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Monday, May 28, 2012


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Bradley P. Allen

Christine- Your (and Paul's) point is well taken, and given this and your previous post, I wonder if what this implies is that the social contract associated with librarianship is changing in a way that is not quite yet fully expressed or acknowledged.

A key aspect of the mission of the library is make its resources freely accessible and discoverable to the community it serves. Cataloging specifically focuses on the task of ensuring discoverability through careful characterization and indexing of those resources. Paul highlights the fact that the value in cataloging is shifting from the characterization of the work at hand to the elaboration of the network of relationships between the work and the rest of the world, a point elsewhere made by David Weinberger (also of the Harvard Library Innovation Lab) in his recent book. Making this network rich, expressive and of the highest quality is a necessary condition for reducing the effort needed to get machines to effectively use these resources.

But we seem to be making the assumption that reducing this effort is simply a means to the end of better library applications for human consumption. Another perspective is that the community served by the library increasingly includes not just humans, but machines as well. As machines become increasingly autonomous, their activity will become both less distinguishable from that of other online library users and increasingly dependent on robust library services for access to knowledge about the world at large.

Perhaps it is a bit premature to consider this as an argument for robot rights, but if the library considered its mission as one to serve both machines and humans equally well, I would bet that would lend some clarity to current debates around cataloging standards and best practices.


The minute we start thinking that machines should be served in the mission right along humans . . . "Houston, we have a problem!"

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  • The focus of this blog is the future of cataloging and metadata in libraries.

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