So given my soapbox feelings about well-formed metadata and its role in discovery, I was interested to Chris Bourg's blog post about the role of serendipity in the research process and browsing in the online environment. I was even more interested to know that Chris gave this talk to members of the IviesPlus group as part of IviesPlus Discovery Day, because I feel like those are the people and institutions with the resources to really dig into these issues.
The part of Chris' blog post that really caught my attention was this:
What we are hearing are scholars who want us to build tools, or facilitate the building or deployment of tools, that will allow them to see connections to their work and their teaching and their interests that they cannot see now. They want to discover articles and books and data and images and maps and primary sources and teaching objects and people on the fringes of their own areas of focus, but that are otherwise kind of in their blindspots. They want to make happy & unexpected discoveries; and they want it not to be by accident, but to be because the library has provided the tools, the data, and the metadata to make it so.What I appreciate about this statement is the acknowledgement of the fact that creating this kind of world, this kind of future, requires well-formed metadata. Researchers want to be able to discover the things they didn't know that they wanted to discover and I believe that library would love to make that experience available to users. But, as Chris points out, that requires a different set of tools than are currently available to users. It also requires a commitment to understanding what metadata those tools require to provide the kind of experience that users want and, once those needs are assessed, the commitment to developing that kind of metadata.
Creating the descriptive and subject access to library materials that will facilitate the kind of user experience Chris describes is costly. Yes, metadata from other parts of the supply chain can (and should) be used. And yes, linking to authoritative source outside of the current authority ecosystem will help cut down one cost. But at some point, libraries will have to take on the task of creating and remediating metadata in order to make it useable by the tools that are necessary to facilitate true, serendipitous discovery. And that creation and remediation is timely in terms of time and in terms of personpower.
I am grateful that Chris put forth this vision for the future of discovery. And I'm doubly grateful that metadata was mentioned in the same breath with tools and data. It isn't enough for metadata creators to talk ceaselessly about the value of well-formed metadata in the discovery process. We need for administrators to talk about it, too. I am inspired by the ideas that Chris put forth in the talk that lead to the blog post. And I hope that we, as metadata creators, have the resources we need to create the well-formed metadata that will lead to those ideas becoming reality.