:: Digital Libraries Columns


Library Journal "Digital Libraries" Columns 1997-2007, Roy Tennant

Please note: these columns are an archive of my Library Journal column from 1997-2007. They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date. :: Digital Libraries Columns

Not Your Mother's Union Catalog


   For years the largest bibliographic databases in the world, OCLC's
   WorldCat and RLG's Eureka, have remained nearly unchanged from the
   user's perspective--except for new records. That will change,
   dramatically altering how librarians think about their catalogs. OCLC
   is reengineering WorldCat so thoroughly that nothing remains
   unquestioned, including the MARC record. Meanwhile, RLG's RedLightGreen
   project shares many of the same aims. As RLG's James Michalko puts it,
   "This is the library community's chance to reinvent what a catalog is."

   In 1998, the International Federation of Library Associations and
   Institutions (IFLA) published a report on the Functional Requirements
   of Bibliographic Records (FRBR)--a revolutionary recasting of the
   bibliographic record on behalf of library users. It defined such
   principles as the hierarchical dimensions of a creative product: work
   (distinct creation), expression (realization of a work), manifestation
   (physical embodiment), and item (a single exemplar). The revolutionary
   aspect is best understood as it is being applied by OCLC and RLG to
   their catalogs. When a user searches for a book in a catalog, they are
   faced with the variations of that work as multiple, separate records.
   Which one to choose? With FRBR, all manifestations can be collapsed
   into one virtual record, with methods for users to narrow in on the
   items (e.g., language, form, etc.). Draft screen designs for RLG's new
   system are compelling evidence of the benefit of "FRBRizing." One
   screenshot shows a list of search results. Under the title and author
   of an item is the notation "19 editions published between 1916-2001 in
   5 languages." The full record for that item provides a way for the user
   to see only editions in a specific language or the two audio versions.
   Blowing open the catalog

   The most promising development is OCLC's re-creation of the WorldCat
   database. WorldCat is no longer based on MARC but on an internal XML
   metadata schema devised by OCLC to accept nearly any type of metadata.
   It can also associate all kinds of related information with a book
   record, such as reviews and cover art, without squeezing it into an
   ill-suited format (i.e., MARC). WorldCat can crawl OAI-compliant
   repositories and incorporate those records as well; the world of
   metadata is now their oyster. Since RLG has similarly recast its MARC
   records in XML, it is likely that it will pursue opportunities to merge
   other kinds of metadata.
   Data mining

   Gathering metadata is a wonderful start, but even better is studying
   what you've got. Data mining is analyzing a database to discover
   information and linkages that are not immediately apparent. For
   example, the same book may have different subject headings at different
   libraries. By comparing the subjects, data mining software can imply
   relationships between those terms. Doing this across a large
   bibliographic database creates a web of related terms that can be
   profitably exploited for users. Here's how RLG's description of how its
   data mining, provided by software from Recommind, Inc., works: "A
   student might enter a search for the keywords 'Civil War' without
   specifying the American, Spanish, or other civil wars. Using Recommind,
   RedLightGreen can organize the results in clusters of related items,
   letting the student pick which civil war interests her." OCLC is
   conducting similar experiments.
   Slices, skins, and grails

   When searching WorldCat or RLG's Eureka, the user is faced with two
   issues: everything is seen, even items that can't easily be accessed,
   and the screen offers no localized information. But a project from OCLC
   addresses this. By summer, a Midwestern state will offer a "slice" of
   WorldCat to its citizens--holdings from libraries in the state.
   Although users will first receive local holdings, they can also search
   the broader WorldCat database. In addition, what users see will be
   tailored by the state, allowing links to local services. This ability
   to layer on a different "skin," or user interface, is crucial to
   providing local services such as reference.

   Taken together, this is revolutionary. Should library catalogs be
   allowed out of the back room that I relegated them to in an earlier
   column? (See [123]Digital Libraries , LJ 2/15/03, p. 28.) Not quite,
   since these impressive systems are still not the unified information
   finding tool I envision. But with WorldCat becoming so flexible it can
   ingest virtually any metadata, along with the other features that OCLC
   and RLG are working on, we may be on the road to the Holy Grail of
   librarianship: one-stop search service for information, wherever it may
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