Catalog as Community: A Metadata Meditation
By Thomas J.
Library Software Review) March/June 2000; v 18, n 1/2.
The author is the
Director of Waukesha County Federated Library System as well as the
founder of the HAPLR Index rating system for public libraries.
His web site is at: http://www.haplr-index.com
catalogers are to fulfill their destiny as knowledge managers in this new
millennium they must contribute mightily to a crusade – a crusade that
seeks wisdom and shares knowledge. This
unorthodox metadata meditation declares that, as Marshall McLuhan might
have urged, the catalog must become the community- and the community the
catalog! Despite the whimsy
and emoticons found in this piece, it is a serious call to the profession
to remain both human and humane as we catalog this huge electronic beast
called the Net. Hennen believes that those useful but dreadful spyders that search
engineers send foraging through the web cannot do it alone.
The catalog is the community, he notes, urging us to build it with
a human touch.
catalog is the community. Although
the catalog we knew has died, the one we will soon know is just emerging.
In the last millennium McLuhan taught that the medium was the
message, proving at the same time that ideas have power and that sound
bites sell books. So then, if
the catalog is to be the community what will this
mean for librarians, especially the catalogers?
going back in time just ten years. Ask
someone in any community of 1990 what a web search engine might be.
While you are at it, ask a cataloger about the importance of proper
metadata descriptions or package frameworks.
both the search engineers and the catalogers recognize that it is very
likely that the web as a whole will become total chaos soon. Insufficient
attention has been given to metadata requirements.
Lacking a controlled vocabulary and consistent catalog
descriptions, the whole web is nothing but unfindable needles in a very
catalog is the community. Libraries
build community; communities repay the favor.
oral history provides even the details of eye and hair color of the first
Europeans that had contact with the Aborigines in Australia.
In an oral culture, many individuals must memorize, usually using
rhyme and mnemonic devices, a multitude of aspects of the people’s
history. It is up to the
cataloger, the chief, the knowledge manager, if you will, to be able to
tap the right person for the information needed.
Wisdom managers, it might be said, look to the living catalogs for
history and knowledge that can be woven into a web of wisdom.
in the western world have traditionally looked to print and physical
catalogs as our stock in trade. We
have relied more on objects than interactions in constructing our
libraries. The very
non-physical nature of the Internet and web based catalogs have forced us
to re-examine our preconceptions. In
the process, we must bring humans back into the process and realize that
it has always been true that the community is the best catalog.
funeral, it is said, is always more for the living.
Pallbearers carry their friend and, symbolically, themselves from
the hallowed past into the gloried future.
If we as librarians today must bury the library that we all knew
and loved, we should take care to celebrate the continued life of the
enterprise as it evolves in the digital age.
king is dead: long live the king. This
phrase long held a mystic hold on humanity, signifying our reverence for
the past and hope for the future. So,
the catalog is dead, long live the catalog.
have, most of us, been to the funerals of those 19th century
card catalogs. Some libraries
even put the fronts of the drawers in our lobbies with names of
benefactors – reminiscent of nothing so much, of course, as a mausoleum.
Our librarian ancestors had to preside at the funerals for book
catalogs and felt the loss as keenly while hoping much for the catalog
drawers that followed.
book or drawer form, the death certificates are legion, but the electronic
and now the web catalog will, we trust and believe, live long.
can say what new form the web catalogs successors will take?
Perhaps it will be the holodeck of Star Trek fame where we will
merge as one with the data-stream yet retain ultimate control and the
ability to utterly change the frame of reference.
We all know in our souls that there will be life and libraries
after the Internet. We just
cannot envision what that reality might be like.
is the use of a book without pictures?”
Alice enquired in Through the Looking Glass.
Upon a time, our descendants may ask, “What is the use of a Web
space without three dimensional motion?”
grasshopper, something comes before nothing just as the masters teach, but
now “The Nothing That Is”
has pride of place over the something that is printed.
When I was in
library school, I was immensely intrigued by the seemingly arcane
cataloging rule that “something comes before nothing.” It signifies
that a letter or numeral always precedes a blank space in AACR
(Anglo-American Cataloging Rules). It
seemed to me then, as now, more of a Zen proverb than a cataloging rule.
