American Library Association Annual Meeting, 2006
The American Library Association Annual Meeting of 2007 took place in New Orleans (June 23-27), and this is my travel log.
Movers & Shakers
Upon arrival to New Orleans I immediately proceeded to the Movers & Shakers annual get together. There I met my cousin who has also been deemed a Mover. We listened to John Wood. He is the author of a book called Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, and he described the motives and operations of this philanthropic foundation to create libraries across the third world. It was truly inspiring and I almost wrote a check.
Next generation library catalog
On the Friday evening I got together with a number of people to discuss ideas surrounding a "next generation" library catalog. Attendees included David Dormanand Sebastian Hammerof IndexData, Jennifer Bowenand Judi Bridenof University of Rochester, Marshall Breedingof Vanderbuilt University, Andrew Paceof North Carolina State University, Josh Ferraroof LibLime, Thom Hickeyand Chip Nilgesof OCLC, and myself. The discussion was framed by four questions, listed here more or less in priority order: 1), What sorts of tasks should this thing enable to end-user to accomplish? 2) What types of technology are necessary to implement this thing? 3) How could a collaborative library-initiated project to develop an open source "next generation" library catalog work in partnership with vendors who provide related products and services?, and 4) What kinds of questions should we be asking now regarding the intended content of the system?
While the meeting did not generate any concrete action items nor next steps, there was some general consensus surrounding a few items. For example, most people seemed to think a "next generation" library catalog needs to take into account things beyond the items owned (or licensed) by a library to include journal and magazine articles as well as other things that can be found on the 'Net. If this is true, then the word "catalog" to describe this thing is mis-leading. At the same time the needs of different libraries will require different "catalogs". In public libraries, where books are emphasized and journal articles not, the "catalog" may be more like an inventory list. On the other hand this is not as true in an academic library and the "catalog" may be more like and elaborate finding aid.
Another item of consensus was this thing needs to provide services beyond the traditional catalog's ability to find and identify. These services are value-added things such as the ability to review, opportunities for collaboration and social networking, citation management, etc. Moreover, there was consensus these services would be made available in the places where the users were as opposed to being only in a centralized website. The "catalog" is not necessarily a destination. For the most part participants believed this would be implemented through the use of Web Services computing techniques.
This led to a discussion regarding the computing technology necessary to implement a "next generation" catalog. In general people believed this was a non-issue with the exception of whether or not the "next generation" catalog needs to exploit federated searching techniques or not. Attendees were split in this regard. Personally, I think metasearch is a flawed technology because of issues surrounding remote index(es) availability, network latency, de-duplication problems, the inability to do holistic relevancy ranking, and incompatible metadata schemes. I believe we need to have a single index, not many. Others thought is was necessary to have many indexes in order to support specialized content and provide access to licensed metadata available only through commercial publishers.
The question was raised regarding where the metadata for a "next generation" catalog would exist. "Why does every library need to have copies of its metadata when many libraries share that metadata?" There were nods around the table, but because of the differences between library audiences "one metadata description does not fit all." Consequently, a shared metadata repository may be useful, but it might also require tweaks for specific institutions.
We wondered whether or not we were talking about an evolutionary change regarding the "catalog" or a revolutionary change. Many of the features we had been discussion were considered evolutionary. Because the library community is so large and the needs/desires of library users so diverse, we wondered whether or not a new solution would become a reality. If a "model" for a "next generation" library catalog were articulated, then it could be implemented in any number of ways.
Finally, we wondered why the library community does not lobby data providers for metadata. While nobody denied a provider's need to license their content, the creation of a "next generation" library catalog could be easier to implement if the metadata describing provider's content were available via OAI.
The meeting was thought provoking, congenial, and collegial.
