Maybe it’s just me, but I like to be able to look at data “in the raw,” without some developer deciding for me what I’m allowed to see, and how I’m allowed to see it. There was an old story I used to tell about visiting a vendor booth at ALA Exhibits some years ago, where a marketing guy got me extremely irritated by not getting why I wanted to see a naked MARC version of some record he was using to illustrate a point he was trying to make. The punch line of the story was that I would characterize his reaction to the request as making me feel like I’d asked to see child pornography. The line always got a laugh, particularly in highly geeky librarian circles (which meant something quite different 10 or 15 years ago, but never mind).
The point was, of course, that in order to evaluate what a system was doing with your data, you had to be able to look at the underlying data, and follow it through whatever process was in place to manipulate or use it in some way. Of course, “naked MARC data” really meant “scantily clad MARC data,” because few of us really spent much time with unformatted MARC, in whatever flavor our system used, though I remember on many occasions being shown marked up printouts of NOTIS EBCDIC, and working with a programmer to figure out what was wrong and how to fix it.
I was reminded of this when hearing a developer (who shall remain nameless) say recently that “of course you’d never show anyone the FRBR structure” in an RDA based system. “Why the hell not?,” I responded (though perhaps the response was in my head and I was actually more polite—reports vary). There was a condescension in that comment that made me bristle, and I remembered the stories of why the early BALLOTS system (which I used for a mercifully short time) didn’t use MARC tags. The icky mnemonics that BALLOTS substituted were there because some genius decided that librarians (mostly women, of course) would never be comfortable with numeric tags. I don’t know whether the story is true, but it sure fits with the sexist attitudes of the time.
It’s a bit depressing that this sort of thing keeps coming up. Now that I’m older and even crankier than I was when I first encountered this attitude, I have even less patience with the idea that I might want to be protected from angle brackets, namespaces and whatever it is that is the is the special purview of the people who program. Show me the data—I can handle it.
[Disclaimer–this isn’t about you Jon!]