Thursday, December 13, 2007

Michael Gorman makes me cry

Not strictly archives or RM, but important nonetheless-- anyone reading this blog is no doubt at least passing familiar with the Library of Congress' recent report on the future of bibliographic control, or are at least aware that it exists. I haven't read it, because cataloging is not STRICTLY my job, but it is an interest of mine, particularly as regards value-added finding aids and subject terms in 6xx MARC fields (which, I should note, the UWM archives adds as a matter of course to its HTML and EAD finding aids. Good on us!)

Predictably, Michael Gorman weighs in on the regressive side of the argument (h/t Karen Schneider):

The simplistic idea is that vast numbers of electronic documents can be catalogued effectively by having their creators apply uncontrolled terms in a few simple categories. In other words, that the results achieved by cataloguing using controlled vocabularies and the bibliographic structures of catalogues— complex, labor-intensive, skilled activities—can be achieved on the cheap and without the use of those essential structures. It is as though a school of cuisine—let us call it cuisine dégoŭtante—arose that prescribed only seventeen ingredients used randomly in random proportions mixed by people with no knowledge of cooking using random temperatures.

...Wow. There are no words. We want to talk about simplistic? How about reducing folksonomy to an anarchic, uncontrolled and uncontrollable straw man? I think that everybody's favorite technophobic ex-ALA president is conveniently ignoring the fact that NOBODY IS PROPOSING ELIMINATING CONTROLLED VOCABULARY. Of COURSE folksonomy is less exact than LCSH-- that isn't the point of it. Controlled Vocabulary is amazing for precision purposes, but if you don't KNOW about the terms it's not that helpful. Tagging, by contrast, allows users to determine what about the document is important to THEM, and note it that way. Remember them? The people we're supposed to be serving?

Yes, it's not perfect, and you get a lot of variations on the same term that would be eliminated if you controlled vocabulary. This is why you have professionals, to go through and consolidate stuff like that into terms people can use. Meanwhile, the users who are contributing these terms are looking at these documents from angles that we as professional librarians/archivists may not have even considered, the addition of which brings document recall way up. Precision without recall is not good either!

I am also a big fan of his objections to FRBR:

FRBR may have some merit as a way of looking at the theory of cataloguing—it has little as a foundational document for creating a cataloguing code. Never mind that the structure of bibliographic records set out in AACR2/ISBD is well established, accepted by scholars and other catalogue users for decades, and with minor flaws in concept and expression that could easily be corrected—it works in practice, but does it work in theory?

Because every library user has always been able to find stuff in AACR-compliant catalogs quickly and easily! After all, if a system has been in place for decades, it must be effective, right? It couldn't possibly be because conservatives in the Library world have a vested interest in not seeing it change, because then they would need a new skill set, right? Nah. Couldn't be.

My favorite, favorite complaint of his, however, is the following:

Fourth, the draft RDA is an editorial disaster. Many of its “guidelines” (rules are passé to these people) are incomprehensible, internally inconsistent, and belied by their examples. I read more than 60 pages very carefully and came up with 15 pages of editorial errors.
That would be why it is called a *draft*, rather than a publishable document. Are you really so hard up for ways to attack this document that you need to attack grammatical problems?

I'm sure the document isn't perfect, but ironically Gorman's post only makes me want to read it more and/or endorse it. Roy Tennant, I think, sums it up well:

I no longer believe in the future of bibliographic control. I no longer believe that the term "bibliographic" encompasses the universe in which we should be interested, and I no longer think "control" is either achievable or even desirable. We have entered the age of "descriptive enrichment" and we'd better get bloody well good at it.
Damn skippy. Of course, considering that Mr. Gorman is the mind behind "Revenge of the Blog People", (which has always sounded to me like the title of an awesome B-movie), I don't expect any of the sound and fury on this issue to change his mind, either. Oh well.


Infosciphi said...

Very well put. I may be oversimplifying and perhaps exaggerating, since I have never met the man, but having read much of M. Gorman's commentary, I have begun to view him like I would an adult with developmental problems. Sure he has the age & career of the adult, but his thought processes and reasoning seem to indicate some sort of mental retardation.

Plus, I feel none of the guilt or shame that would be inherent in making fun of a person such as I described in my simile, and thus enjoy using him as the butt of jokes any chance I get. It's just too easy and never seems to be any less funny.

Good arguments.

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Mike said...

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