Sunday, November 16, 2008

I Thought This Issue Was Settled?

Silly me. I didn't realize we were still arguing over authority control (Think: Sears) vs. folksonomies and social tagging. Yet this morning I've been mulling over the comments at two different conferences, held within days of each other.

Last week I attended CASL, the Connecticut Librarians State conference. I've already mentioned Kathy Schrock was there, giving an interesting presentation. An off-hand remark she make caught my attention, but I didn't think too much of it until after hearing part of the discussion I love-blogged yesterday. Her comment? (roughly paraphrased) I hate Wikipedia to the depth of my bones. Followed shortly by a humorous remark, "We're all librarians here, and I assume we'd like to see the web organized according to Sears."

Everyone (in our world!) knows that Kathy has long been on the forefront of all things library and technology related. So these comments surprised me, to say the least. More on that later.

Here's part two of this discussion: In the most fascinating part of the Just In Case or Just In Time discussion yesterday (and OF COURSE the section right after my battery died!) Chris and Joyce gave an impassioned call to deconstruct (dare I say destroy?) the OPAC, break databases and MARC records out of their respective boxes and allow users to mix and mash and tag and recreate information in personally meaningful ways.

This is the world David Weinberger discusses in his marvelous Everything Is Miscellaneous (If you haven't read that, it's really part of your library duties!) and is where education and the library profession MUST head if we are to remain relevant to the 21st Century learner.

Hence my surprise at Kathy's comments. I respect her as much as anyone, but that authority-controlled attitude, whether Wikipedia vs. Britannica or Sears vs. social tagging overlooks the obvious: We need both. And we only have to look at Amazon for a perfect example of where we need to head.

While Amazon uses a subject tree and places books in traditional categories, it allows users to tag them in ways they deem appropriate. A search I just ran on Civil War (I'm reading Team of Rivals at the moment), turned up not only the usual keywords and subjects, but also "Pritzker Military Library podcast," which may be a good resource for our school's Civil War unit.

I see user recommendations alongside the professional reviews, what other books users have purchased on similar topics....I would LOVE it if my OPAC did all that, and how much more motivated would my students be to actually USE the OPAC if they could use it as a social tool as well as a research tool?

Along similar lines, Joyce called for e-publishers to break the databases out of their state collections (iConn, AccessPA) or ProQuest/Gale/InfoTract boxes. We need widgets, and lots of them, so that students can add them to their Facebook accounts, I can put individual resources directly into pathfinders and wikis, rather than mere links. These things need RSS feeds, comment boxes and tools for sharing among groups.

If their promos are accurate, the new Gale Global Issues database is heading in this direction, and I'm both dismayed that its release is apparently delayed until December, but pleased they're taking the time to work out a truly unique approach, in that individual libraries can adjust its interface and content to their needs.

Now look, I know none of this is new. I'll never be one of the great thinkers in the profession! My talents lie more in the mash-up arena: trying to figure out how the big ideas work on a day-to-day level.

As librarians and educators we need to release our stranglehold on authority, revel in the wisdom of crowds (or clouds!) and use our positions as leaders from the middle to take the best of both approaches and create information tools to empower users and improve findability.

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