Monday, October 26, 2009

flatlands and failures of curation

As a counterpoint to my last post on the rise of the verticals, I've been thinking about the importance of horizontal library collections. On the one hand if a library wants to make a difference in the web environment, they should develop unique vertical collections that focus in on particular subject areas and are of interest globally.

But what of the notion that libraries, particularly college libraries like my own, should provide their users with a strong general collection in line with their institution's curriculum? In the long tail, hybrid print/digital environment of the early 21rst century, this idea of a broad and shallow local collection perhaps doesn't make as much sense. As we try to expand our patron's information universe with consortial borrowing and large aggregations of e content, not to mention awareness of what's out there on the web, the idea of a limited general book collection seems quaint, like your neighborhood book store.

Somehow, we still want our patrons to be able to be able to identify the most important works in a subject area without getting overloaded with choices. One might argue that Google's success is based on doing something like this for the web as a whole. Google is able to reliably pull up the most popular and trusted websites on a given topic.

Our discovery systems need to do a better job of giving some relief to the information landscape. Our users should be able to tell if some titles are more popular, more widely cited, etc. than others. If a text is a classic work of literature or a classic in the field, it should be obvious s in search results.

Ranking search results based partly on the number of holding libraries like WorldCat.org does is a step in the right direction: the collective intelligence of collection development work, if you will. FRBRization is another one. Use of citation analysis could be another. Folksonomies and recommendation engines another. Human curation also has a role.

The commercial world is getting good at using these techniques. Libraries really have a chance to lead in the FRBRizaton arena, I think. This is something the commercial world hasn't figured out, as Mike Shatzkin points out out here:
Recommendation engines aside (”based on what you bought before, have we got a book for you!”), online book retailers have a long way to go to enable the customized curation that seems both possible and desireable in the digital age. Even as sophisticated a retailer at Barnes & Noble will present multiple duplicate entries of a public domain scan from Google to an ebook search for a Shakespeare play. And even as sophisticated a retailer as Amazon will sell you a Kindle ebook that is a self-published tome in a way that is indistinguishable from a book from a legitimate publisher. These are failures of curation.

3 comments:

Eric said...

Mark, as I read your post I began to think about the NGC4LIB discussion about Steve Lohr’s interview of Tim Berners-Lee. The NGC4LIB discussion touched on the user tasks as described in FRBR. (See the NGC4LIB thread “User tasks outdated—Why?”) My sense of what’s missing from the FRBR user tasks is helping the user understand what is important given their goal.

My thinking here is also guided by the comments Timothy Burke made to the Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control. If the user’s goal has to do with a field in which they are a novice, then they want to know who the important authors are and why, which topics are important and why, which works are important and why, and the chronological relationships of the important works. If their goal is to identify the most useful edition of a work, then they want to know which editions are most useful and why, and they want to understand the chronological relationship of the editions.

That’s the type of information I imagine being gathered through human curation. In the case of understanding the important editions of a work, the work is really the backdrop against which a little story of the editions is told. In the case of a field, a story of important researchers, topics, and works needs to be told. It seems to me that librarians are in a strong position to be able to tell these stories.

Bryan's workshop blog said...

Mark, your post came to mind while I was reading this JISC post. Did you see it?

五月天 said...

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