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WoGroFuBiCo final report February 2, 2008

Posted by Mia in FRBR, Frontiers, Uncategorized.
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I just finished reading the WoGroFuBiCo* final report (entitled On the record), and overall my impression is that they did a rather good job, actually. I found it fairly balanced — a serious accomplishment given the furor generated in various quarters. But I think those debates are necessary to move this mass forward.

Though I wasn’t expecting to see it, the section on the relation between classification – both LC and Dewey — and LCSH — largely reflects my views on the subject. Though seemingly a voice in the wilderness, I occasionally take pains to point out that LC is a mature classification; along with Dewey, these are useful notational systems (Dewey probably being the more useful since it is decimal). These are systems devoid of linguistic meaning; they are not bound by language. They are abstractions which are amenable to machine manipulation.

At the same time, these notational systems are tied to a set of linguistic counterparts and concepts consisting of words; those having morphological meaning and semantic content. Semantic content is more useful to humans.

So there is already quite an elaborate infrastructure in the library world which consists of concepts related to numbers, and numbers related to concepts. These numbers are rather fuzzy identifiers, but they certainly start to cluster and when they do, patterns start to emerge. Whether or not the model fits into a particular world view is not particularly important as far as I’m concerned. Humans are the quintessential pattern recognition systems, and need to categorize to make sense of the world — any world — whether or not you find flaw with Aristotelian categories. So, I’m glad to see that in the WoGroFuBiCo report, that this baby is not to be thrown out with the bathwater after all.

The report also radically recommends that work on RDA be suspended. I can’t really say that I know what to think about this recommendation. Much time has been invested in the process to date, so there is a lot of momentum behind it. However, if it is suspended, what is to replace it? Sets of XML encoded data designed first to optimize interoperability, and secondarily for humans? The human interface and interaction with such a set of rules is difficult for me to envision at the moment. The last time I looked, the user input form at OpenLibrary was not my idea of a good thing.

I am not sure what group of individuals are envisioned to be able to teach such a set of rules, which as of yet do not even exist. Should such a set of new rules be drawn up and agreed upon, who is to absorb it? How is such absorption to be done by the cataloguing world and like-minded information professionals?

Finally, isn’t OCLC Worldcat a great testbed for FRBR works as well as OCLC Identities for relationships for persons? Surely the richness of OCLC data can be used to leverage more FRBRized views. Or again, the Australian LibraryLabs project, which has been operating live for quite some time now, on a very large scale.

*Library of Congress. Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control, final report, Jan.10, 2008.