Bib records as perpetual betas

Christine Schwartz pointed me to a post Dodie Gaudet titled Perpetual Beta & Bibliographic Records. Dodie makes some interesting points about how we should think of our bibliographic records, but I think she’s missing one step. First, let’s look at what Dodie says:

So rather than thinking in terms of one person completing the perfect bib record, perhaps we begin with CIP or publishers data or something else and build on that. The first person with the book in hand adds details like paging. Someone who has studied a specific field can add more precise subject headings. The responsibility doesn’t have to fall to just one person. This doesn’t excuse anyone for doing a sloppy job, but sometimes the information one has to work with is limited. I’ve created bib records from “surrogates” (i.e. photocopies of titles pages) and for books in totally foreign (to me) languages like Hungarian. I expect I missed more than a few things in those cases, but I did the best I could with what I had.

We could think of bib records like a wiki. They evolve; people keep adding to them. Even though a published book is a static object and doesn’t change, the information we have about the book, the author, publisher, etc. would and given the Semantic Web, that information could be incorporated into or linked to the bib record.

This is awesome!! And I agree that we as catalogers can only do so much with the information we have and the background knowledge we have. The problem here – is a wiki is open to the public or at least to all in a specific field and with bib records we save them to our system and maybe send them to a cooperative of some sort – but then that’s our record, we don’t get to benefit from the others that edit the record after us because it’s in their system – not accessible to us.

So I’d add to this idea that we need an open access shared record database – ‚Ä° was a step in that direction, but it seems to have been abandoned … and it never had the kind of user base you’d need to really benefit from a collaborative cataloging model.

I don’t have the answer here – but if we’re really going to benefit from the knowledge and expertise of our colleagues worldwide, we need to have access to each other’s data and we need to be able to share that information freely.


  1. “We could think of bib records like a wiki. They evolve; people keep adding to them. ”

    To be clear, and I think this is what you’re saying too, we kind of WISH our bib records were like this. In fact, most of our actual bib records in our local databases were kind of murdered in infancy — and even bib records in WorldCat aren’t “developed” as much as we might like.

    We need an improved infrastructure that can make bib records actually like that vision.

  2. You are exactly right – that’s what I’m saying! That said, we’re do see a start to this now as people copy catalog they improve on records, but then those improved records are only available to them … meaning that librarians are duplicating efforts and missing out on valuable information added by the experts.

  3. Ted

    Totally agree with this. But I don’t think this is just, or even mostly, a technical problem. There’s nothing stopping most libraries from re-harvesting their records from WorldCat (or Skyriver!) on a routine basis and uploading them to their ILS. Socially, librarians have been working in their local ‘silo’ for decades and are quite comfortable with it.

  4. anna

    The new version of the open library site is really nice-looking, and they open the editing of their bib records to anyone. I added some info as an anonymous, non-registered user and it was easy.

    (Are they still hiding this url for some reason? I am not clear as to whether they are technically released, but the site is there.)

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