Knit One, Purl Two: The Organisation of Knowledge on the Internet

Buckminster Fuller (1996) used to tell a story about the Master of one of the Cambridge (England) Colleges, who noticed a deep crack in the massive beam supporting the college's dining hall. Not knowing to whom he should report the problem, the Master eventually notified the Royal Forester. The Forester replied that he had been expecting the call. The Forester's predecessor's predecessor, he said, had planted the tree for the new beam, and it was now ready! My theme ultimately is not what we are but rather what we might be by the end of the decade. To do that we have to sow the seeds of change now. No change may be greater than in the cataloguing area.

It is perhaps relevant here to tell you how I researched this talk. Initially I didn't go near a book or printed articles. My main point of reference was the Internet. E-mail discussion list 'gems' were also analysed. In the past I might have gone to Library Literature, had an online search undertaken, or browsed the print shelves but no longer. This is a change in my personal scholarly communication pattern which I hope will be reflected in academia as a whole otherwise the economics of university library operations will decline even further, as academics give away their intellectual output face to multinational publishers who do not wish to utilise the economics of electronic distribution.

Change is now constant in daily lives. David Bolter (1996) in his book Turing's Man has argued that one of the defining characteristics of Western Society is that it is constantly in a state of technological revolution eg. from printing presses, clocks, railways. What is happening with the Internet is we are anticipating the changes almost as or before they happen. The invention of the printing press, as Professor Elizabeth Eisenstein has shown, had profound effects but how many people in 1455 would have predicted its impact even if they had had a mechanism to announce it! Then global discussions were clearly impossible to encompass in 1455 but today the Internet circumvents national boundaries.

Charles Babbage's nineteenth century invention of 'The Difference Engine' had the "progressive" aim of a more efficient use of labour and a concern to do away with repetitive tasks. We have seen this occur with copy cataloguing provision and the decline of original cataloguing in local libraries. Even ANU which has a major research collection now obtains copy cataloguing records for about 76% of its Western language titles. The Net also allows a serendipity of browsing far beyond the physical stacks of libraries which are controlled by largely nineteenth century classification systems and the physical construct of the book. It was once said "to err is human but to catalogue is divine". One might now come to the conclusion that God will be an Internet Indexer and not a Cataloguer - as those who sit and arrange the information hold the power!

Andrew Prescott (1995) in a fascinating article 'The Digital Library in Theory and Practice' - an Historian's View", in a British Library symposium, has argued that the digital library to date has more in common with Babbage's difference engine than that which is required in the future, ie the analytical engine. He outlines a number of humanistic areas where he believes digital research is superior to print research eg. in multi-media drama access, the high resolution digital images of seals and coins for historical and numismatic research etc. Marc Bloch's the "traditions of the past" then become in effect the images of the future? The cataloguing process moves from the traditional cataloguing of printed artefacts namely the book and printed serial to metadata interoperability. The Internet and the World Wide Web have brought nearer to reality Professor Wilfred Lancaster's concepts of the paperless library or at least the reality of accessing a great deal of information electronically.

To look back first to the 'Knit One' element of Cataloguers. When I attended the University College London Library School in the mid-1960's my good cataloguing exam results were not due to any innate cataloguing skills but rather to an understanding of the then new MARC records which were just coming out of the Library of Congress. As part of the School programme, and it shows how, in half a lifetime, how things have changed, we were taken to see a Friden Flexowriter which produced cards via a paper tape input. This was seen as a technological wonder!

Mary Piggott, ran the cataloguing course and was someone who, at least in public, fitted the archetypal spinster image of librarians. Piggott (1954) wrote in her book Cataloguing Principles and Practices. An Inquiry, "in contrast to our American colleagues cataloguers in this country are silent men." Notice the gender balance despite the female preponderance of cataloguers then and now. She continued "In private we wrestle with our problems and in seclusion we celebrate our triumph. It's only the advent of the machine into our lives that inspires us to communicate with our fellows!"

Dr Michael Gorman, one of the architects of AACR-2, has described (1983) in 'Technical Services 1984-2001' that his first major job was the filing and retrieval of metal plates upon which were embossed catalogue entries. I think this must have been for the BNB (British National Bibliography). Gorman recalls these "plates were endlessly reusable and covered with a greasy gooey ink... These were handed to his supervisor, a woman who constantly hummed snatches of the Flanders and Swann repertoire while stamping out multiple copies of catalogue cards. The catalogue entries were created directly on the plates by way of a machine looking like a huge spinning wheel made out of cast iron." Gorman says that his investigations into the past left him with some indelible questions and ideas which were not to change in essence over many years. These included the fact that cataloguers need to be informed, dedicated and of open mind.

