Update 16 May: Welcome American Libraries Direct readers. David Bade has made clear that I misunderstood his words and I fully agree that this is the case. I ask that you please do not propagate my misunderstanding as his intended meaning. Read his comments here and see further comments in AUTOCAT over the last few days. And by the way, there are 8 parts to this series on the Working Group meeting: A teaser, 6 numbered parts, and a 2nd stab at the Bade paper/presentation. I want to make it very clear that I greatly appreciate and agree 99% with what David Bade said/wrote for his presentation! My comments here are minor quibbles.
David Bade, Monographic Cataloger, University of Chicago, Regenstein Library
“Structures, standards, and the people who make them meaningful” – paper
[Initial commentary by Kathryn La Barre. I had read a previous draft on the way up, and copies were handed out at the meeting so I mostly read along, but will interject some commentary.]
He started out by stating that his commentary was made in the “spirit of unrestrained criticism.” I missed recording the reference [Mark].
<comment> – brief summary – I hope he puts this online</comment>
Library work is communication based, the use in the discussions so far is couched in an inappropriate, misleading transportation metaphor, and bibliographic control is instead based on a process of communication. The principle of co-operation and an understanding of common principles should inform communicative activity. The dichotomy of consumer, manager as the chief users of bibliographic control structures should be widened to include the creators of this data. The addition of the creator into this equation underlines the necessity of human evaluation and correction. We must determine the purpose of any created metadata and be certain that if we decide to reuse this metadata for another application — that it is not contrary to the new application.
These are answers to some of his questions:
- The best way to handle this imperative is that the level of metadata creation should be that of the most demanding users.
- The importance of trust and common social practices and standards must be balanced with the existence of error. In cases of error, management must pay attention to errors in order to improve systems.
- Currently in bibliographic control the pressures of production mean that errors in bibliographic records are rampant and are allowed to remain. Errors in metadata supplied from other sources, particularly that which is automatically generated must be carefully evaluated by humans and not blindly drawn into the bibliographic universe. It is the obligation of library managers to provide appropriate levels of metadata generation for their own users.
- One direction to take might be co-opting users to generate this information with appropriate refereeing. There is worry about the long tail – for if there is no metadata or inadequate metadata, there will be no use of the material.
- Automatically generated metadata is not higher quality metadata. Good metadata, especially high levels of subject analysis is not without cost. Today there is much copy cataloging, many shared bibliographic databases, and there are fewer catalogers. The kinds of formats, and the complexity of tasks has increased. Many errors are due to unfamiliarity with these formats, tasks and many catalogers lack knowledge sufficient to provide access to materials from a given subject.
[Me, from here on out.] While there may possibly be a kind of “romantic truth” to Diane Hillmann’s depiction of David Bade in her reporting of the day, I can sympathize and empathize a lot with his position. In fact, I’d love to sit with the guy for a few hours over a couple pints of Guinness and pick his brain. He seems a most interesting person, and if he’s “from a different planet” then it is one I want to be on.
I think he has many valuable points and perhaps he misjudged his task as Diane Hillmann suggests in the comments on her first post, but that seems to imply that that was his only opportunity to provide input to the Working Group. They have a copy of his paper and I would hope they would read it, repeatedly if need be, as I hope they will read and consider all written input.
As for her comment [same comment] about the issue of his paper [nor any of the other presentations] being available, yes, that is a problem! But it is a larger problem than David’s. He can release his paper, but are all of the presentations, from all meetings, collected in one central location? I am glad to see that Diane Hillmann has archived hers, but the Library of Congress should be doing this for all of them in a centralized manner!
At this point I will add some comments on David’s paper. Please do not misconstrue these thoughts. I have no doubt that if he and I were able to sit down over a few pints we would agree that we are both saying the same thing. I also humbly offer this critique as the things I am about to complain about are the same issues I struggle with the most—voice, nuance, and “selling” your message to your audience. These comments are offered as a request for some of that nuance and not as a deconstruction of his points.
At one point (at least) he states that “The most demanding uses of the most demanding users should determine the kind of structures and standards required” (5). During questions the moderator asked how he would balance this with the fact that these users are generally in the smallest minority. His answer that the Provost at UC has publicly stated that the researchers are the ones the library is to support is of little comfort to the vast majority of libraries—even academic libraries—around the country and the world.
I fully agree that our structures must be capable of providing for this use, and that our standards must be capable of supporting it, also. He did rephrase it a little during the questioning, as he did again later in the day, that it must be for the “most demanding level to support users of your mission.” OK; perfectly true. But perhaps that kind of nuance in the paper would be useful.
