Tech Services Big Heads

January 24, 2014

I got up early on Friday morning and found my way to the ALCTS Technical Services Directors of Large Research Libraries Interest Group (aka Tech Services Big Heads) meeting in the Marriott Hotel. The meeting began with two presentations about inter-institutional cooperative cataloging efforts: one among the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC libraries of the historic Big Ten plus University of Chicago) and the other among three Ivy League schools and the University of Toronto.

The CIC initiative

Chris Cronin of University of Chicago introduced the CIC initiative by saying, “Our collections are not just our own anymore.” Libraries have applied this thinking in shared collection development efforts; CIC is expanding this notion to cataloging as well. CIC members catalog materials in a wide range of languages, where the expertise required to catalog those resources is not always aligned with the holding institution. The CIC has embarked on a one-year pilot in which member libraries can assist with cataloging one another's resources, when the language cataloging expertise resides in one library but the resources reside in another.

The eight CIC libraries that chose to participate agreed that each would contribute cataloging for 100–120 titles—and would offer up the same number of resources—to other participants. Therefore a total of 800–900 titles would be cataloged in the pilot. Though the project is centered around language expertise, Penn State and University of Wisconsin–Madison were also interested in format expertise (cartographic in their cases).

Not every CIC member chose to participate. Some catalogers are surrounded by piles of unfinished work; other catalogers—especially language experts—are pulled in many directions, called to assist with a wide range of projects. Returning to the principle of shared resources, Cronin encouraged participation, noting that the first user of one library's resource is not necessarily affiliated with that library, but may acquire it via interlibrary loan, for example.

The discussion covered the question of a whether a CIC-wide cataloging standard would be imposed (no, they'll rely on catalogers' judgment), acknowledging that a “spectrum of RDA implementation” exists across campuses. Cataloging activity should focus on access points, provide at least one subject heading, and not worry about whether the receiving institution requires LC or DDC (or both) call numbers.

So, what qualifies as “original cataloging expertise”? The CIC adopted the general principle that a cataloger fluent in a given language, who can contribute data compliant with BIBCO Standard Records, valid access points, and classification, may contribute.

Assessing the success of the pilot will include a wide array of categories, from languages cataloged, to the costs of scanning and/or mailing resources between institutions for cataloging, to the cost of adding vernacular scripts. Cronin got a few laughs when he said they were considering whether to track the cost of doing the assessment as well. As this project has not begun yet, there are still some decisions to be made: how to triage resources to be cataloged, the scope and tools for assessment, and how to include nonbook formats, especially cartographic materials and manuscripts. A start date for the pilot is not set.

Foreign-language cataloging

After a break, several presenters addressed the need for foreign-language cataloging expertise from another perspective. In a talk titled “'Cooperative Cataloging' Initiative,” Scott Wicks (Harvard), Bob Wolven (Columbia), Joan Swanekamp (Yale), and Caitlin Tillman (Toronto) introduced a plan to develop a web-based tool designed to crowdsource language expertise and apply it to bibliographic description.

Imagine this scenario that Wicks suggested: “When you open a box of something and don't know what language it is … you don't want it sitting under your desk forever.”

Over time, university curricula have become more global, demanding access to gray literature and primary materials in a wider array of languages. Library cataloging language expertise, developed during the Cold War and reflecting mid-20th-century goals, no longer serves the needs of today's researchers. Collaborative collection development has focused on limited duplication and ILL for some of these materials, but it has done nothing for processing cataloging backlogs..

The proposed project endeavors to leverage the benefits of a web environment to find foreign-language experts outside of the library world, who can provide useful metadata to be applied by skilled catalogers to library foreign language collections. These experts could include scholars, “small international vendors” whose catalogs are not online, and other communities of interest. Much bibliographic information already exists on the web: The notion that cataloging a resource begins with a blank slate endowed with the metadata direct from the resource itself is outdated.

As the project is still in development, the discussion was highly theoretical. Nonetheless, there was much interest in the project from those in attendance.

A different take on sharing data

Eric MillerFinally, Eric Miller (left) of information-solutions company Zepheira introduced a joint project between Zepheira and University of California–Davis by asking the following question: “What does the adoption of the Bibliographic Framework Initiative (BIBFRAME) mean to technical services workflow in an academic library?” Funded by an IMLS research grant, the two organizations are developing a two-year project led by Mackenzie Smith of UC–Davis with the goals of “advancing understanding of the resource description landscape” and developing a “roadmap for experimentation and guidance.”

They hope to take advantage of web services that are not developed with libraries in mind and apply them to technical services workflows, assessing the value of imposing BIBFRAME as a replacement for MARC. Web infrastructure can allow independently developed systems to interact. If this project is successful, it will improve the exchange of standardized metadata.

The presenters envision a long-term goal in which, for example, a library user could find a book in the OPAC and, based on mutually linked data, discover that the author is having a book signing in the same city that week. Through the technology of blogging trackbacks, in which a blogger is notified when someone references her post, this is a real possibility for library catalogs. It won’t happen because a librarian catalogs a resource that way; it will happen because the data-sharing interface in a library catalog enables it. Is this what the next-generation library system will look like?

PCC news

Beth Picknally CamdenIn the next presentation, Beth Picknally Camden (right), chair of the Library of Congress’ Program for Cooperative Cataloging (PCC) Policy Committee, announced that December 30, 2014, is the last day for AACR2's application to PCC records. At that time, RDA will be fully adopted as the cataloging standard.

PCC is compelled to change its strategies in a BIBFRAME, linked-data environment. For example, what does non-MARC-based authority control mean in dealing with undifferentiated name records? RDA solves the problem of differentiation—separating two authors with the same name—differently from MARC. The RDA approach is in terms of entities, not headings; it deals with identity management as opposed to authority control.

Additionally, PCC is talking with other groups that work “in the identity space,” such as the ISNI (International Standard Name Identifier) community, and other rights-management organizations. Can rights organizations, researchers, and other parties all work together? These are among the questions that the PCC membership will be discussing in the near future.

For my first Midwinter program, this was a lot of information to take in. This was not what I expected of the Big Heads meeting. I was surprised by the theoretical discussions happening at such a high administrator level. It was fascinating!

STEPHEN M. BROOKS is head of the Monographic Services Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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