Despite our waning patronage (both physically and virtually), librarians never cease their criticism of the barbarism
of the unwashed masses for not adopting their love of rich metadata.
"Dumbing down the catalog"
"I don't think it's too much to ask a student to learn what the library catalog is"
"Thousands of hits"
"Did A9 even bother to look at SRW/U?"
Let's take the first (widely used) statement. A system that is able to take a natural language query and present to the user a list that contains many of the things they are looking for early in the result set is not dumb
. Hemingway, Ernest
is dumb. Not understanding what I, the user, mean when I type "Ernest Hemingway" is dumb. This standard is applied to librarians, why not the catalog? A librarian doesn't explicitly require the patron to know they're looking for before they will help them with a reference question, but we expect them to form a perfect boolean query to isolate that rare manuscript (acquired in 1963 and widely unheard of) that would be the "perfect compliment to their term paper".
Number two: I don't expect a student to learn how to use a sliderule, either. It's not necessary for them to know what double clutching is. It wouldn't be the end of the world if they never have seen a typewriter's correction ribbon. Technology makes awkward systems obsolete.
In regards to the "thousands of hits" meme (which Alane Wilson argued against
quite convincingly), how many hits would a user get if all of our databases were searched simultaneously? What if they are getting a sufficiently smaller set of results, but it's because they're looking in the wrong place
? I am seldomly unhappy with my Google results as a starting place.
Should A9 have? Does SRW/U really make any sense whatsoever to 95% of the world outside of libraries? Why doesn't the SRW/U crowd try to work with the OpenSearch community? Why? Because we say ours is better, so the other shouldn't be trifled with.
To be clear, it's possible to layer OpenSearch on top of SRU; Georgia Tech does it. Is one superior to the other? SRW/U is certainly more sophisticated. Despite what you will read to the contrary, however, OpenSearch is much, much easier to implement. If you know the metadata schema of the SRW/U server, simple SRU clients are possible, but, like Z39.50 before it, there are no constraints on what you might get from an SRW/U server. OpenSearch, while limited and limiting (for certain), has a somewhat different purpose than SRW/U. SRW/U is a protocol for searching for and retrieving metadata. OpenSearch is a spec for searching for and retrieving search results
. This may sound redundant, but there is a nuanced difference. No matter the OpenSearch source, the results will always look the same, so it is very simple to integrate into a display (yet not so simple to actually do anything else with the result). While SRW/U is definitely more versatile, transforming your results to OpenSearch has its advantages. But this is a hard sell to the library world, because the "metadata isn't rich enough".
It's time we stopped scorning and ignoring the outside world, because they are doing fine without us. Aaron Krowne notes
that a huge amount of scholarly content is freely available, further making our position in society weaker, making it all the more important that we co-opt popular culture, rather than ridicule it. Our standards are great... now let's see how they can interface with the real world.