OCLC: September 2008 Archives

Sacred Cow #4: Notes, notes, notes

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In case you're wondering how many cows are in this pasture, I started counting and figured I could keep this series going for at least the rest of the calendar year.  How long can I milk this one?  After a while, though, it begins to look whiny and tired, so I thought I would end with a cow for which it might make sense to make more hay.  (there, have I...ahem...butchered that metaphor enough?).

Some of last week's work had me thinking about notes fields in bibliographic and item records.  Boy, do we love notes.  We didn't quite have the guts to call them what they really are--miscellaneous fodder that doesn't really fit in a real MARC field.  No, we went one further, and created 48 different kinds of notes and put them in the 5XX fields.  Was that enough?  Of course not.  Let's throw in ten more (590-599) for local notes.  Anyone else think we could have just scanned the whole book in the time that it took to write all those notes?

If social tagging in library catalogs is library 2.0, then notes were our 1.0 effort.  We fret over their protection, their proper migration, where they display, their impact on keyword indexes, and the new relevance algorithms required to make sure they get just enough weight as we migrate MARC records to new bolt-on catalogs.  Notes run the gamut from arcane impossible to interpret codes and numbers to the invaluable characteristic that distinguish one book from another.

Putting my OCLC hat on, I can't help but argue that at least the local notes belong with the item record, not the bibliographic one.  The MARC Holdings record (MFHL, MFHD, LHR...whatever you want to call it) makes a place for both local and staff notes, and if it's truly local in nature, shouldn't it go there?  This is mostly a rhetorical question...believe me when I say that I have no intention of getting into an argument with catalogers on this one--a fight that would leave me beaten and bloodied.

What if all those notes--like social tags--were put in a great big pile, used semantically, indexed accordingly?  What if all the little localized changes to OCLC bibliographic records were put in a pile and "localized" for local purposes.  We might end up with 80% chaff in the pile, but the results could be interesting.  Our notes are somehow sacred, but are they as useful as they could be?

About the Author

Andrew K. Pace

I am Executive Director for Networked Library Services at OCLC. I am also a past President of LITA. On occasion, I am known for pontificating "on stage, in writing, and via the web" on a variety of issues important to libraries.

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