suggesting that some aggregators might be moving towards more open sharing of commonly managed catalog records, as well as easier ways for the cataloging community to refine and improve on these records. We’ll see what happens.

This was my first PALINET symposium, and the first conference I’ve been to that focused specifically on cataloging issues. I’m very glad I went, and I thank PALINET for inviting me to speak (and running a smooth and enjoyable conference, lunch lines notwithstanding). If you’re interested in these issues, I hope you’ll find my talk slides of interest, and hope we’ll see more materials from the speakers online as well before long.

About John Mark Ockerbloom

I'm a digital library strategist at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia.
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2 Responses to Views of possible future architectures of cataloging

  1. arkham says:

    I enjoyed your talk, and several of the others. I liked Diane Hillmann’s response to Karen Calhoun particularly well.

    Just a note, I was one of the first in for lunch, and they weren’t checking the tickets then, either. I guess they left it up to the conscience of the catalogers.

  2. Donna Wolfe says:

    Thank you for your review. I enjoyed your talk. I especially liked the way you used the image of the map as a way of helping us rethink the architecture of the searching interface. Yours was a dynamic and thought provoking presentation.

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