The RDA Development Team started talking about developing training for the ‘new’ RDA, with a focus on the vocabularies, in the fall of 2014. We had some notion of what we didn’t want to do: we didn’t want yet another ‘sage on the stage’ event, we wanted to re-purpose the ‘hackathon’ model from a software focus to data creation (including a major hands-on aspect), and we wanted to demonstrate what RDA looked like (and could do) in a native RDA environment, without reference to MARC.

This was a tall order. Using RIMMF for the data creation was a no-brainer: the developers had been using the RDA Registry to feed new vocabulary elements into their their software (effectively becoming the RDA Registry’s first client), and were fully committed to FRBR. Deborah Fritz had been training librarians and other on RIMMF for years, gathering feedback and building enthusiasm. It was Deborah who came up with the Jane-athon idea, and the RDA Development group took it and ran with it. Using the Jane Austen theme was a brilliant part of Deborah’s idea. Everybody knows about JA, and the number of spin offs, rip-offs and re-tellings of the novels (in many media formats) made her work a natural for examining why RDA and FRBR make sense.

One goal stated everywhere in the marketing materials for our first Jane outing was that we wanted people to have fun. All of us have been part of the audience and on the dais for many information sessions, for RDA and other issues, and neither position has ever been much fun, useful as the sessions might have been. The same goes for webinars, which, as they’ve developed in library-land tend to be dry, boring, and completely bereft of human interaction. And there was a lot of fun at that first Jane-athon–I venture to say that 90% of the folks in the room left with smiles and thanks. We got an amazing response to our evaluation survey, and the preponderance of responses were expansive, positive, and clearly designed to help the organizers to do better the next time. The various folks from ALA Publishing who stood at the back and watched the fun were absolutely amazed at the noise, the laughter, and the collaboration in evidence.

No small part of the success of Jane-athon 1 rested with the team leaders at each table, and the coaches going from table to table helping out with puzzling issues, ensuring that participants were able to create data using RIMMF that could be aggregated for examination later in the day.

From the beginning we thought of Jane 1 as the first of many. In the first flush of success as participants signed up and enthusiasm built, we talked publicly about making it possible to do local Jane-athons, but we realized that our small group would have difficulty doing smaller events with less expertise on site to the same standard we set at Jane-athon 1. We had to do a better job in thinking through the local expansion and how to ensure that local participants get the same (or similar) value from the experience before responding to requests.

As a step in that direction CILIP in the UK is planning an Ag-athon on May 22, 2015 which will add much to the collective experience as well as to the data store that began with the first Jane-athon and will be an increasingly important factor as we work through the issues of sharing data.

The collection and storage of the Jane-athon data was envisioned prior to the first event, and the R-Balls site was designed as a place to store and share RIMMF-based information. Though a valuable step towards shareable RDA data, rballs have their limits. The data itself can be curated by human experts or available with warts, depending on the needs of the user of the data. For the longer term, RIMMF can output RDF statements based on the rball info, and a triple store is in development for experimentation and exploration. There are plans to improve the visualization of this data and demonstrate its use at Jane-athon 2 in San Francisco, which will include more about RDA and linked data, as well as what the created data can be used for, in particular, for new and improved services.

So, what are the implications of the first Jane-athon’s success for libraries interested in linked data? One of the biggest misunderstandings floating around libraryland in linked data conversations is that it’s necessary to make one and only one choice of format, and eschew all others (kind of like saying that everyone has to speak English to participate in LOD). This is not just incorrect, it’s also dangerous. In the MARC era, there was truly no choice for libraries–to participate in record sharing they had to use MARC. But the technology has changed, and rapidly evolving semantic mapping strategies [see: http://dcpapers.dublincore.org/pubs/article/view/3622] will enable libraries to use the most appropriate schemas and tools for creating data to be used in their local context, and others for distributing that data to partners, collaborators, or the larger world.

Another widely circulated meme is that RDA/FRBR is ‘too complicated’ for what libraries need; we’re encouraged to ‘simplify, simplify’ and assured that we’ll still be able to do what we need. Hmm, well, simplification is an attractive idea, until one remembers that the environment we work in, with evolving carriers, versions, and creative ideas for marketing materials to libraries is getting more complex than ever. Without the specificity to describe what we have (or have access to), we push the problem out to our users to figure out on their own. Libraries have always tried to be smarter than that, and that requires “smart” , not “dumb”, metadata.

Of course the corollary to the ‘too complicated’ argument lies the notion that a) we’re not smart enough to figure out how to do RDA and FRBR right, and b) complex means more expensive. I refuse to give space to a), but b) is an important consideration. I urge you to take a look at the Jane-athon data and consider the fact that Jane Austen wrote very few novels, but they’ve been re-published with various editions, versions and commentaries for almost two centuries. Once you add the ‘based on’, ‘inspired by’ and the enormous trail created by those trying to use Jane’s popularity to sell stuff (“Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters” is a favorite of mine), you can see the problem. Think of a pyramid with a very expansive base, and a very sharp point, and consider that the works that everything at the bottom wants to link to don’t require repeating the description of each novel every time in RDA. And we’re not adding notes to descriptions that are based on the outdated notion that the only use for information about the relationship between “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters” and Jane’s “Sense and Sensibility” is a human being who looks far enough into the description to read the note.

One of the big revelations for most Jane-athon participants was to see how well RIMMF translated legacy MARC records into RDA, with links between the WEM levels and others to the named agents in the record. It’s very slick, and most importantly, not lossy. Consider that RIMMF also outputs in both MARC and RDF–and you see something of a missing link (if not the Golden Gate Bridge :-).

Not to say there aren’t issues to be considered with RDA as with other options. There are certainly those, and they’ll be discussed at the Jane-In in San Francisco as well as at the RDA Forum on the following day, which will focus on current RDA upgrades and the future of RDA and cataloging. (More detailed information on the Forum will be available shortly).

Don’t miss the fun, take a look at the details and then go ahead and register. And catalogers, try your best to entice your developers to come too. We’ll set up a table for them, and you’ll improve the conversation level at home considerably!

By Diane Hillmann, May 18, 2015, 10:13 am (UTC-5)

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  1. Pingback by Linked Data Caution | Bibliographic Wilderness

    […] Stay user centered. “Linked data” can’t be your goal. You are using linked data to accomplish something to add value to your patrons. We must understand what our patrons are doing, and how to intervene to improve their lives. We must figure out what services and systems we need to do that. Some work to that end, even incomplete and undeveloped if still serious and engaged,  comes before figuring out what data we need to create those services.  To the extent it’s about data, make sure your data modeling work and choices are about creating the data we need to serve our users, not just fitting into the linked data model.  Be careful of “dumbing down” your data to fit more easily into a linked data model, but maybe losing what we actually need in the data to provide the services we need to provide. […]

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