LoC Authority files, yours to keep!

Tim made the announcement of the announcement (pdf), so I guess this is the announcement of that. Simon Spero, superhero, has released an almost-complete copy of the LoC authority files. You can just … have them. I have a copy. I like to grep through it for fun on snowy evenings (that is how my Nerve personal ad will start, I am certain of it). I am interested to see what happens next. You can’t copyright this data, but you can sell it. Now that it’s available for free, it will be interesting to see if you can even do that.

This phase of the project is dedicated to the men and women at the Library of Congress and outside, who have worked for the past 108 years to build these authorities, often in the face of technology seemingly designed to make the task as difficult as possible.

tl;dr, why reference and authority matter

I read a lot of blogs, but I don’t always follow through and read their links. I appreciate it when people whose opinions I trust can summarize long things for me. Sometimes I sumarize those things for other people. Tonight I am reading the twenty-four page report More on What is Going on at the Library of Congress prepared for AFSCME 2910 by Thomas Mann. You can find it linked off of this page, if you really like reading these sorts of things.

He makes a lot of interesting points that other scholarly types have been trying to make in more clunky fashion for quite some time. In short, libraries that still exist for the purpose of furthering scholarship are having a harder time doing it, both because of the shift towards electronic reources and the “it’s all on Google” mentality but also because our own institutions (LoC I am looking in your direction) seem to want to actively dismantle some of the better tools we have for organizing and accessing knowledge. I’m just pulling out a small part of this, but really you should go read the whole thing. Some people might take umbrage, but one of my favorite things about this particular presentation of the issues is that Mann really seems to have a well-researched opinion that he wants to get across without insulting anyone, having a hissyfit, or saying that other people are losers or idiots. It’s clear that he has a take on things, one that others would disagree with, but he lets his metaphors and ideas speak for themselves, even as he’s responding to people who I assume were disagreeing with his last paper on the subject.

The Continuing Need for Reference Librarians

What catalogs and portals cannot do, however, what classified bookstacks cannot do, what Internet search engines cannot do, what federated searching cannot do–these things can be done by reference librarians who, far beyond the capacity of any “under the hood programming,” are able to provide researchers with expert guidance on the full range of options available to them for their particular topics, in an intelligent sequence of use, with the best search options and sources segregated from thousands of blind alleys, dead ends, and mountains of unwanted irrelevancies.

Reference work, in other words, is not just a nice “add on” optional service; in its dual function of providing point-of-use instruction and overview classes it is integral to the efficient use of research libraries and to the promotion of scholarship in general. It cannot be replaced by “under the hood” programming improvements in library catalogs or portals, especially when such programming dumbs down multiple complex systems to a lowest common denominator of keyword searching–and also fails to search the vast arrays of resources that are not digitized at all.

The really great thing about WPopac

I’ve been a bit scarce lately. The days are shorter and I’m doing a little less “rah rah library” work and a little more staying warm and insulating the house. I’ve got a few little posts to make, but the main one is this. The thing about Casey’s grant that is so amazing is this.

The revolutionary part of the announcement, however, was that Plymouth State University would use the $50,000 to purchase Library of Congress catalog records and redistribute them free under a Creative Commons Share-Alike license or GNU. OCLC has been the source for catalog records for libraries, and its license restrictions do not permit reuse or distribution. However, catalog records have been shared via Z39.50 for several years without incident.

“Libraries’ online presence is broken. We are more than study halls in the digital age. For too long, libraries have have been coming up with unique solutions for common problems,” Bisson said. “Users are looking for an online presence that serves them in the way they expect.” He said “The intention is to bring together the free or nearly-free services available to the user.

Bisson said Plymouth State University is committed to supporting it, and will be offering it as a free download from its site, likely in the form of sample records plus WordPress with WP-OPAC included. “With nearly 140,000 registered users of Amazon Web Services, it’s time to use common solutions for our unique problems,” Bisson said.

Read it twice if you’re not sure you got it. Think how having that sort of data available to you (or your library, or your open source OPAC) could really, seriously change things.