Now that the standard search interfaces of the Internet are so common, there is a lot more awareness of raw information. Sure, there’s always been some lip service intimating that knowledge is power, but people by and large still respond much more quickly to money and guns. Yet there is an obscene amount of cash money in information, and now that many of the practices of librarianship, minus any complicated overarching values, are recognizable cash cows, the terms of information dissemination are becoming quite different.
We librarians should have realized what was happening much earlier, and acted upon it. Take the NAICS for example. Previously just the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code for compartmentalizing business practice, by March 31, 1993 the U.S. Office of Management and Budget decided to work in tandem with Canada and Mexico to update the structure of industry classification.
Moving from a 4 digit identification number to a 5 or 6 digit number, the new parameters are now the North American Industry Classification System, or NAICS. Numerous industries were redefined in order to allow for more flexibility and specificity when compiling statistical data of related industries; for example, the SIC Transportation, Communications, and Utilities sector is now divided up into several NAICS divisions, such as Utilities and Transportation, Transportation and Warehousing and Utilities.
Amazingly, in SIC speak there was only one sector for Service Industries. For one, that hints at the major sea change society has undergone in its transition from a manufacturing, industrial and agricultural firmament. Perhaps you hadn’t set your clock to signal the date, but on Wednesday May 23rd, 2007 the human population officially became more urban than rural. Assuming that the Maya Calendar’s end date in 2012 does not mean that society as we know it will end, then according to UN estimates there will be 5 billion city dwellers by 2030.
Of course, both China and Warren Buffett have been warning us about overpopulation for years, and even more alarming to some, Buffett has been short selling against the American dollar, George Soros style, for a few years now. Nobody’s been warning us about over-city dwelling, though… Hopefully birth rates don’t force a Sprogopolis, Baby-Powered City of the Future upon us, where “The only good baby is a working baby”
So the NAICS code, while recognizing 79 new manufacturing industries, and reorganizing the Retail and Wholesale trade sectors, simultaneously adopted an entirely new sector which should have raised an unholy din, or at least convened a Committee of Concern, in the library world. The Information Sector, or area 51 (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Sector 51 is described on the NAICS website as “perhaps the most important change” in recognition, wherein it encompasses 34 industries of which 20 are wholly new. This change was descriptive and after-the-fact, and it should have acted as a final wake up call, spurring innovation and collaboration on a large scale in library-land. Instead, at least from the crow’s nest of library school, we are still six catalogs in search of an identity.
Five categories of recognition are outlined, differentiating 51 from other traditional industrial designation. They are (to paraphrase):
- Unlike traditional goods, an ”information or cultural product” does not necessarily have tangible qualities
- Unlike traditional services, the delivery of these products does not require direct contact between the supplier and the consumer.
- The value of these products to the consumer lies in their informational, educational, cultural, or entertainment content, not in the format in which they are distributed. Most of these products are protected from unlawful reproduction by copyright laws.
- The intangible property aspect necessitates that only those possessing the rights to these works are authorized to reproduce, alter, improve, and distribute them.
- Distributors of information and cultural products can easily add value to the products they distribute.
I’m new to library science, but it makes me wonder about the chicken and the egg. One of our most popular catch phrases (which, I must admit, makes me vaguely nauseous at the sound of it, but that’s another post entirely) is to add value, or just value-added, as in value-added services where we go “above and beyond” the normal service interaction. I challenge you to read a single library science text from the past ten years where that phrase isn’t used ad infinitum. But there it is, in point 5…is the phrase that generic, or is it another way that we are playing catch-up with business?
The more I learn about library administrative organization, and about the lack of collective communication in the past, the more embarrassed I become. Especially when thinking about things like the review features on Amazon.com, which is something that should’ve already existed in library-land long before those cheeky upstarts. We comprise some of the most engaged, learned, passionate book lovers on the planet, and readers’ advisory is our very bread and butter on the public level, but there was no national communicative network before the age of the Internet? No library sponsored über-magazine or BBS or pamphlet or bi-annual that gave voice to our patrons through their patronage of the library?
When I bring this up with my professors, they often cite two factors, cost and resources. The concern about cost I feel I can pretty much deflate from the outset. Is it not costlier to have to fight for public monies, to have to devote higher-paid administrative time to lobbying and glad-handing rather than fostering public goodwill by offering a deeper level of involvement? Did not most libraries already take part in OCLC, or use MARC records or some other collectively managed and federated search & organization mechanism that could easily have been adapted for use by our patrons? Something that could be outfitted with images and reviews as well as cataloging records? Why are we still discussing the need to keep content separate from design? We know that reprogramming one CSS or php or Perl document is far easier than updating thousands of HTML, XHTML and XML pages. We should know about regular expressions as well, right? Why should any of that cost us anything?
Resources are a different matter entirely, and especially with current CIPA laws which potentially disenfranchise poorer library districts that try to maintain unfiltered web access, and impending filtration legislation overall, access can sometimes be compromised. That, and we are only now learning how to market ourselves, and are suffering for waiting too long to do so. It’s hard to convince the public to allocate their monies to us, harder still if we have not maintained a good relationship. Forget about ROI — do not neglect a return on emotional investment, okay? (A tip of the pen to Bill Crowley) Not that we should adopt business models, for there is no way that libraries can reasonably compete with billion dollar business interests, and I reject the idea of talking about the users of a public library as customers. Why does everything have to be reduced to Capitalism? Do we live in Sprogopolis already?
I for one am very excited about efforts to foster the collective wisdom of librarians, and any collaboration between libraries, museums, archives and other public guardians of knowledge is where it’s at. I am also interested in efforts to intelligently collocate “information packets” as demonstrated by Z39.50. What Z39.50 describes (and it’s not the only one, but is the first true contender) is a code for the representation of languages for information interchange, meaning a method for gathering information in disparate bundles that may not have the same method of organization.
Think about your normal web search, and how a basic search without boolean values for, say, Siouxsie and the Banshees will turn up 1,480,000 web pages in Google, 838, 312 in Gigablast and 8,354 blog posts in Technorati. By using an internationally recognized protocol that accounts for placement of semantic and syntactic strings in documents, the accuracy of particular search can be both broadened in scope and narrowed in accuracy simultaneously. When you search for a record using a proprietary interface as you might find at your public library, each page is generated on the fly, using your search designations and delimiters to collocate an appropriate response. The thing is, they already have fields specified for title, author, publisher, serial etc., and are able to produce a very accurate pool of hits, where large-scale federated web search engines do not. It isn’t that Google is inefficient, their search mechanism is possibly the most sophisticated in the world right now, using chains of associative memory to generate the most likely arena of hits in nanoseconds. What they lack is a system that recognizes fields for title, author, authority etc. across a disparate semantic and syntactic base. It doesn’t exist yet.
photo by Shirin Neshat
This is what Z39.50 is attempting to do, using baby steps today but with an eye toward systems of tomorrow, using parameters programmed into MARC 21 records, Dublin Core, SGML, XML, etc. The new lay of the land will arise in metadata schema and collective searching techniques, rather than a system of classification. It isn’t that I think the new AACR2 rules will be irrelevant once updated, nor that the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) protocols or imminent Resource Description and Access (RDA) standards will also be useless. I don’t think we should abandon main entries and added entries, either.
Rather, I am wondering whether or not the most effective method for collocating information will come from the design of collaborative search functions, rather than through a rigid semantic and syntactic language. A quick glance at RefWorks, and all of the output styles just for bibliographic records, shows hundreds of record making systems. It seems naive, to me, to try to impose a lone standard system of cataloging as well.