I'm indebted to ANU's Judy Churches for the e-mail (Blue, 1996) that said the first mention of the card catalogue came in the 1791 French Cataloguing Code. "It seems that instructions were sent out to the librarians in possession of these confiscated collections to obtain a large supply of old playing cards and to write out the bibliographic descriptions on the backs of the cards (which were blank in those days), to arrange them in alphabetical order and ship them to Paris. Perhaps paper was in short supply... It was suggested that if the bibliographic description for a particular item was lengthy, the librarian should use an ace or deuce because there would be more white space on the face of the card to continue the description!" (K. Blue e-mail 23/4/96 to Autocat). Maybe cataloguing is still more of a game of chance than we had realised!

Now we are moving from the cataloguing of the sterile extenors of physical books to Internet electronic resource discovery. There are, however, pros and cons. If Cutter's aims in 1876 were to:

  • Enable a person to find a book of which either the author, the title or the subject is known.
  • Show what the library has by an author on a given subject..
  • Assist in the choice of a book as to its edition or as to its character (literary or topical).

Then, in contrast today, the Internet has been described as a library where at the moment there is no catalogue, books on the shelves keep moving, and an extra lorry load of books is dumped in the entrance hall every hour. (Floridi, 1996)

Vartan Gregorian (1996) , the President of Brown University, has stated "Information technology also presents us with the opportunity and the tools to meet the challenges of exploring knowledge, connecting information, and defying fragmentation. For if the new information technologies seem fragmenting, they are also profoundly integrative. Their deployment at the university is, as often as not, an exploration of new connections among the traditional disciplines, new ways of finding significance and meaning... In one of his commentaries on Dante's Inferno, T.S. Eliot described hell as a place where nothing connects with nothing... Now, near the end of the twentieth century, this threat may seem to have reached its epitome in the explosion and fragmentation of information caused by our new technology. In fact, while the threat is real enough, the new technology brings us new resources for the establishment of coherence, connection, and meaning".

So on the one hand anarchy and isolation, on the other new windows of information opportunity and a group collective dialogue. The problem for libraries and users is the uneasy mix of print and electronic demands at a time when overall budgets are reducing in real terms.

In March I was invited, along with twenty other international guests, including the Director of the Russian State Library at St Petersburg, to the OCLC Research Library Directors meeting at Columbus Ohio. The keynote speech was given by George Gilder the American futurologist. He indicated that with LSI Logic's Internet-on-a-Chip processors, cable modems, and Digital Broadcast Satellite technology, we will have by the end of the century unlimited bandwidth into our homes driven by user demand. The advent of low cost consumer Internet machines will move the users well beyond the telnet stage. He cited some interesting research statistics eg. in the USA in 1995, PCs outsold TVs, and the number of e-mail messages surpassed snail mail. The technological revolution, if economics of scale prevail, will alter the basis of our library operations.

Will our physical basis for work change as we become virtual professions? Stephen Graham (1996) of the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne in has recently outlined the powerful impact of the Digital Stad (DDS) in Amsterdam, a set of virtual spaces which are intended to act as a powerful metaphor for the physical city. But nearly 60% of the people who access DDS are under 30, almost three quarters have a degree and are employed. The change of access will only occur when we move one step away from today's power brokers who are largely in their 50's or 60's and who are less familiar with the Net. If we look at the future, it is quite clear from telecommuting trends in America, which has the greatest penetration of PC's in the home environment and also availability of Internet access, that a great deal of work can be done remotely. Professor Paul Davies has recently railed against megacities in The Australian. Telecommuting may overcome this in the longer term.

To take the library area it is increasingly feasible, however, for say cataloguers, whatever that term means in the future, to work from home, as some do already for ABN (Australian Bibliographic Network), accessing data bases for original cataloguing, removing duplicates, authority control, providing value added outsourcing etc. The physical artefact itself ie. the book will no longer be the item that is to be analysed, rather it will be the inherent data within the document. A metadata approach will prevail and will have its structural content analysed at the beginning of the process, rather than when the book is received in whatever repository it ultimately resides.

Metadata has two main functions:

  • to provide a means to discover data exists and how it might be obtained or accessed and to provide a search mechanism to collect metadata
  • to document the content, quality and features of a data set and so give an indication of fitness of use.

