Library stuff: June 2009 Archives
A recent discussion with Matt Goldner, product and technology advocate here at OCLC, reminded me of my favorite quote from the wonderful movie "Big Fish."
Matt described to me a workshop he conducted where he discussed what librarians and patrons believe to be most important in information discovery:
- Librarians are interested in the metadata because that's what they use to locate the item a patron needs. This is important when you and I are standing in front of them asking for help. Perfect metadata helps the librarians help us faster.
- Us patrons, and Web users, are more interested in discovering what is out there because in many cases we haven't figured out exactly what to ask for. We use search engines and keywords to locate things. Then we use reviews, tags and user comments to evaluate whether the things we've found will really help us. (Which is why reviews, tags and comments are often called evaluative content.)
If we were standing in a library or in a live chat, a librarian would ask us all the right questions and suggest the resources most likely to provide what we need. Without having that librarian there to evaluate our needs and apply their expertise, we're left trying to determine quality and appropriateness on our own.
And that's where I started thinking about Big Fish. Albert Finney's character, Ed Bloom, is a salesman and a storyteller while his son, Will, is a reporter for United Press International. Albert delivers the movie's climatic phrase in a subtle moment by saying that his son can't tell a story well because he would give you "all of the facts and none of the flavor."
That strikes me as an important difference between metadata and evaluative content. Mind you, I'm not talking about the librarians. They can provide all the flavor you want. But when you remove the person--the storyteller--and it is just you and your computer, the facts just aren't enough. We need some flavor, some context to help us evaluate the information and to make it useful.
I cornered Matt the other day because I'm re-reading an old article, "Collaborative Tagging as a Knowledge Organisation and Resource Discovery Tool" (Library Review V. 55; No. 5, 2006). The authors, George Macgregor and Emma McCulloch, discuss the pros and cons of tagging and controlled vocabularies. While they clearly favor the controlled vocabularies of the library world, they allow that tagging is a means for "exploring exhaustive subject areas before formal exploration."
Tags and evaluative content provide the context, the flavor, we need to help us zero in on what we're really looking for. Nothing beats a good reference interview by a librarian, but when it is just me and my computer, evaluative content works very well. And that's why I love working on WorldCat.org. We're bringing more and more evaluative content to the site to help Web users discover some of the flavor of what libraries have to offer.