A couple of weeks ago I made a short presentation at a linked data session at the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL). Many of the audience members were people I’ve known since I was a baby librarian (this is the group where I started my career as a presenter, and they invite me back every couple of years to talk about this kind of stuff.) One of the questions from the audience was one I hear fairly often: “Who’s paying for this?” I always assume, perhaps wrongly, that the questioner is responding to pressure from an administrator, but in fact anyone with with administrative and budget responsibilities–particularly in Technical Services, which has been under budget siege for decades–does and should think about costs.

What I said to her was that we were all going to pay for it, and it seems to me that this isn’t just a platitude–given that the culture of collaboration we have developed assures us that many (though certainly not all) of the costs associated with the change we contemplate will be shared, as in the effort noted in my previous post. But the costs are difficult to assess at this stage, because we don’t know how long the transition will be nor exactly what the ‘end result’ will look like. If indeed we have three options for change—metamorphosis, evolution, and revolution—it seems we’ve not yet made the decision on what it’s going to be. If there are still some hoping for metamorphosis—where everything happens inside the pupa and the result is much more attractive (but the DNA hasn’t changed), well, it may be too late for that option.

Evolution–defined as creative destruction and adaptation leading to a stronger result, with similar (but not identical) DNA–is much more what I’d like to see, and particularly if we look carefully at what we have–the MARC semantics, the SemWeb friendly RDA vocabularies, and the strong community culture in particular–and build on those assets, we have a fighting chance for a good result. The trick is that we don’t have millenia to accomplish this, we have a couple of years at best, if we work really quickly and keep our wits about us. The interesting thing about evolution is that when the environment changes and the affected species either adapt or disappear, it’s never entirely clear what that adaptation will look like prior to the point-of-no-return.

As for revolution–perhaps that’s the possible result where Google and its partners take over the things we used to do in libraries when we brought users and resources together. They’re doing metadata now (not as well as we do, I’m thinking) but if we keep trying to make our ‘catalogs’ work better instead of getting ourselves out there on the Web, I don’t think the result will be pretty.

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By Diane Hillmann, August 7, 2012, 3:39 pm (UTC-5)

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