Stanley Wilder (1996) has recently concluded "Librarianship has a record of successful adaptation, most notably in its adoption of new technologies. The next adaptation will require that librarianship translate its print-centred expertise in the evaluation, selection, organization, and preservation of information to the new digital environment. Competition for this new role will be intense, however, and the advantage will go to groups that can combine traditional "librarian" skills with technical and managerial ones. If librarianship is successful in claiming this role, the new skill mix may well be recognized in the form of expanded opportunity and higher salaries, making librarianship a career of first choice for more young people."

The traditional model of academic communication, eg. as based on the printed journal, will have to be seriously challenged. This has not only to do with the fact that libraries can no longer afford to subscribe to enough journals, but is more fundamentally an outcome of the need for different communication methods. Network technology can deliver not just solutions to contemporary problems but a dramatically different, and superior, communication paradigm. A library is no longer a zoo, with books in captivity and the curious looking in through the bars to seek information. Instead, a library has to be a gateway to finding information, and as the systems to do that become more complex, libraries have to expand their efforts of teaching people how to use these systems. Since much of the Internet information has not gone through traditional publishers, people will need to know how to evaluate information, not just find it.

Given as we know that most serials in large research libraries are relatively little used, and that the serial volume itself is emphatically a construct of print economics, we must move to the individual access to and delivery of articles in electronic form. The movement of supplies such as Uncover to "point and click" Web sites will make it much easier for academics to directly access information. We will have to recognise that while automated systems have impacted on the display of the bibliographic record, in future we will need more than bibliographic displays on OPAC's. We have to decide whether we put the catalogue into the Internet or the Internet into the catalogue!

In the past year or two, the client-server model of library public access catalogs has moved toward a scenario in which the library delivers catalog access to standardized clients, such as Web browsers, rather than to proprietary library clients which the library must deploy and support, and which may not integrate well with other applications on the user's desktop. New one stop shops will include facilities such as OCLC's Z-sites which provide an effective tool via the common interfaces and interoperability through to full text electronic journals, also linked to document supply and to bibliographical references in hypertext. ILMS providers such as Innopac and DRA are increasingly providing links to full text sources. We're moving from OPAC's to webcats or web pacs.

Dr Michael Gorman (1995) has questioned the impression that cataloguing departments are full of expensive and unproductive obsessional people who do not make a major contribution to the value of the library. The outsourced or dismantled cataloguing department can then be ascribed to the failure of the cataloguers - a prime example of the fashionable sport of blaming the victim. The corpse however may be much larger than the cataloguing department - it may be the whole Library! As I said however, in my UK Follett lectures (Steele, 1995), I believe the distinctions between the different parts of the library are breaking down, have broken down, and will continue to break down. Groups or clusters of subject specialists and analysts working with the users, who themselves are doing much the same in terms of access to information and the organisation of it on the Internet, will be necessary.

New organisational structures will need to evolve destroying the old compartments of collection managers, acquisition offices, reference and cataloguing professional. This is not simply a cataloguing issue. Douglas and Karen Cargille's "Sleeping with the Enemy: The Love/Hate Relationships Between Acquisitions and Collection Development" (1996) could be replicated between reference and cataloguing as the units cited in their article. The electronic environment merges all parts of the library and there will be new subject orientated Internet groupings that work intimately with the user as much outside the physical library as within it.

Patrick Condon (1995) in his paper 'The End of an Era. The Forces Marshalling Against Cataloguing' delivered to the 11th National Cataloguing Conference last October highlighted the pressures on the traditional role of cataloguers. Patrick as a manager questions the cost of processing and housing material - something the people who propose items ie. academics and the collection bibliographers rarely do. How many times will academics support the book and serial vote but not the staff to catalogue and house them. The National Library of Australia only buys what it can catalogue in the Asian print environment which focuses the mind - except they don't have a very large direct user clientele in this area to harass them on a daily basis.

Condon questions why is outsourcing of cataloguing cheaper than in-house cataloguing. Is it better? I wonder if telecommuting, value added cataloguers on the Net will constitute the sweat shops of the future or a new life style of work and leisure! Cataloguing may well be in its future form author inserted metadata. Clare Dunkle (1996) in 'Outsourcing the Catalog Department: A Meditation Inspired by the Business and Library Literature" has indicated that the reason why cataloguing in particular has received outsourcing attention is because it is a "non core activity" and because catalogue departments are "troublesome".

On a personal note I must admit this is not the case at ANU whose Bibliographical Resources Unit section reviews its procedures on a regular basis. If outsourcing groups are more effective and less costly why don't we offer cataloguers the same deal. I've often wondered if we asked our technical services staff in general and cataloguers in particular if they would receive $ 'x' for each item processed rather than a standard wage and they could choose the way to do it whether our productivity wouldn't increase dramatically. Whatever the process, catalogues are for people ie. users and catalogues are created by people. The management and economics have to be tied into that scenario.

