I read with interest Sean Chen‘s post Economics and Organization of Bibliographic Data over on schenizzle.
He was reacting to the overall theme he sees coming out of the Library of Congress’ Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control that library data is trapped in silos – which is bad.
Much of the discourse until now has been of the nature, “Wouldn’t it be great if … LCC was available in an open web service … MARC went away … webify our infrastructure … get rid of catalogers … have better OPACS.”
So what makes a silo? I’m pretty sure I can speak for everyone and say we (libraries) want to be relevant in the information future. How have we backed ourselves into a corner? And what exactly is that corner?
Well you can’t argue with the wanting to be relevant sentiment. He goes on:
I am kind of suspicious of talk about all silos being bad. I think there can be an argument made on the behalf of silos. Silos exist for a reason, the information needs of a community are different. Then again there is probably a stronger argument that our silos exist because of the way we have acquired, collected, organized, and developed resources with our vendors and within our libraries.
He is totally right, the way our data is held and presented is heavily influenced by the way we have acquired, collected, organized, and developed resources with our vendors and within our libraries – note the lack of mention of how the needs of the users of the data might shape things.
He is also right in saying that ‘information needs of a community’ is a factor in justifying a silo. It justifies community specific views of data, yes – trapping that data in a one size fits all silo, no.
Is the community he refers to bounded by the institutional and/or geographical boundaries of the library - or is it a community of first year students at a University, or a community of junior readers at a public library, or a community of researchers? Just because the walls of a silo fit the boundaries of a library organization, it doesn’t necessarily fit with community boundaries.
Rolling Sean’s interpretation of the Working Group’s ambitions forward you should be able at one stance be able to see an aggregated view of all [as in Global] library holdings whilst at the same time being able to present a filtered view suitable for the much narrower needs of an individual community.
Sean also postulates as to who could be custodians of this aggregated view on behalf of the libraries. The Library of Congress, OCLC, the Internet search corporations, and the library systems vendors are considered in his analysis.
Sitting in the offices of a library system vendor, I disagree with his I don’t think they are that interested in selling us a new way of doing things that may very well put them all out of business? comment. Some vendors may not be interested, but I don’t think the vendor community has much alternative than to facilitate the opening up of data, services, and systems for the benefit of all. If the vendors don’t facilitate this, someone else will.
We at Talis have been practicing what we preach for many a long month now, building the Talis Platform and promoting the principles behind it. Seeing this pay off in the ability to create Union catalogues in minutes, and watching others starting to take on board the realizations of the way forward, is most gratifying.
So who should be the global custodian of the aggregated view of the global library? – All of us.
In the same way that, there are islands of great service on the web (Google, eBay, Technorati, Wikipedia, etc.) but nobody is custodian of the whole web; the Web of Data will not be hosted by any one organization - yes there will be islands of of great service adding value, augmenting and interrelating bibliographic data from many sources (LoC, OCLC, Talis, Open Communities, and others), but data itself will be held, and replicated, in many places.
OK that vision may not be realized next month or even next year, but, as the already visible tendrils of the Semantic Web start to spread, the decisions we make today [about how open our data and services are to be] will have dramatic impact on our ability to play our rightful, relevant, part in the future information revolution, that some are already calling Web 3.0