So, I was struck
recently when Oxford University Press gained considerable notoriety and
made publishing history by deciding to forgo print publication of the
substantial bibliography that Robert Kaplan, the author of
“The Nothing That Is: The Natural History of the Zero” had
included in his work. The
web, Oxford University Press judged, would be a better venue for the
unfolding bibliographic citation stream that would follow Kaplan’s work
than would the printed page. So
now, The Nothing That Is, the text, comes before the
something that is not, the bibliography – dare we say webliography?
famed Indian library philosopher Ranganathan taught in the 1930’s, as
one of his five rules of library service, that “a library is a growing
organism.” Had he but seen the Web as we know it today, he would, I do
not doubt, have added that the book, or its modern Internet equivalent, is
a growing organism as well. So it is wonderfully appropriate that the data
and metadata meanderings that flow and will continue to flow from, with
and through Kaplan’s intellectual effort about the natural history of
the zero should be the first to be set free of the gilded cage of printed
are dead: long live bibliographies.
Marx wrote only one
Manifesto but the links from, with, and to it are enduring and endless.
Ahab stands apart from the text that Melville provided.
The stream of comments that followed, first a trickle, then a
stream, again a mighty river, are now today, an endless ocean of links and
scholarly text bytes. Within
that ocean of cyber and fiber links just perchance, the great white whale
It is a Chinese
curse, of course, to say: may you live in interesting times. Who can deny
that we do? That makes it a
great time, something that is true even if libraries and librarians as we
know them will morph into something radically different in the next few
years. That morphing will likely be to the point that we may no longer
recognize libraries or, indeed, ourselves.
if you read library history, you will see that when the first public
libraries went to open stack collections, there were definitive statements
of the imminent demise of the institution. Many were the soothsayers who
announced our doom from the onslaught and misuse of collections by
"heedless immigrants" until, of course, that immigrant Carnegie
changed their tune a bit. It wasn't all that long ago that some within the
American Library Association would have had us believe that racially
integrated libraries would lead to the end of civilization. There was a
time when librarians feared that cheap paperbacks would spell our ruin,
too. There were Chicken Littles to forecast our doom from photocopiers,
film, comic books, and videotape to mention just a few more.
yes, the times, they are a-changing. And yes, of course, the Net changes
everything. And yes, perhaps this time, the stakes are higher. And yes,
perhaps our competitors really will eat us alive this time - and leave the
public the poorer for it!
libraries really DO build community, and it cannot be ALL virtual. When
libraries build community, communities re-pay the favor. We all need some
"face time" in our lives with real living people. If those
people are smiling and offering a welcoming place to cybercafe [that's
like 'doing lunch' only in a cybercafe equipped library] the public will
keep coming. If we keep nudging open that pre-schooler's door to learning,
parents will vote with their feet, their hearts, and their wallets. I know
a lot of great library people who plan to continue to add value to the
library experience as it evolves.
challenges are huge and daunting and downright scary. That's what makes it
interesting! The times, as in that Chinese curse, are indeed interesting.
The times they ARE a-changing. I, for one, think it is a great time to
seek wisdom and share knowledge.
Live the Knowledge Managers – K.M?
some are arguing against being called catalogers, a term that is so last
millennium. Rather, they must
be knowledge managers, a so very new millennium construct!
Now one can catalog a book as well as web site -- even if the
latter is a constantly moving target -- but how could or would one
‘knowledge manage’ a web site? I suppose one could always K.M. the web site?
offensive subtitle of a Wired magazine article is: “Phone Sects.”
To my way of thinking, only that title is potentially offensive.
The rest of the article is a very enlightening look at the Amish
community's method of defining APPROPRIATE uses of technology, the Ordnung.
Shall we then K.M. the Ordnung a bit?
It seems there is a
lesson for our library community to learn from the Amish approach to
technology. Perhaps like most
people, I believed that the Amish simply rejected all 20th
century technology and were, as Vonnegut might have said, stuck in time.
But this is far from the truth. The Amish believe that it is
important to adopt only those technologies that do not threaten to
diminish their faith community. Cars would lead to diminishing the value
of neighbors and neighborhoods, so they are shunned in favor of buggies.