As Condon states "Cataloguers as we know them now, will spend much, much more of their time with users, not necessarily doing high level reference work, but helping users with areas in which they have considerable skills... When not directly helping users with the special skills they have ie. understanding subjects, structures of data bases etc. they will create road maps to information in full consultation with subject specialists."

As the role of cataloguers changes then similarly the role of paraprofessionals in cataloguing will change as many (including most recently May Rider (1996). Incidentally I am less and less happy with the distinction of professional and para professionals. Under the Australia HEW (Higher Education Worker) guidelines, while there are minimal qualification standards, it is the ability to undertake the job that is important particularly within a team based approach. The Internet will break down the barriers. Many paraprofessionals are much younger and thus more flexible in adaption to the pace of change. Such changes tie into visions of the virtual universities where we may have less but more highly paid "virtual" lecturers supported by IT support staff to assist in networking infrastructure and basic tutorial assistance.

Chief University Librarians know only too well about success and failure! We obviously take life in our hands when we come to this topic. Allan Horton, then Librarian of the University of New South Wales, believed "Cataloguing is Too Important to be Left to the Cataloguer" (Cataloguing Australia July-September 1980), while John Shipp (1993), Librarian of Wollongong University, headed his talk at the ALIA NSW cataloguers section 'Phoenix or Moa: The Cataloguer Tomorrow'. He began by saying "being a university librarian doesn't mean you have to be omniscient". I'd say now, three years on, you don't have to be omniscient but you have to be nearly omniscient to combat warring factions on campus and often within staff groups whose allegiance is more to the sectional tribe than the overall goals!

The late Dr Brian Enright (1987), the Librarian of Newcastle University, in one of the funniest and yet most depressing articles on library practice, 'Academic library ideals and reality', compared a Head Librarian to a Prison Governor' and found it amazing that a library functioned at all! Enright stated it's harder getting a new idea accepted in a library than getting an old one dropped. With staff entrenched in ways of doing things rooted in the past, the introduction of new work concepts is difficult. ANU technical processing staff understandably don't have much time to reflect on new modes of information as the academics and collection managers cascade material at them in print form without on-cost analyses. In libraries, Enright says, the attention given to protecting vested interests would have delighted the Hapsburg Monarchy! Such attitudes he said are rarely written about - almost like having an alcoholic in the family!

Some cataloguers, of course, have been debating the issues. Barbara Stewart, Latin American Cataloguer at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, posted the following to the Autocat list on 7 March: "Libraries have been remarkable examples of collaborative cataloguing efforts. New efforts by LC to enhance bibliographic records by scanning entire tables of contents and adding a clickable T.O.C. entry in the 505 field are very heartening. However, with the advent of fiber-optic cables - we will soon have a broad audience who will want to do a variety of things with a click of a mouse."

Stewart sees that:

  • Day by day, the threat of outsourcing looming increasingly on the cataloguing horizon. New programs developed by Yankee Book Peddlar, Blackwell, and others will provide cataloguing records at the time of ordering, thus eliminating the position of copy cataloguer.
  • Libraries and cataloguers need to act NOW to increase their reputation as indexers, classifiers, 'rating system' creators -- in other words, she argues cataloguers must claim loudly throughout all the confines of Cyberspace that we created cataloguing, NOT Yahoo. (Tony Barry of ANU's CNASI, Centre for Networking and Scholarly Information, believes that the three areas of money making on the Net at present are ISP (Internet Service Providers), server sales and indexing.
  • Stewart believes libraries should initiate some kind of value-added cataloguing (indexing on command, so to speak) ... a sort of an online reference interview, but relating to the exact type of information required by the requestor. There would be a price but people would only pay if effective information was provided.

Cataloguers can assist in the evaluation of quality on the Net. A useful, and evolving paper is Hope Tillman's paper of that title at <> in which her key indication of quality are:

  • ease of finding out the scope and criteria for inclusion that lets me see whether there is a match with my needs
  • ease of identifying: the authority of authors, the currency, the last update, what was updated
    stability of information - can I rely on it staying there?
  • ease of use in terms of both convenience or organization and speed of connection

Ann Okerson, the Associate University Librarian of Yale University, in an after dinner speech to the March ACM Digital Libraries Conference in Washington in March highlighted the following issues that libraries need to address in the digital era:

  • Continued staff development is essential in libraries because of the significant technological skills required now and in the future.
  • Knowledge of our user bases was essential. Thus why are we cataloguing, for whom and how do we know we are meeting user needs. This is no different in the electronic age to the print era.
  • Library staff should be in constant touch with users so to frame these needs in a constrained economic environment.
  • Significant amount of funds are invested in staff and in a market economy returns needed to be obtained on those staff. Staff need to be associated more closely with the realities of decision making.

