Monday, March 8, 2010

Perpetual Beta & Bibliographic Records

When I was trained as a cataloger, the goal was to create (as much as possible) the perfect bibliographic record. I completed a thorough description and included all possible access points. The idea was that other catalogers could find my bib record and know immediately that it matched (or didn't) the item that they held in their hands. I dreaded the thought that a colleague might say something like: "It would have been better if she had included ...". I expect this is how most catalogers think of bib records: if they need revision, the first cataloger did not do his/her job very well.

Even with CIP and brief records and on-the-fly records created locally so that an item can circulate - all of which need upgrading - catalogers still think in terms of bib records being complete, if not when they are entered, then the next time they are handled. Posters to AUTOCAT complain bitterly about "Level 3" records in OCLC, which are created by publishers, saying it takes longer to revise them than to start from scratch.

However, a few weeks ago, someone said something on one of the electronic discussion lists (I subscribe to several and most of the same people post to all of them) that perhaps we're thinking about bib records in the wrong way. We need to take a cooperative approach - after all this is the age of Web 2.0 where everyone contributes. Some catalogers are more experienced than others; different people have different skills (e.g. in languages).

So rather than thinking in terms of one person completing the perfect bib record, perhaps we begin with CIP or publishers data or something else and build on that. The first person with the book in hand adds details like paging. Someone who has studied a specific field can add more precise subject headings. The responsibility doesn't have to fall to just one person. This doesn't excuse anyone for doing a sloppy job, but sometimes the information one has to work with is limited. I've created bib records from "surrogates" (i.e. photocopies of titles pages) and for books in totally foreign (to me) languages like Hungarian. I expect I missed more than a few things in those cases, but I did the best I could with what I had.

We could think of bib records like a wiki. They evolve; people keep adding to them. Even though a published book is a static object and doesn't change, the information we have about the book, the author, publisher, etc. would and given the Semantic Web, that information could be incorporated into or linked to the bib record.

As a digital immigrant and a linear thinker, I'm still in awe of all of the possibilities of the Semantic Web, but I'm catching on. I'm realizing bib records can be so much more than what once "perfectly" fit on a 3x 5 card.


marijane said...

A wiki is a good metaphor. I'm also reminded of the "extreme programming" method of software development, where code is owned by teams rather than individuals, and it is refactored whenever developers see fit. Updating a catalog record seems similar to the idea of refactoring code.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more! Especially since we have technology tools that can allow users and/or libraries to filter/display only the information desired or applicable to their particular context. Let's put it all in there and let the information users and end consumers decide what's relevant to their particular needs at any given time, rather than trying to decide that for them in advance and leaving critical information out while doing so.

Bill said...

I've been cataloging publications at my library (State Library of Kansas) for over 20 years. I do a lot of original work and almost from Day 1 I've left all my OCLC records at "K Level."

My records were often "complete" but to my way of thinking if somebody else came along who could improve on them... no problem.

Bill Sowers

Shana Lee said...

So, essentially, start thinking about ALL bib records the same way continuing resources catalogers do (and have done for years and years). It's all cooperative work to us because it has to be.

*Put in what you know, accepting/trusting that someone else will most likely have more information than you do.
*Only remove or edit when data is wrong.
*And above all, know that there is no "perfect" or "done/complete" record. Continuing resources cataloging is NEVER done.

Welcome to my world monograph catalogers. :) Jump in. The water's fine. Just please play nice, OK?