Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Trying hard not to get too obsessed with it

At the end of February, a post to the BIBFRAME listserv linked to an essay by Jeff Edmunds that enumerated the reasons why the author believes that the standard will not be widely adopted by the GLAM community. There has been much conversation in various parts of the cataloging community about the merits of the arguments that Edmunds lays out in the essay.

Throughout the essay, Edmunds suggests repeatedly (and in various ways) that those who are engaged in the work of developing BIBFRAME have gotten so in the theoretical weeds that they have lost track of the realities of resource description in the modern age. Toward the end of his essay, Edmunds suggests that the greatest challenges facing metadata creators today are:
"the utterly unwieldy immensity of the bibliographic universe, the ongoing and accelerating decline in the quality of bibliographic metadata, competition for the organization and delivery of information by non-library entities (Wikipedia, Google, Facebook)"
I should say that while I wasn't a fan of this essay, I don't actually disagree with Edmunds' assertions about the challenges facing metadata creators. I think he does a fine job of surveying the current landscape. What was apparent to me when reading this essay was that it points to a growing rift in the cataloging community that will only continue to grow as we move toward a crisis point related to the adoption of BIBFRAME as a standard. And as one side on that growing rift, it's representative of an argument that I've heard being made in the cataloging community.

There seems to be a growing tension between those engaged in the theoretical work of developing BIBFRAME as a standard and those who are still currently working on describing the resources their library owns in MARC. And in some ways, I think his boils down to a tension between those who have the means to innovate and those who don't.

There is a large contingent of the metadata creation community that has invested resources in the development and modeling of BIBFRAME as a standard. This work is ongoing and while I understand very little of it, if we're being honest, it seems like this work is driven by a belief that there is a future for BIBFRAME as a standard within our community. I think it's important work, but I also think it's worth being transparent about the fact that this type of work requires material resources. And those institutions who have stepped into the role of early adopter are often entities with the ability to devote those material resources to standards development.

For other libraries, there are simply not enough material resources to devote resources to standards development. There are too few staff and not enough money to devote to both the quotidian work of resource description and the theoretical work of standards development and modeling. Because choices must be made strategically about how to spend resources, these libraries find themselves on the outside of the theoretical work of standards development and modeling looking in.

There is a very real tension between these two sides, which leads to each one being defensive and suspicious of the other. And it is easy to see the other side and not find value in their work. Those who are invested in BIBFRAME development see people who are suspicious of it as change averse and negative. People who are suspicious of BIBFRAME development see those who champion it as being too caught up in the theoretical and divorced from the practical.

One thing I have grown more certain of as I have seen BIBFRAME development is that I am out of my depth. While I am on the younger end of those who are currently cataloging, my education was based in the AACR2 environment and sometimes I have a hard time pulling myself out of the quotidian work of metadata creation to find the value in the development of future standards. But I make myself do it, because I don't want to be the person who is so stuck in way of thinking that I outlive my professional usefulness.

I think that, as a community, we have to have a conversation about the merits and drawback of making the intellectual shift from a siloed past to an interoperable future. And there's room for people on both sides of this conversation. But the longer we allow this rift to grow, the less likely it will be that such a conversation will be able to happen respectfully and with acknowledgement of the value of both sides of the conversation.

Stay positive,

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