The CAUL (Council of Australian University Librarians) Executive incidentally has recently identified major needs in financial and human resource management skills in the middle to lower senior levels of university libraries.

How do we function in the future? ("the Mummy what's a catalogue card syndrome!")

Okerson worried about the cost of equipment replacement, Yale has now put in place a three year plan for all equipment replacement which will be expensive as no funds previously had been allocated on this scale. In addition staff constantly want to have the latest versions of software which previously Yale had never funded nor had the facilities and staff to implement and support. Each library section at Yale now has an "expert user" who is a first point of contact in terms of technical and basic assistance.

The ACM meeting was devoted to the Digital Library (Fox, 1996) and it focussed particularly on metadata issues of access control and how the digital library environment will impact on the structure of knowledge. How data is organised and retrieved will be increasingly important. It was interesting to hear at ACM that single searches constitute 80% of Net searches at present based on a dialogue with the search engine providers. Many engines however support Boolean searching even if in most cases this is only partial. Sources such as Magellan and Infofilter, are annotated by librarians, and provide a search engine for their evaluated databases. One focus of some US research is to provide a content-oriented browser in which text segments, images, and other parts of documents will be analysed for their content, and then inserted into a content lattice that the user can navigate using a number of techniques.

Dr Barry Leiner was the keynote speaker at ACM. His speech, 'Interoperability in Digital Libraries' argued that digital libraries are a set of managed digital repositories located on the information web. The digital library deals both with information in digital form, as well as digital management in other forms, for example hard copy books. Present search tools are not adequately structured and we need to ensure that information is organised for local control. Duplicate material needs to be removed on search engines to make sense of document structures. There is no inherent filtering in the digital environment as there is in the print environment where the library takes in a selected number of print books within an economic framework, but the Net is fluid. We've got to move beyond the discretion of print into the description of objects.

In future metadata cataloguing will occur at the source. How to name the objects, retrieve them and give them long term location, was a common theme at the ACM conference. Professor Terence Smith, Professor of both Computer Science and Geography at the University of California, talked about the catalogue moving from a relational databases to metadata. Interesting that this innovative speech came from a Professor of Geography - one couldn't envisage such a cross fertilisation say ten years ago?

Catalogues will have to have "internal conversations" which move between digital libraries via interfaces in order to promote efficient access to appropriate information. We need to consider all aspects of the document; to evaluate legal and economic aspects; how to get it and how to use it; what is quality of evaluation; the quality of the site, how do we untangle the content. Metadata provides a relationship between the documents and their proprietors. We've got to provide appropriate levels and structural tools for the Net. The loop between the user and the system is the weakest part at present of the system. Pat Sabosik, Editor-in-chief of the Global Network Navigator's (GNN) on-line Whole Internet Catalog, has imagined a day in the near future when intelligent crawlers and language algorithms will produce accurate and timely annotated indexes mostly free of human intervention.

As was evident at the ACM Digital Library Conference, the phrase "digital library" evokes a different impression in each reader. To some it simply suggests computerisation of traditional libraries. To others, it calls for carrying out of the functions of libraries in a new way, encompassing new types of information resources; new approaches to acquisition (especially with more sharing and subscription services); new methods of storage and preservation; new approaches to classification and cataloguing, new modes of interaction with and for patrons; more reliance on electronic systems and networks; and dramatic shifts in intellectual, organisational, and economic practices.

To others at the ACM a digital library is simply a distributed text-based information system, a collection of distributed information services, a distributed space of interlinked information or a networked multimedia information system. It may have materials that are mostly from outside an organization, that are generally of high value, and that have had special electronic services added to its quality during creation, collection, organization, and/or use.

To users of the World Wide Web it suggests more of the same, with improvements expected in performance, organization, functionality, and useability. Those studying collaboration technologies see digital libraries as the space in which people communicate, share, and produce new knowledge and knowledge products. Those working on education technology see digital libraries as support for learning, whether formal or informal. Much of the power of the digital library is the flexibility it permits in allowing processing of our collections of tangible objects and their electronic representations.