Electricity would make them dependent on the outside world, so it can only
be used if it is self-generated rather than off the power grid.
See “Phone Sects” in the January 1999 issue of Wired
magazine for more.
what of technologies that are adopted?
On the one hand, the Amish reason, phones would break up family or
business conversations - something the rest of us know to be all too true!
But, add the Amish, like Tevia in Fiddler on the Roof, on the OTHER hand
phones can save lives in an emergency.
by a complicated communal process known as the Ordnung, the community has
banned phones from the home, but not the farm. Amish phones are placed out
in the field, often as not in a shed; frequently it is attached to the
outhouse! Phones are there for emergencies but not for interrupting family
conversation. Since few want to wait in the outhouse for calls, they use
battery-operated answering machines! Now that cell phones are here, they
can be and are used - but only in the field, never the home or office.
Ordnung is much like the communal spirit that built a consensus-based set
of rules for the Internet in its early days. Netiquette and all the
attending values of the pioneering days of the net emerged from that
virtual Ordnung. The
expansion of the net to HTML, SHTML, JAVA, cascading style sheets, - this
and so much more, have swamped our ability to pick and choose wisely.
over a century the American public library has adapted successive waves of
technology - from the paperback to the phonograph record to the videotape
and now the Internet. As we rush headlong into the Internet and all the
places the new commercialized net is taking us, it seems well to take a
page from the Amish book, and at least ask ourselves from time to time
whether we are controlling the technology or it is controlling us.
there be life after the Internet? I have no doubt although I cannot
imagine what it will be. Can
we help bridge the digital divide? And
what of books and bytes - can we tear down the iron curtain between them?
Amish have taught me that if I buy a cell phone I sell my time if not my
soul, and that in libraries as in life, we should take care that we
control technology or it will control us.
then Catalogers, or Knowledge Managers, or whatever your authority
controllers ultimately divine, get ready for the task.
It is by your Ordnung, not Forest Press
fiat that you can, in fact you must, build the catalog as community.
According to Andrew
O’Baoill’s article “Slashdot and the Public Sphere,” which
appeared in a recent issue of First Monday,
“The public sphere is part of that space which is beyond the
influence of systems such as economy, church, and state.”
It is another and better place, that public space – a place we
all need both virtually and physically.
O’ Baoil uses
Habermas’ work, “The Structural Transformation of the Public
notes that the theoretical discourse is interrupted with "talk of
coffee houses, newspaper circulation or literary salons."
Habermas identifies places such as the eighteenth century coffee
house as "a bourgeois 'public sphere', an ideal forum within which
newspapers and journals were read and discussed in face-to-face groups.”
criteria for an ideal public space can be summarized under three headings:
Universal access - anybody can have
access to the space
Rational debate - any topic can be
raised by any
Disregard of rank - the status of
participants is ignored
takes both physical space and cyberspace to make a library a community.
We all need interaction with others in a public sphere as well time
to read and reflect. Catalogers must share in this community as knowledge
managers, helping library users to sift information, share knowledge, and
of the favorite stories used to illustrate chaos theory is the legend of
the butterfly. The small
disturbance of the butterfly wing moves a leaf that unsettles an air
current that in turn, over many days and weather events, becomes a
catalogers described a physical book that stayed static like a butterfly
in a collection. Now that
flow of intellectual property is as free as a living butterfly to fly
where it will, to migrate hither and yon, and even to begin that hurricane
output of books or e-texts is expected to increase radically in the coming
years. Over 90% of an iceberg is below the water and over 99% of writers
are unpublished. But the
Internet and wildly inexpensive storage and transmission costs are
changing the latter equation.
give scholarly context and are the forerunners of hypertext but footnotes
did not exist until Gutenberg made them both possible and necessary.
The web and hypertext change the very manner in which we use
e-texts and footnotes move towards the infinite, we can glimpse that
potential 500 channels of noise and nothing that so perplexes television
critics. We will not cope
with bibliographic descriptors alone, only human interfaces will suffice.
This is a grand challenge that makes it an exciting time to be a
librarian – to build the catalog, to build the community.
tower of Babel rises swiftly as the Internet blithely ignores the
archiving and cataloging functions that librarians know to be crucial to
the wise collection and storage of data, information, knowledge, and, yes,
wisdom. Semantic interoperability is crucial to the future of
knowledge management and libraries.
the web there is no controlled vocabulary such as one finds in cataloging
rules. The word <bridge> means one thing to an engineer, quite
another thing to an orthodontist, still another to a card player.