FAST: A New system of subject access for cataloging and metadata
This panel discussion described FAST (Faceted Application of Subject Terminology). Lois Chan(University of Kentucky) and Ed O'Neill(OCLC) outlined the reasoning behind a faceted approach to Library of Congress Subject Headings: 1) LCSH requires specialists to use, 2) LCSH headings are not very amenable to describing things outside library catalogs, and 3) LCSH is a bit too deep for many applications. With these things in mind LCSH was broken down into eight high-level facets and LCSH terms were associated with each. The facets include: 1) topical, 2) geographic, 3) form/genre, 4) chronological, 5) personal names, 6) corporate names, 7) titles, and 8) meeting names. Using this faceted approach a post-coordinated subject heading like this:
Origami -- Juvenile literature
would get changed into a pre-coordinated set of headings like this:
Form: Juvenile literature
Such an approach lends itself to easier browsing of indexes, the need for less "syntactical sugar", and makes it possible for non-catalogers to create subject headings.
Qiang Jin(University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne) echoed much of the previous statements and raised the question as to whether or not these "subject headings" were intended to be stand on their own. I believe the answer lies in an understanding that the facet/term combinations are to be taken as whole and not outside of the context of the other headings. Arlene Taylor(University of Pittsburgh) conducted a number of tests against a set of 5,000 records enhanced using FAST to determine whether or not FAST improved precision/recall. The differenced between the use of LCSH and FAST seemed minimal. Shannon Hoffman(Brigham Young University) reported on three implementations of FAST by other libraries and each believed FAST was easier to use and more cost-effective.
Personally, I am pleased to see this development. FAST and LCSH are not intended to be an either/or question. FAST was designed for simple descriptive cataloging, such as the cataloging necessary for things found on the Internet. We can have it quickly, cheaply, or well-done, but we can't have all three. FAST is quick and cheap. LCSH is expensive and deep. I would have only two suggestions. First, instead of associating each facet with a particular MARC tag, I would explicitly list each facet. This way patrons will not need to know that 633 is topical facet, 634 is geographic facet, etc. Second, I would create a facet called language, even though a language code exists else where in AACR 2. FAST seems to solve more problems than it creates.
Top Tech Trends
The TTT presentation was attended by the usual suspect. Andrew Pacealluded to "findability" as a commodity, auto classification shows promise, and libraries must continue to understand that they are not the "land lords" of information.
Marshall Breeding(Vanderbuilt University) thought issues surrounding the "next generation" library catalog surrounded scope and navigation. He also thought there would be more consolidation in the integrated library system vendor market.
Cliff Lynch(Coalition for Networked Information) brought to our attention the new developments of Internet 2, and the issues of 'Net neutrality might turn networking into the likes of cable television. He advocated lobbying data providers to make their metadata available via OAI, and he wasn't even a part of the "next generation" catalog discussion, above. Finally, he echoed the needs to do computational linguistics against large corpora of literature.
Karen Schnieder(Librarians Index to the Internet) echoed the need for "findability", mentioned that the "user is not broken" and the OPAC is not the center of the library universe. She advocated "managed" open source software, faceted navigation, and she thought ebooks may be an idea that keeps reemerging, each time a little more creatively.
Some of my trends included VoIP (voice over IP) making it easier to communicate abroad, wiki's and blogs as increasingly the norm for Web pages, metasearch is not living up to its expectations, and there is a growing discontent with library catalogs.
Tom Wilsonbrought a historical perspective to the Trends meeting and asserted we need to think of all of our ideas as interim solutions. Smart.
Roy Tennant(California Digital Library) thought the "next generation" library catalog would be more like a finding tool, not an inventory list. He thought the rise of "micro-communities" will create challenges for librarianship.
That evening I attended a reception hosted by Google. I met many people who worked for Google, and they seemed genuinely pleased to be working for the company. I tried to tell them the most valuable asset they have is the trust of users. "If people ever find out that search results are manipulated, you will loose people's trust and your reputation will be gone forever."
The Meeting was well-attended but not as heavily attended as previous years. The city of New Orleans sincerely appreciated us librarians being there, and it is definitely still going through a grieving process. Hot topics seemed to be series authorities and "next generation" library catalogs. The devastation from Katrina was readily apparent, and the recovery process will be slow.
Creator: Eric Lease Morgan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Source: This text was never formally published.
Date created: 2006-06-28
Date updated: 2006-09-13
Subject(s): New Orleans; ALA (American Library Association); travel log;