For digital libraries to succeed, we need to abandon the traditional notion of "library" altogether. The digital "library" will be a collection of distributed information services; producers of material will make it available, and consumers will find it and use it, perhaps through the help of automated agents. Libraries in the traditional sense are searching to be found in this model, i.e., the notion of a limited intermediary containing some small fraction of preselected material available only to local patrons is replaced by a system providing to users everywhere direct access to the full contents of all available material.

Eliot Christian of the US Geological Survey at the ACM Digital Libraries Conference in Washington in March 1996 said "Intelligent software agents will become increasingly important acting as gatherers of information tailored to very specific interests. Designers of software agents, such as Web crawlers, are frustrated by presentation protocols because the agent has no human driver to interpret the wide variations among packaged information. Consequently, Web crawlers can only deal with bits and pieces of Internet content that happen to be in text form. And, Web crawlers cannot handle content behind interface programs (e.g., CGI scripts, Java applets, database access or search forms, etc.) Lacking distributed search mechanisms, the crawler is also constrained to fined only those pages that happen to have a unbroken trail of links back to the starting points."

Support of a search protocol with client software allows for the next generation software agents. These intelligent agents will characterize the content of information sources and perform distributed searches for those who need periodic updating of volatile information. We will also need to be involved in:

  • Developing database technology to support digital library applications. Database technology addresses many of the issues of scaling inherent in digital libraries. Therefore, we need to ensure our repositories are an application of distributed databases.
  • Improving data acquisition technology. Acquiring and transforming information that does not originate digitally is a major problem for all digital libraries.
  • Developing user interface technology appropriate for multimedia distributed systems.

It is fascinating that while just as some of the most important analyses of collection management have come from academics outside the library profession so some of the seminal papers that have occurred in this area have been by people like Professor Terence Smith mentioned earlier.

David Levy's (1996) fascinating paper "Cataloguing in the Digital Order" emanates from the Xerox Palo Alto research laboratory. Levy begins with another historically conventional viewpoint. "But to many of us in the (library) profession, cataloguers remain an unfathomable mystery. Unable to understand the fires of dedication that burn brightly within them, we often poke fun at their internecine controversies. To those of us who are on the firing line of big issues like intellectual freedom and library funding, the wars waged by cataloguers over the future of the main entry or the role of the hyphen often appear to be peevish squabbles fought by socially dysfunctional nitpickers. Where did cataloguers come from we often wonder. Theories, of course, abound. Some speculate that they are aliens from a faraway galaxy who have come to earth to tidy things up a bit. Others believe that cataloguers may be the descendants of the lost tribe of Israel. After all, they point out, there is a very close similarity between the book of Deuteronomy and AACR2"!

What is now being challenged is the value of the book and the print serial as an information resource. From this premise flows all sorts of implications for the intellectual organisation of content. As Levy says "virtually every aspect of this order is being questioned: How must publishing change when "publications" can be instantaneously distributed on the Net? What models of compensation are appropriate to these new modes of production and distribution? Whose interest must be given priority? What happens to the notion of edition -- a set of "identical" artefacts produced by a publisher -- when one-of-a-kind, customised documents can be produced on a large scale? What happens to the notion of author, and the distinction between author and reader, if hypertext documents become, as some suggest, fluidly modified, collaborative efforts? How must copyright change to accommodate these other shifts, or should it be replaced by a different regulatory system?"

Perhaps the greatest uncertainty, from the perspective of cataloguing, is just what the new digital materials will be. Our current order carves up the bibliographic universe into (relatively) discrete, stable, and long-lived units. But now, there is the potential at least for a great deal more variability and mutability of materials, and for a less rigid boundary between items. New genres, new categories of description, new institutions and practices have not yet arisen to stabilise this material. All of this together would constitute a new order, or substantial changes to the old order, as yet unrealised. Levy calls this the "digital order," for lack of a better name.

In this context, Dr Barbara Tillett (1995) of the Library of Congress, a speaker at the last Australian National Cataloguers Conference, has said in her Net article "21st Century Authority Control: What is It and How do we Get There": "Authority control in the 21st century will mean controlled access through links between bibliographic description and access control records. We get there through improved system architectures and navigational methods that accommodate the complexities of bibliographic information, including the full range of relationships among bibliographic entities (works, persons, corporate bodies, subjects, etc., and manifestations of works in multiple carriers)."