A rose by any other name may smell as sweet but a bridge by the
same name should smell different to a proper search engine.
Search engines will never catch the nuances without the help of
catalogers for the web. Enter the Dublin Core, the OCLC CORC project and
the Warwick framework, to try to catch, rather than reap, the whirlwind.
There are ongoing
attempts to catalog the net using the Dublin Core and the Warwick
Framework. (References below). Search
engines can’t possibly keep up with fast growing and chaotic web
resources yet they are “indexing” the net. This is worrisome to
catalogers. They seek
semantic interoperability - tell me that's not an eight-bit concept!
The story of the
search engineer’s epiphany is perhaps, apocryphal, but it serves
nonetheless to make our point.
“We are working on a method to strictly define the metadata
descriptors on web sites so we can provide semantic interoperability
you mean like a controlled vocabulary?’
crestfallen: “You mean someone has thought of this before?’
magazine Kevin Warwick
outlines “is plan to become one with his computer." Warwick, what a
great irony, for catalogers, no? Warwick is a researcher in Great Britain
not a Framework or "container,” as in the Warwick container of
metadata fame. Warwick describes his plan to implant a chip in his arm and an
attempt to record his emotions and then play them back to his nervous
system, eventually, he hopes, over the web! He fears heights, so he will
climb a cliff, record the emotion and play it back to his nervous system
over the net. Spooky, no?
even though we haven't even BEGUN to properly catalog the web that we
already have, we must now, it appears, turn to emotions! My question is:
where does one turn in Sears List of Subject Headings or the Dewey Decimal
system for some of the following emotions.
Emotion 1: That sinking feeling in the
pit of your stomach when you realize, just as you slam the door, that
the keys are still in the car.
Emotion 2: That raw, I wish it were the
weekend thought when the patron slams the books down on the desk and
shouts "I am a taxpayer, and..."
Emotion 3: That helpless feeling when
your teenage daughter asks if you would be more bothered by a tongue
piercing or a tattoo...
I have argued, a
bit tongue in cheek, of course, that the catalog is the community, that
libraries build community, and that communities repay the favor. Our old catalogs and much of the old library we loved are
dead. Revere the past but
sing the future!
The First Peoples
can teach us about the catalog and the library to come.
The new libraries and catalogs we are making need not just added
cyber but more fiber as well. It
cannot all be virtual, we need face time and community, or
what’s the point?
that “a library is a growing organism.”
If growing, it must be alive, and, we hope, human.
We must continue to catalog with humanity and humanely, using
humans. Those useful and
dreadful spyders that search engineers send foraging through the web
cannot do it alone.
The catalog is the
community. Build it with a
Wild as it may seem, there IS a prototype for a Star Trek type of
holodeck library catalog.
It is called Librarea and it can be found on the ActiveWorlds
Jack Colbert of Flint River Regional Library System in Georgia
runs the site.
The attempt is to create a virtual reality library web site
that one can navigate much as one would a video game.
One can wander through halls and bookshelves clicking on
pictures that bring up texts, pictures and library history.
Visit Librarea, which takes special software to navigate, at
“Look Who’s Talking: Phone Sects,” in Wired,
Volume 7, 1999.
There is a wonderful and delicious irony to this footnote.
I tried, at the request of Library Computing
editor Kristin Antleman, to find the full citation to this article on
I could not do so.
The Web version of the Wired site
does not, of course, give page numbers.
With a web site shelf life for most URLs at 72 days or less, I
I called my local library, Racine.
They do not get the magazine but happily referred me to my
local University library, Parkside, where it seems a faculty member
had, um, taken the issue for, shall we say, an extended stay.
I then called Waukesha Public Library, the largest library in
my federated library system.
The reference librarian gave me the needed citation and added
that the music while I was on hold was indeed Mozart – better than
elevator Muzak J.
The University library later called me back with further
information, as did the Racine library - humane and human services
Forest Press, the long time publisher of the Dewey Decimal system, and
other cataloging tools.