Sunday, November 18, 2007

A bright future for bibliographic control

I was able to take some time this weekend to watch the webcast of the presentation to LC staff by the Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control. Given that the presentation covered draft, rather than final, recommendations (the full draft report will be distributed on Nov. 30), I think it's best that I not get too hung up in the details based on the presentation.

For example, the recommendation that RDA development be abandoned until FRBR is better understood could be a very good thing or a very bad thing, in my opinion, depending on how the recommendation is written. Karen Coyle, consultant to the group, involved in helping to write the report, has already indicated that the report's recommendations will be presented differently than they were in the presentation, addressing RDA and FRBR separately. I fall in the camp that the currently-released RDA drafts fall short of the sea-change for which it strives, but I also think we need to be making this change sooner rather than later. We'll see, I suppose.

I was also thrilled to hear in Barbara Tillett's question from the audience that LC is close to making some of their vocabularies (she didn't say which ones, presumably things like the language codes - I suppose it's too much to hope LCSH would be included) available via SKOS. This is the first I've heard of that initiative, but I think it's fantastic. It's something my institution would be able to take advantage of fairly quickly.

But back to the big picture, which I think is the most significant part of this week's presentation. The working group has outlined a vision that goes far beyond the mechanics of bibliographic control, into the scope and functions of discovery and use applications. I think this is a significant development, one that has gone in exactly the right direction. It only makes sense to analyze how we do bibliographic control if we fully understand what it is that work is supporting. I don't recall any of the webcast presenters saying this in so many words, but the vision that was outlined was not just one for library catalogs as we define them today. It covered information systems in the larger sense, and how they could interact. The future of bibliographic control is not just the design of records we create and store; it's a fluid, connected, living information environment in which libraries are but one (albeit important) player. What an exciting time to be a librarian!