Hey, super-awesome fans!
It’s been quite a semester; classes and work have been keeping me busier than a Cancun bartender during Spring Break. I haven’t been able to train for the Superhero Scramble, and I’ve put on a little weight. It’s back to the treadmill. Literally.
Yes, I know I didn’t post last week and you’ve all been flashing your BL signals in the sky, so I’m making this week’s post pretty massive. I had finals, and finals > blog posts. So I’ve been thinking of ways to get more kids into the library program and one of my professors pitched me an idea – perhaps I should just make a post about a class I’ve taken? So this week, I present you…BRASH CLASSES WITH BRASH LIBRARIAN!
This week, I’m going to delve into a class I’m currently wrapping up. Most of you know I’m at FSU for library school, but those of you who didn’t now know. Information Organization (LIS 5703 for those interested in taking it, and sometimes referred to as Dr. Urban’s Wild Ride, but don’t tell him that) is a 3-credit class that deals in how and why information is organized the way it is. To quote the prof’s syllabus, Information Organization (or InfoOrg if you’re one of the cool kids), “establishes the conceptual and theoretical framework for organizing and retrieving information, including the study of systems, their objectives and structures, formats, standards, and vocabularies; and the information object and its relationship to organizing systems and to other information objects”.
“But Justin, how does information organization relate to me and my daily life?”
I’m glad you asked, voice in my head! All the information in your life is organized in some way, shape or form (or so I hope). How about your books or DVD collection? Are they organized alphabetically? If so, are they by author or title? I prefer to keep my movies organized by genre: comedy, action, mystery, horror, martial arts, comic book movies and Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. Arnold is the man, he gets his own shelf.
Another topic we touch on greatly during the semester is metadata – but what is metadata? Simply put, it’s the data about data. For example, what are you reading this blog on?
“Oh, I’m reading it on my computer”.
Very descriptive. What kind of device? Tablet? Smartphone? PC? Mac?
“Oh, I’m reading it on my iPad”.
Which generation iPad? Which OS? What browser? As you can see, I could ask questions all day and get more and more data about the original data.
Metadata is data about data, and yes, it may sound very boring at first glance; But when you think about it, everything in the digital world is data and people need ways to find it. A beard hat is not digital, but the Web page on how to make it is. Normally, I would laugh at such things but I’m guilty of owning a beard hat.
Look how many languages there are, how many different cultures there are. Maybe a language is inflectional and the same word is used for stranger and enemy, just inflected differently. And how do we search the object-oriented pictographs in a Chinese-language database with western terms and concepts?
Data is growing exponentially, and every profession seems to use a different way of encoding metadata. Cultures record it differently, too. How are all these databases going to talk to each other with different metadata coding schemes? As professor and author Michael Buckland so practically and pithily put it, we have evolved a metadata “Tower of Babel”.How do people find things? How do we figure out how to help people find things? Or do we just set up metadata to our tastes and let the users go fish? The lack of interoperability between metadata schemas is starting to really hurt, especially in such areas as inter-disciplinary studies. Still a little lost? Take a look at this fun video about metadata:
You may not care if all you do is hang on Facebook and watch YouTube, but the notion of drowning in data is very apt. If you can’t swim (navigate) in it, you are in effect drowning in it. People in the field of InfoOrg do think about these things. In other words, tagging and metadata keep your searches relevant and keep you from being bombarded with stuff that’s not helpful. Think in terms of looking up Bruce Springsteen lyrics or Da Vinci’s helicopter drawings and not finding anything close. And wouldn’t it be nice to leave out sites on all the cute kitten videos? Yes, there are many adorable cat videos and memes out there, but the internet is for more than that. While I prefer Google over Bing, Bing’s commercial really exemplifies what the information overload can do to us:
I take pride in knowing that, pound for pound, librarians are the most adroit and creative at this endeavour. Not all InfoOrg folks are librarians, but as the boxing crowd has it, we punch above our weight. Ka-POW! InfoOrg is important. Think of some little guy with very odd hair in a wierdly-lit laboratory, planning to rule the (metadata) world. Hey, it could happen.
Another topic we delved into for an assignment involved dealing with descriptors, more commonly used and known as“tags”. Most people I know use tags all the time now. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and other sites can tag people, places, events and more. During final exams, I’ve seen many students tagging themselves at campus libraries to study. This kind of tagging has helped make libraries cool again, in my opinion. It’s like the command center during finals – kids preparing themselves, minds armed to the teeth with study guides, notes, and ungodly amounts of coffee.
“Does this help with work and school, Justin?”
Yes it does! In fact, I am applying for a Florida job as the person in charge of Technical Services and social media marketing for a small library system. Though I will not be a cataloger or indexer, and (assuming I get the job) I anticipate that this course actually will be helpful. For one thing, the entire Library 2.0 push to focus more on user-centered change and user participation in the creation of content—and of course community, as in library community, for the unconverted out there—is right up my caring, sharing, Internetfaring alley. Ideally this would mean that libraries made as many things as possible interactive. And the library would smarten up from user-provided search terms, social tags, social media likes, and the like.
I’ll concentrate on public libraries here, which is what I know best. Since they are supported by the very taxpayers who are their patrons, one could argue that this change largely is just a shift in institutional perspective but loooonnng overdue.
I do not anticipate much integration of user tagging into library metadata, although studies have shown that it really complements existing metadata, such as MARC (machine readable catalog) records. The reason is that public libraries all use a vendor-supplied ILS (integrated library system, or catalog for the civilians), which the libraries cannot reprogram; they can only enter, edit or delete data in the ILS. The ILS database may not log user-created tags such as search terms, in which case the library can’t get the data. They simply are not made to incorporate user-generated data; they just ain’t interactive. And in these crunched times, few libraries have the budget or staff to integrate such data.
Most public libraries today do not do original cataloging any more—it’s very expensive—and rely on book companies such as Baker& Taylor to process and catalog the books. B&T provides the MARC records for each item processed, book, movie or whatever, which the library can simply import into its ILS.
Though few seem to have a handle on what 2.0 encompasses, I think I would expect to handle all aspects of library social media, which is very interactive. We need to get younger people using the local library, and the best way for smaller and economically-challenged libraries to do that is through an adroit social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) presence. This course has given me a good understanding of data, metadata and the rising importance of tapping that giant intellectual resource know as library patrons, or at least the ones who are on Facebook.
…Still reading? Good! I was worried I’d scared away people or put them to sleep. For you FSU students out there, I recommend Dr. Richard Urban for this class. He’s more than fair and he’ll push you to do your best. Let me be upfront with those of you who are in the program and haven’t taken it yet…Yes, it’s a core class. Yes, there’s a fair amount of work involved. But I promise you’ll learn a lot about information itself and how it’s organized. I guarantee you’ll never look at your DVD collection the same way.
I’m off to the Florida Library Association (FLA) conference this week, expect photos and more to come as I celebrate my 2nd FLA trip with my Brash Sidekick Katy!
Good luck on finals, kids!
Justin Brasher, Brash Librarian