On 3/7/2015 9:37 PM, Martynas Jusevičius wrote:
> I find these statements hard to believe. Data is just data. Data,
> metadata - there is no difference.
> People are using RDF to describe proteins, semiconductor products,
> horoscope signs, antique coins and who knows what else. What makes you
> think libraries are special? Again, I mean real technical limitations
> -- all the history and the "traditional ways of doing things" are
> irrelevant here.

There are different types of data, and we experience it in all kinds of 
ways every day. I have gone into greater detail in those podcasts and 
presentations I mentioned, but I'll try to redo a little of it here. The 
differences are subtle, but clear.

Before I begin however, what you have claimed to be history, and 
traditional ways of doing things, is not history at all. Whether we like 
it or not, what I described is the way libraries still work. It is what 
users are supposed to do when they use a library, and if people don't do 
it, they will get bad results. Of course, few people do it and this 
explains a lot of the frustration that people currently have with 
library catalogs.

The solution that libraries have tried is called "information literacy" 
and "bibliographic instruction" which, instead of fixing library tools 
to work in a modern environment, means to teach everybody how to use our 
tools the way they are. In my own opinion, this hasn't worked and 
everything needs to be rethought, but what I described is not 
history--unfortunately it is still happening today.

About catalog data, it isn't that it is special, but it is different 
from the other types of data that you point out. When someone comes to a 
library, they don't come specifically to search the catalog (or at 
least, those that do are exceedingly rare). Instead, the vast majority 
are there because they have a question and want information. My example 
has been "What were the causes of the War of the Spanish Succession". 
The catalog does not contain the information I want--the information 
that can answer my question is contained in the books, journal articles, 
and other materials in the collection--but if I use the catalog 
correctly, it can direct me to the resources that have the information I 
want. In this way, the information found in a catalog is similar to 
information found on ... traffic signs.

If you want to drive from Rome to Paris, you need signs to help you get 
there. The better the signs, the better, the easier, and the more 
enjoyable the trip. Poor signs, or the absence of them (which happens in 
Italy all the time), can lead to frustration, anger or even disasters.

So, people want and need decent and reliable road signs, but they are 
very rarely interested in the signs themselves: who made them, where and 
when, what materials they are composed of and so on. Still, those in 
charge of the road signs need to know that information, so that they can 
replace them, update them, add to them, etc.

Using this same reasoning with catalogs and how things are changing, 
compare this with the person who is interested in the "War of the 
Spanish Succession" and searches the library catalog. They can sit there 
quite literally, all day long and not have learned anything about the 
War. All they see are *catalog records* and if they are to learn about 
the war itself, they need to get into the books of the collection. But 
when they search Google, in just a half-an-hour they have gotten some 
real information. This leads them to expect that library tools will work 
similar to what works (apparently) so easily and simply on Google, which 
seems logical but is completely wrong.

Google works with a different type of information: content; library 
catalogs work by giving people directional information: so even when the 
searcher does everything correctly, all they see are directions: for 
general books on the War, look here, For books on the politics look 
there, For battles, look here, etc.

For those who use catalogs incorrectly, they are practically doomed to 
disaster and for them it is similar to a driver who hasn't seen a road 
sign for hours, and ends up at the end of a road in the middle of a 
field at midnight.

Believe me, this happens to students all the time when they are 
researching their papers at the last minute! Both end up in tears and/or 
almost screaming.

Catalogers see this difference in information clearly because they work 
with the actual materials that people want: the books, the recordings, 
the maps, etc. all go through their hands. The mistake that many 
catalogers make (again in my opinion) is that they believe people, who 
care about the information in the collection (i.e. who want to learn 
about The War of the Spanish Succession), also care about the catalog 
records they make. Of course for the public, these records are the 
equivalent of road signs that help them get where they want to go. They 
don't care about the road signs and once they reach their destination, 
they completely forget about all the helpful road signs. I confess I 
remember only the frustrations and anger during the trips that had lousy 
signs. I think the same thing happens with catalog records.

While our methods still "work" in a sense, they are strange for people 
in the 21st century. They need to be, in a sense, translated so that 
they work in today's environment.

So, all data is definitely not equal. I think there is still a need for 
our type of data but it needs to be reconsidered. Tools that work well 
for content data, don't work so well with directional data. And with 
linked data, I am very skeptical about the usefulness of mixing content 
data with our directional data. Nevertheless, we should try it, to find 
out what happens. I would be very happy to be proven wrong.

There are other options, too.

James Weinheimer [log in to unmask]
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