The whole question of the relevance of the user tasks set out in FRBR and adopted by RDA came up in several threads on the listserv NGC4Lib. The actually thread is rather short on the topic itself, which can be found on the NGC4Lib archives for the month of October.
This thread originated in another discussion, namely that on the Cooperative Cataloging begun by Jim Weinheimer. If you are not familiar with Jim, then go to his newly created website and project called the Cooperative Cataloging Rules. In a post to the NGC4Lib listerv, Jim explained that the user tasks from FRBR were outdated and do not reflect what his users want or do in his library. Remember that these user tasks are: Find, Identify, Select, Obtain.
As a separate thread, Shawne Miksa asked why these user tasks were outdated. This began a short but informative take on user tasks and how individuals search and use documents as well as information.
Here are some highlights:
- Do users look for documents or information?
- In rereading the section of FRBR on user tasks, there is a definite focus on documents that users find in a library catalog. To cite FRBR: “For the purposes of this study the functional requirements for bibliographic records are defined in relation to the following generic tasks that are performed by users when searching and making use of national bibliographies and library catalogues”. Is it really the case that users look for documents and in particular documents found in library catalogs? There is information out there that suggests that users search for information and documents. Those who work in libraries understand that this is true. That is why most libraries have a reference desk, which is sometimes called an Information desk. However, users also like to discover information. This discovery is a process that does not require a library catalog. In many case for users, the library catalog is the last place to go. In this sense, how are we to understand the user tasks? Are they truly outdated or just plain wrong? Jim brought up the idea that FRBR hasn’t been tested and there should be more studies on how users search information or documents. Then, thanks to this research, user tasks should be formalized.
- What do users do after finding a document or information?
- Karen Coyle highlighted that it is not so much of interest how users find information but what they do with it afterward. How do users use information? If we have an idea how users use information or documents to gather information, then it will be easier to develop technologies that help them during this process. In response to this, the fact that libraries never worried about how users used information was brought forward. Yet, libraries say that they are in the information business. So, users do not want to only find a book on a subject. This is just the beginning. Determining how this book came about and how this subject relates to others is important. This is a process of making connections -links to other related sources of information. Of course, the discovery process cannot be done entirely by a third party. With the Semantic Web, there are ways to create links and transform the way we use information into new and exciting ways.
- Why put so much effort into cataloging items if this data isn’t or can’t be used?
- Library catalogs tend to have an enormous wealth of information. This data is stored in a format that is not web friendly. In many cases, much of the data is not even displayed to the user since this is a separate step to get to more details or more information. Though not all the information appeals to everyone, I think the effort put into cataloging should not go into systems that are not web friendly. We should be able to get our library data out there on the web where it can be used and re-used by others in ways librarians never thought of.
- Do libraries have information or documents with information?
- Libraries are much more than places with documents or even information. They have become community centers vibrant with events, support systems, documents, information, and opportunities. What I think libraries have not done well is to transform that vibrant community that is live and in person to the online world of the web. For a long time, many libraries have created a web presence based on their library catalog. Does the OPAC convey the richness of the services provided by the library? In this sense, users are seeking much more than just information and documents with information at libraries. Libraries need a web presence that responds to this need as well.