5 thoughts on “Thinking about the catalog”

  1. Haven’t had the chance to wade through the UC BSTF report yet, but wanted to comment on your point about its questioning the utility of controlled subject data. First, I think calling these new systems “bibliographic” is semantically problematic. The old systems were bibliographic in that their primary intent was to manage metadata about books on shelves in libraries. The new systems need to, as the report points out, support a variety of metadata schemas. But also, they need to support a variety of different, continuously evolving, non-bibliographic (e.g., archival) approaches to managing information, where we can’t safely make assumptions like the likely existence of tables of contents. Controlled subject headings will continue to have utility for managing–at broad, collection-type levels–lots of future resources that our systems will be required to manage. And when it comes to supporting faceted browsing interfaces “to structure large result sets and provide sensible navigation options”, using automated clustering approaches will work soooooo much better if there are some controlled subject fields to work from (in terms of both data for clustering and information to help in weighting contributions of various data elements to clustering results). Kudos to the folks at NCSU for not abandoning some of the power of current bibliographic systems. I work for UC and will definitely be pushing from this end that we test out some of these potentially problematic assumptions before we actually start building next-generation information management and access systems!

  2. Bill, I skimmed the whole report because it’s relevant to what we’re doing in LII. What I take from UC’s approach is that the metadata doesn’t necessarily need to be the most expensive available.
    NCSU is introducing major improvements to its catalog, and I applaud them with professional pride and personal envy. But it would be a mistake to attribute improvements in findability to the use of LCSH. What other metadata did they have to work with?
    Within LII’s system, we can manually create LII-based metadata (maybe call it a bibliofolksonomy…) for 1/4 the effort required for LCSH. It’s also more user-friendly. It’s faceted information, and in fact it’s much richer faceting. So it’s cheaper and it’s better. Why LCSH? We only continue to apply and manage LCSH as legacy metadata, and also because I have a futuristic hope that the LCSH-bibliofolksonomy crosswalk might someday prove helpful to systems, well, such as UC’s. But it’s expensive, and I’m fully aware that the money spent on LCSH could be used for other things.
    Lorcan, one area the report played footsy with and backed away from was the issue of full-text searching. I thought that was interesting, maybe because I’m so focused on addressing that problem in directory datbases at present.
    Great report… though are they scared to put their names on it? 😉

  3. First, I want to thank Lorcan for his thoughtful post. We’re all pleased to see the accolades, but are mindful that our implementation of a new kind of catalog leaves us much to do. Lorcan has laid much of this out, as does the UC report. Several have commented that the catalog’s inclusion of only one kind of metadata (usually pointing to only one kind of content) is still a weak-point. Like most libraries, we are trying to reshape a new jigsaw puzzle with the homegrown, licensed, and co-developed technology. The point is that the traditional catalog does not fit in this puzzle. We needed a new tool like that provided by Endeca to integrate into a dismantled (and re-built) system. The Endeca catalog is just one piece of a puzzle that inludes the new catalog, Electronic Resource Management, digital repositories, institutional repositories, web search, metasearch, and the rest. And while we’re still building the puzzle, we get a really cool catalog in the meantime, with all the features that we wished it had for the past 10 years and should have had for the last 5. Is NCSU going to stop implementing a new metasearch solution? No. Stop ERM? No. Stop development of new tools? Certainly not. Libraries have spent a lot of time down-playing the catalog, but I think that’s been a rationalization for its ineffectiveness as a search tool. We are confident that we’ve changed that.

  4. Well, the NCSU catalog looks great and the report is terrific. When thinking libraries catalog in business model, what is the competative edge of a catalog over google/yahoo/msn? It is the local environment. Technical stuff (metadata, easy search/find) is important, but the priority is to make the catalog tightly integrated with all the campus learning/research systems. (e.g. single sign-on, different resource/different group).

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