At the OCLC Research Directors Conference a major segment of the programme was devoted to the Draft Report of the US Task Force on Archiving of Digital Information. (see Fuller, 1996) It states inter alia "Finally, as the amount of digital information grows, the problem of navigating electronic networks to find digital objects grows correspondingly. Considerable experimentation is currently underway, testing methods of automatically gathering information about digital objects, including image, sound and video, and of presenting that information in useful ways. These processes are generating new forms of digital metadata. As "best practices" emerge about how to create and store them, developers will need to focus attention on how best to preserve these new metadata objects."

At the Paris World Wide Web Conference in May 1996 metadata was mentioned by many as being very important. Bob Bray of Open Tex indicated the need for Web site administrators to provide site meta-data for use by global indexers. New standards are being developed for specific areas and/or to assist information providers in creating descriptive metadata. Examples include:

  • the Text Encoding Initiative for the digital encoding of texts in the humanities which has developed a set of metadata (the 'TEI header') for descriptive information;
  • the IETF Working group on Document Identifiers which is developing a standard for Uniform Resource Characteristics (URCs) to represent metadata;
  • the so-called 'Dublin Core Metadata Set' proposed at the OCLC/NCSA Metadata Workshop in March 1995, offering a basic but extensible set of descriptive elements for networked resources.

What is happening is how to establish global best practice and how to avoid overlap in research. Some of the most interesting work is occurring in Australia at the Research Data Network CRC in Brisbane headed by Dr Renato Ianella (1996) which has adopted the "Dublin-Core" metadata set. The OCLC Metadata (1995 and 1996) Workshop held in March 1995 achieved a consensus concerning a simple resource description recall that has served as a foundation for unifying network resource description model. The Second Workshop in Warwick UK in April 1996 explored deployment strategies to improve "semantic interoperability" on a global basis and to define mechanisms for extensibility.

The OCLC/NCSA metadata workshop evolved from the need to create a uniform protocol for authors to use to put documents onto the net while at the same time allowing easy access by others. The proposed set of 13 metadata elements have become known as the Dublin Core (13 elements) - intended to mediate between the brief automatically guaranteed indexes used by web indexes such as Lycos and fuller MARC type records. The aim is to put standards back to creators - authors, information providers etc. and to move cataloguing from the receipt/collection point to the authorial/publishing point. We need to keep the "core" as small as possible. Records created from the Dublin Core are intended to mediate these extremes, affording a simple structured record that may be enhanced or mapped to more complex records as called for, either by direct extension or by a link to a more elaborate record.

Ianella's (1996) DSTC is exploiting the URN and URC technology to develop sophisticated resource discovery prototypes in its Open Information Locator (OIL) project. The OIL project addresses the emerging need for the discovery of resources on globally distributed heterogeneous networks. Keith Shafer of OCLC's Office of Research described the development at the ACM Conference of PURL's (Persistent Uniform Resource Locators) which reveal a commitment by organisations such as OCLC to keep track of information on the Net. The OCLC PURL code is available free to anyone who wants it. With PURL, while the resulting URL may change, the PURL itself does not change.

As an aside George Pitcher (1996) of Edinburgh University sent an e-mail in May 1996 "As a non-librarian working on an eLib project since July '95 I've at last found that librarians DO have a sense of humour. Yesterday I took out 'Teach Yourself PERL in 21 Days'... but found it was a 7 day loan only!" This was, of course, a different PERL!

This is not the place to describe all the other terms which are available. Lorcan Dempsey (1996) and the UK Figit team have provided standard descriptions to many terms such as URN's (Universal Resource Names) which are location independent, globally unique, persistent across time (ie names remain unchanged), with fast resolution, decentralised administration and controls over changes, supported from standard user interfaces eg. Netscape.

The Stanford University Center for Information Technology (1996) is developing the above technology for smart catalogs as part of its efforts on CommerceNet. Stanford CIT is working with a small select group of companies to develop and pilot "smart catalogs". The CommerceNet Catalog Working Group has identified the following among its areas of interest.

  • That catalogs be maintained up-to-date and generated dynamically from source material.
  • That catalogs be searchable by content using common concepts rather than merely navigated through hyperlinks.
  • That catalogs be cross-searchable so that suitable entries satisfying a query can be found in multiple catalogs.