I will cite something from the paper that he wanted to be the prime take-away. It comes via Hélène Denis:
[It is] cooperation between professionals that defines the technologies and their reliability; these being not any preexisting reality but a provisional achievement [citation not specified].
One of his rules for practice states:
Quality assessment requires an assessment of the individual records and all machine-generated information must be evaluated by a human being capable of evaluating the results and correcting them if necessary (6, emphasis mine).
The philosopher in me wants to first ask what David means by “machine-generated information” so that I know we are discussing the same thing, but it’ll have to stand for now. As much as I agree with him, this can only be a desiderata. It is simply not achievable. What we all should be discussing is where the line is for this kind of quality assessment. Where for each kind of resource, each kind of machine-generated data, each project, etc. There is and can not be one answer to these questions. Does this put metadata resource sharing on a shaky ground? Yes; as do many other things. But this is the real world.
He also states that “Trusting external sources of metadata assumes that the ends for which those sources create information are compatible with the particular institution’s intended uses of that metadata” (7). Fully agreed. Tis a dangerous thing to just accept random metadata. We are only in the very beginning stages of this form of metadata sharing [yes, I am well aware of MARC, Z39-50, etc. but this is far more diverse, amongst other things]. I don’t have an answer, and this is a problem; but it is not a show-stopper.
On to my biggest issue with his paper. This paragraph was not in the draft I had but found its way in before the meeting [only a snippet of the paragraph]:
In our libraries today there is almost always a split between those actively involved in a particular field (e.g. bibliographers) and those creating the metadata. For the most part—music, map and law often being the exceptions—catalogers are hired to catalog whatever comes in the library and no subject knowledge or activity in any field of endeavor is required, expected, or encouraged. Catalogers are hired to be metadata specialists without knowing anything in particular about anything at all. Therefore, when they catalog any particular item they have no stake in the result, no users in mind, no knowledge of how or why anyone might be looking for that item (10-11).
I’d love to give David Bade a hug at this point; after I punch him in his highly offensive typing fingers! I mean “WTF, David?”
I feel your pain; I really do. If the world was structured as in the “old days” and libraries required, or even hired, subject specialist bibliographers you can bet I’d be off getting myself even more education to do that which I love. But that world—in the rare cases in which it ever existed—simply does not exist.
So I understand the spirit of your concern here; I truly do and in fact agree with the spirit of it. But I found those comments extremely offensive and I have no doubt that many other hard-working, committed catalogers/metadata specialists will, too.
I grapple daily with my concerns as to my ability to do the best that is required of me in my job, be it serials cataloging, wrangling with and structuring a highly specialized subject thesaurus, and soon to be a monographic copy cataloger. I often feel completely unprepared to do what must be done. These and many other concerns about my abilities, capabilities, and level of preparedness weigh heavily on me daily. But I am trying to learn to do my best, and my institution has much work that needs to be done. There is little choice, all around.
This is the real reason that I’d love to have a couple drinks with David and, no, I really wouldn’t punch him. But these comments are offensive to me and many others. In my case, I am fast approaching 80 hours of graduate LIS credit with most of it focused on the organization, description and representation of knowledge/information resources, not even counting any other degrees, education, or life experience.
When I think about some of the “kids” who sit with me as fellow graduate assistant catalogers I have no doubt that they, too, are fully committed to doing the best job they can. One needs only hear some of the conversations we have amongst ourselves as to how to catalog a specific item. We share knowledge, resources and language abilities, and we know exactly where to find someone close by who is far more experienced than us.
To say that we “know nothing in particular about anything at all,” that we “have no stake in the result, no users in mind,” or “no knowledge of how or why anyone might be looking for that item” is beyond elitist and derogatory.
Nonetheless, I understand his point (in spirit) and there is much value in it. But this is another trade-off of the world in which we find ourselves. This is another of those areas where we need more discussion of where and when the line gets drawn for who is qualified to describe what.
I, too, hope this paper becomes publicly available. I would even love for it to be “cleaned up” a bit and officially published. There is much of value in David Bade’s paper, but the world is not as black and white as the paper currently makes it sound. Perhaps a few pints and some friendly dialogue would help him realize that.
Again, my commentary is given in the spirit of another who sins in much the same way. I hope he takes it that way.
Next up, “clearly from another planet” [her own words] is Diane Hillmann.
But that can wait until tomorrow. This is taking hours! Don’t worry; I’ll do it all and even gladly. I feel a duty to do so for those unable to attend. But it’s still quite a bit of work and my semester just ended. Aren’t I supposed to get a weekend off? <sigh>
Also, most of the rest will have far less of my own commentary; I promise. But if you look around this blog and see what I do with the things I read perhaps you’ll understand why this paper got the treatment it did.