Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Stuck in the middle of a silly little riddle

It was announced today that the Program for Cooperative Cataloging has established a Task Group on Identities Management in NACO. The task group is made up of a lot of very smart people who will, I'm certain, come to very smart conclusions about identities management and the Name Authority Cooperative Program.

The work of the task group is informed by a white paper written by the Program for Cooperative Cataloging Advisory Committee on Initiatives. This paper, titled Name authorities in transition: implications for the PCC, was published in June 2014 and considers what role the Program for Cooperative Cataloging should play in the creation and management of authorities data. The white paper made four recommendations:

1. Develop guidelines for the use of VIAF vocabularies to authorize name entities
2. Develop a process for evaluating, endorsing, and providing guidance for the use of name vocabularies beyond VIAF
3. Significantly expand the ranks of those who can create identifiers/contribute authority data
4. Develop a testbed infrastructure to evaluate the intricacies of statement­based identity management

I reread this white paper today and recommendation #3 stood out to me as something I wanted to think about a little bit more. Before we proceed, I should say that while I am a NACO-trained cataloger, my understanding of authority data is hazy at best.

The text of this recommendation acknowledges the fact that there has been a relative lack of engagement in the metadata creation community. I went to the NACO site and counted the number of participating libraries--185. The number seems both very low and very high to me. One of the barriers to participation has been the quota of member contributions. The program requires that libraries contribute between 100 and 200 authority records depending on size and, let's be honest, many libraries do not do enough authority work on their own to meet that quota. The program established NACO funnels in order to bring together libraries who may not on their own generate enough authority work to meet the quotas. These funnels are arranged in a variety of ways including geography, subject matter, and language. That has helped to increase participation somewhat, but there are still wide swaths of the metadata community who aren't participating in the program.

The text of this recommendation also acknowledges that the emphasis of traditional authority work on the proper construction of headings is philosophically incompatible with the linked data environment where the emphasis is on establishing identifiers for named entities. Basically, it seems like traditional authority record creation is running parallel to existing identifier-creation services like ISNI and ORCID. And in many cases, identifier-creation services allow people get to be in control of managing their own identities.

The authors of the white paper conclude recommendation #3 by offering two solutions for expanding the ranks of people creating authority data. One is to have two separate encoding levels for authority records, one for full-level records and one created using a NACO-lite template. The second is to have a second authority file running parallel to the Library of Congress Name Authority File where non-NACO members can contribute headings. Both of these solutions address the fact that libraries are hesitant to devote the resources to doing the work to become NACO members, but neither seems ideal.I guess if I had to choose, I'd got with the former solution where libraries create authorities using a NACO-lite template. CONSER, the Program for Cooperative Cataloging's serials cataloging program, already follows this model. When a CONSER library finds an unauthenticated serial record in Ye Olde Bibliographic Utility, that library upgrades the record.

For whatever you can say about the utility (or futility, I suppose) of metadata creation, it seems clear that we're standing at a critical point in its history. As more libraries choose to devote less resources to the creation of metadata to describe their resources, it seems increasingly likely that library administrators will also think critically about the value of belonging to the Program for Cooperative Cataloging. While participation in PCC programs is incredibly important, it's also costly in terms of both financial and personnel resources. In this do more with less world, it seems likely that the Program for Cooperative Cataloging will need to demonstrate its value beyond a standardized and orderly bibliographic and authority files. Especially when our ways of constructing bibliographic and authority records are increasingly siloed and not at all interoperable with the open web. Since many top-tier libraries are Program for Cooperative Cataloging members, it seems to me that many of the right people are in the room to have a frank and productive conversation about what the metadata creation community can do to move itself forward into the 21st Century. I think that the Task Group on Identities Management in NACO is a good first step in that direction and it will definitely be interesting to see what conclusions this groups comes to.

Stay positive,

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