The UK OMNI (Organising Medical Networked Information) project, which aims to provide an interface to the Internet by classifying, indexing and evaluating medical Internet resources and providing descriptions of them. The plan is to recruit individual volunteers to evaluate sites personally in terms of response time, and the authority and authenticity of the resource. Although these projects are at a fairly early stage, as more sources are added they could become a valuable resource and provide a pointer for the future for use of catalogues. (Omni, 1996)

Dr Brian Lang, Head of the British Library, has recently stated that the job of librarians be to act as "native guides leading people by the hand through the "Internet jungle". The April 1996 Summit of national library leaders was addressed by Paul M. Horn, Senior Vice-President for Research at IBM who sees the lack of quality control as one of the main difficulties for using the Internet with librarians crucial in a contextual sense. Will we be able to adapt and lead users? If not as Jeremy Rifkin in his newest book The End of Work: the Decline of the Global Work Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era believes, then within the next couple of decades, most librarians will have gone the way of the dinosaur, replaced by automated processing much as bank branches and tellers are increasingly being replaced by ATMs. (Retzak, 1996)

As libraries on the Net inexorably change in structure and alliances, then the librarians who currently inhabit them will change also. The process will go well beyond the recent words of Kenneth Carpenter (1995) of Harvard University Library, who wrote recently that "while forming collections is not inherently and exclusively the province of librarians, Cataloguing is." If one follows his premise then while the nomenclature may change there WILL be a longer term Net future for those who organise knowledge. They will not be called cataloguers but hopefully, they will be knitting together an information string of pearls.


Blue, Kathryn. (1996). email 29/4/96

Cargille, D and K. (1996). 'Sleeping with the enemy. The love/hate relationship between acquisitions and collection development', Library Acquisitions 20 (1), 41-7

Carpenter, Kenneth. (1995). 'Among Harvard's libraries: cataloguing books in Widener', Harvard Library Bulletin, 6 (1), 3-8

Condon, Patrick. (1995). 'The end of an era? The forces marshalling against cataloguing'. 11th National Cataloguing Conference 19th October 1995, Sydney. (to be published in Cataloguing Australia).

Dempsey, L et al. (1996). 'Elib standards guidelines' <>

Dunkle, Clare B. (1996). 'Outsourcing the catalog department: A meditation inspired by the business and library literature'. Journal of Academic Librarianship, January, 33-43

Enright, Brian. (1987). 'Academic library ideals and reality: the library practitioner and iatrogenics'. in Line M. B. (ed). The world of books and information. London: The British Library.

Floridi, Luciano. (1996). 'The Internet: which future for organised knowledge, Frankenstein or Pygmalion', The Electronic Library, 14 (1), February, 51

Fox, E. A. and Marchionini G. (1996). ed. Proceedings of the 1st ACM International Conference on Digital Libraries. Bethesda; ACM/SIGIR/SIGLINK.

Fuller, Buckminster quoted in US Committee on Preservation and Access and RLG (1996). Preserving Digital Information. Draft Report of the Taskforce on Archiving of Digital Information, 39 (available from <

Gorman, Michael. (1983). 'Technical services, 1984-2001 (and before). Technical Services Quarterly 1/2. Winter, 65-71.

Gorman, Michael (1995). 'The corruption of cataloging' Library Journal, Sept 15, 33

Gorman, Stephen. (1996). Telecommunications and the city. Electronic places. Urban spaces. London, Routledge.

Gregorian, Vartan. (1996). 'A place elsewhere: reading in the age of the computer'. Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. XLIX, 4, 56-7

Iannella, Renato. (1996). <>

Iannella, Renato. (1996). 'Turnip. The URN Interoperability Project' <>

Levy, David. (1996). 'Cataloguing in the digital order', available from

Metadata Resources. See the IFLA homepage <>

see also Stuart L. Weibel homepage <> esp for PURLs. (as well as <>)

see Architecture for Access to Government Information

Report of the IMSC-Technical Group <>



Omni - See <>

Piggott, Mary. (ed). (1954). Cataloguing principles and practice: an inquiry. London: The Library Association, 1

Pitcher, George. (1996). e-mail 15/5/96 <>

Prescott, Andrew. (1995). 'The digital library in theory and practice: a historians view'. <>

Quoted in Retzak, L. e-mail 2 May 1996 "Retrievers to rhetoricians'. larry_retzack@cemail.odedodea.edy

Rider, Mary. (1996). 'Developing new roles for paraprofessionals in cataloguing'. Journal of Academic Librarianship, January, 26-32

Shipp, John. (1993). 'Phoenix or moa: the cataloguer tomorrow'. Cataloguing Australia, 19 (2), 65

Stanford University. (1996). Center for Information Technology. 'CIT's work on smart catalogs and virtual catalogs' <>

Steele, C. (1995). New romances or pulp fiction? Do libraries and librarians have an internet future?

Tillett, Barbara. (1995). '21st century authority control: What is it and how do we get there?' <>

Wilder, Stanley. (1996). 'The age demographics of academic librarians', ARL Newsletter. April, 3

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