September 2011 Archives

If they care, it counts as content

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I'm a little late to the discussion on some of these specifics, but bear with me. Last week, Liz Danforth had a great blog post over at Library Journal on the subject of "Do You Speak Geek." In it she discusses the "Speak Out with your Geek Out" program - an inspirational idea where, for one week, folks are encouraged to blog about what they are enthusiastic about; ie, what they geek. She also provides a nice link back to our own "Geek the Library" program (Thanks, Liz!), pointing out that the tagline for the program - whatever you geek, the public library supports it all - works very well in the context of the "Speak Out..." effort.

The stories people share about what they geek are vast, odd and wonderful. In 200+ comments, readers of the original "Speak Out..." post list interests as diverse as juggling, steampunk and music. Not surprisingly, many of the posts were about games. Game culture - whether old-school pen-and-paper D&D, poker, video games or sports - is ripe with opportunities for geeking. Not only can you enjoy the games themselves and the opportunities for friendship, camaraderie, competition, etc., but there are often entire sets of lore, stats, facts, stories and history that true ludophiles glom onto as part of their, well... geekery.

All of which is great. And we know that libraries have been supporting their users "non-book" interests for a very long time.

But still, I get the feeling that everything else tends to take a back-seat to books for us. And, perhaps, for some of our users and supporters. I think, if pressed, that many of us would rather a child spend an hour with a bad book than a great game or television show. Why is it, I've been wondering, that book-geeks get so much more support in our schools and libraries than folks who exhibit almost any other kind of interest? [With the exception of sports at the college level, of course]

  1. This thought was in my mind when I discovered the "How Games Saved My Life" site. I came to the site through an Ars Technica story, which provides a good overview of the project and some amazing samples of the material they've received. The story on the site that most affected me, however, was one where a college-age girl, Jenny Putnam, shares how playing Fallout 3 helped get her through the pain of losing her father. You can't prepare to lose your dad; it only ever happens to you once. And nobody can show you how to grieve in a way that's meaningful to you; you have to find it for yourself. That a girl who played games with her dad did so through that medium isn't particularly surprising... but it is nonetheless deeply moving, personal and important.

All of us know people for whom books have had that kind of effect. And nobody (me least of all) would argue that you can get a meaningful education or study a subject fully without books, whether paper or electronic. What I think these stories about games and geekery show, though, is that (to paraphrase Forest Gump), "Content is as content does."

So... if:

  1. People are moved by games, music, gardening, puppetry, steampunk, juggling, etc. etc., and;
  2. We are consolidating our collections; and
  3. Discovering that some tiny part (6%, I read somewhere) accounts for 80% of the use...

Should our collection development efforts focus more on, well... more *active* stuff? If so, what does it mean to be a library (or librarian) for jugglers, cos-players, gardeners, folk musicians and photographers? Not a place where you go just to read about what you geek... but where you go to *do* it?

George Needham
How do people use libraries and other sources of information? That's a big question, and it gets bigger all the time as more and more resources are created, digitized and go online. OCLC does a fair amount of market research on this subject, but there's all kinds of other groups, researchers, colleges and publications involved, too... in some cases going back many decades.

To help track that research and make it easier to compare and contrast what different studies have found, the OCLC Library has begun a WorldCat list on the subject: a collection of books, dissertations and articles that explore where and why library users and non-users seek information. A work in progress, the bibliography initially focuses on studies meeting the criteria below. However, significant works discovered in the course of research to date may be included even if they fall outside these guidelines:

  • Preference toward studies that consider libraries as one of several choices information seekers have;
  • Published items (articles, books) or dissertations;
  • English language;
  • 1900 to date;
  • Items that measure or evaluate usage via surveys, interviews, etc. I.e., no opinion pieces lacking research support;
  • Research regarding libraries of all types, but prioritized to cover public libraries first, then college and university libraries;
  • Preference toward broad studies, rather than those of limited user groups; e.g., of a single library system.
Many of these studies are fascinating to anyone with any interest in libraries. Some are a bit more specific, either in subject or by geography. But they all add up to a better view of our profession.

Not a complete view, though. If you know of any resources that you think should be added to the list, please let us know at The more we know about our information landscape, and the more we can help each other learn, the better for all our communities.

Larry Olszewski
Director, OCLC Library
Over the past several years, WorldCat has experienced extraordinary growth, largely from metadata contributed from national libraries and union catalogs from outside North America. The new metadata provides access to more of the world's collective collection and has changed the proportion of non-English language content described in WorldCat from less than 40% in 1998 to almost 60% now. It has also challenged OCLC's automated tools for managing holdings information and duplicate entries and for matching, merging and clustering records for the same work. At the same time, WorldCat's growth created new opportunities to build multilingual services around works, names and terminologies.

As a first step toward new tools, OCLC has implemented new duplication detection and resolution (DDR) software which has helped to resolve many of the issues of true duplicates in WorldCat. As of today, more than 8 million duplicates have been merged via the DDR processes.

WorldCat quality, however, needs to be further strengthened. What we've found in a recent study is that even those users who are quite pleased with the database described problems, notably around duplicates and the existence of very brief records. We also found that, while users are more tolerant of duplicate records than librarians, duplicate records and other quality concerns impede the discovery of information for all users.

To quote Karen Calhoun, former OCLC Vice President, WorldCat and Metadata Services:

An inclusive approach that meets the data quality requirements of both end users and librarians will be critical to the future viability and appeal of WorldCat. We need to reinvent OCLC's long-standing and successful, but English-language centric approaches to metadata creation and data quality management for the realities of the increasingly multilingual, multinational OCLC cooperative.

A new report, written by Karen and me, discusses several data quality issues and describes steps OCLC has taken and will take to make it easier for users to find items in WorldCat and get them from OCLC member libraries. The report describes both near-term and long-term projects related to improving the overall quality of the WorldCat database.

One special quality project described in the paper is GLIMIR (Global LIbrary Manifestation IdentifieRs), whose principal benefits will be to improve the clustering of WorldCat records and holdings for the same work, thus reducing the complexity of search result displays and supporting more reliable linking to local library catalogs. An OCLC project begun in 2009, GLIMIR enables more intuitive search result displays for end users and lowers the processing costs of acquisitions, cataloging, selection and resource sharing by making it easier to identify and select the "correct" record.

I'd like to thank both the OCLC member librarians who help improve WorldCat records every day, and the staff at OCLC who develop the services, software and policies that enhance the quality of the database. We've made significant progress in the last few years. We are convinced that the steps outlined in this report will help us do even more.

Glenn Patton,

Director, WorldCat Quality Management