Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A New Bibliographic Framework -- Time To Speak UP!

As a longtime supporter of NISO’s efforts, I want to bring to your attention an important topic that NISO, and others, are raising. The current (November 2011) NISO Newsline, in the lead article by NISO’s Managing Director Todd Carpenter, examines the “A Bibliographic Framework for the Digital Age” announced by the Library of Congress.

Carpenter quite correctly notes: “There is much to admire and appreciate in LC's leadership here.” However, he goes on to ask a critically important question: “…whether this should be led by LC alone?” He also comments that: “The community that uses MARC records encompasses nearly every library, nearly every software provider, and the countless organizations supplying records to the community.”

In reading what LC said when they announced the initiative, they stated:
“This work will be carried out in consultation with the format's formal partners -- Library and Archives Canada and the British Library -- and informal partners -- the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek and other national libraries, the agencies that provide library services and products, the many MARC user institutions, and the MARC advisory committees such as the MARBI committee of ALA, the Canadian Committee on MARC, and the BIC Bibliographic Standards Group in the UK.”
However, as Carpenter notes: “Inclusive is not the same as openness and collaborative doesn't necessarily imply consensus outcomes.” This is a key point. Consultation is very important, but we live in a collaborative environment today and these are two very different approaches with two very different results.

Karen Coyle (a member of our Community Catalog Advisory Group and a very respected metadata consultant) has written a number of blog posts on the subject and in one noted:
“Also not included are the academic users of bibliographic data, users who are so frustrated with library data that they have developed numerous standards of their own, such as BIBO, the Bibliographic Ontology, BIBJson, a JSON format for bibliographic data, and Fabio, the FRBR-Aligned Bibliographic Ontology. Nor are there representatives of online sites like Wikipedia and Google Books, which have an interest in using bibliographic data as well as a willingness to link back to libraries where that is possible. Media organizations, like the BBC and the U. S. public broadcasting community, have developed metadata for their video and sound resources, many of which find their way into library collections. And I almost forgot: library systems vendors. Although there is some representation on the MARC Advisory Committee, they need to have a strong voice given their level of experience with library data and their knowledge of the costs and affordances.”

I believe both of these individuals, through their writings, raise a critically important issue: This effort needs to benefit from a truly collaborative approach. Coyle said it well in her post:
“The next data carrier for libraries needs to be developed as a truly open effort. It should be led by a neutral organization (possibly ad hoc) that can bring together the wide range of interested parties and make sure that all voices are heard. Technical development should be done by computer professionals with expertise in metadata design. The resulting system should be rigorous yet flexible enough to allow growth and specialization. Libraries would determine the content of their metadata, but ongoing technical oversight would prevent the introduction of implementation errors such as those that have plagued the MARC format as it has evolved. And all users of bibliographic data would have the capability of metadata exchange with libraries.”
I deeply appreciate what the Library of Congress has done in understanding the need for change in our bibliographic framework and for the leadership, thought and effort devoted to the topic thus far. However, as a community, let’s take the opportunity LC is giving us when they say:
“We are posting this general plan for your comments. Please let us know what you think. We are grateful for your interest, and we appreciate suggestions for improvement. We encourage you to post your thoughts to the Bibliographic Transition listserv.”
Take a step back and review the questions being asked at this stage by Carpenter, Coyle and others and think hard about your answers. If you aren’t comfortable with those answers, then speak up. If you want to see a truly open effort lead by a neutral organization involving more and different parties in a truly collaborative effort, this is the time to say so.

It is really important for us to raise our heads above the daily chaos our lives and jobs impose on us and give careful consideration of where this next framework is going to take us. Is it the right destination? When we get there, will it be where those who can best benefit from our data, services and information are also going to be located? Or will they be in another destination(s), having moved in a different direction(s)? If so, that would be a most unfortunate consequence for our libraries. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen. Get involved. Read the blog posts and columns. Speak up. This is a critically important component of the future of librarians and library services.

Collaboration depends on participation.