Bibliographic Control, Agile Government


I found this post from the Library of Congress blog yesterday, and it has me thinking about a bunch of other things I’ve been intending to write about. The LOC is accepting public commentary on their draft plan for the Working Group for the Future of Bibliographic Control. The draft is full of noteworthy observations about decentralized information management and the Internet, and I’m going to excerpt from it generously below.

First, however, I’d like to point to another report I recently came across, called Agile Government: A Provocation Paper. Prepared in conjunction between Demos and the State of Victoria (an Australian state), the paper applies the concept of agility (as often applied to software development) to public sector planning. Agility focuses on the productively dynamic aspects of management, development, and administration, stressing iterativeness and flexibility over comparatively static organizational models.

While I’m personally unconvinced by the idea of agility as a fundamental organizational principle, and prefer to think of it as a helpful rubric or theme, the concept does provide a helpful lens with which to view other government documents which are broad in scope.

For example, when I wrote recently about the National Archives’ public comment period for their partnership plan for digitization, I was most impressed by the public, iterative nature of the projects’ planning. A superior plan will presumably result if the plan is skillfully subjected to multiple periods of public inspection and re-editing. This process’s constructive aspects are echoed in both the organization of the Open House Project report, and in the legislative process itself.

I’m wondering about the history of public administration’s public components, that is, when did certain plans start to be subjected to public commentary? For how long has the federal regulatory process been subject to public commentary? For how long have legislative support agencies been publishing 10 year visions and yearly updates? Perhaps most importantly, what is the best way to optimize and institutionalize the benefits of publishing organizational plans? Is a statutory mandate necessary, or are modern expectations of effective management practices sufficient? Does the public benefit from a required level of visionary reporting from its institutions, or should the agencies report on their activities in whatever manner best fits their needs? Does the reporting of such documents currently outpace the public demand for such information?

I hope it doesn’t: I’d prefer to think that the GPO’s or NARA’s visions for digitization don’t go unnoticed, that the LoC’s enormous yearly updates are appreciated for their scope and detail, that the strategic visions (of approximate 10 year length) of GPO, NARA, the LOC, or the frequent reports from the CAO, CRS, NARA, or various related Inspectors General (GPO, LoC) are at least perused by the parties affected. Surely a demand for information and awareness necessary for a government to be agile must be coupled with a community of information consumers who are aware of that information?

Back to the topic at hand, the Library of Congress has a public report currently in a public comment phase, looking for feedback on their vision about the future of the Library (and especially their bibliographic activities, especially as it relates to cataloging and metadata) in an age of digital Internet publishing and information dissemination. While the report deals extensively with the minutae of the LOC’s information management practices, it also provides repeated insight into the Library’s view of a rapidly changing information ecology, reinforcing many observations and concerns shared throughout the Open House Project (and broader) community. (also adding to a previous plan by the LOC regarding bibliographic control.)

From the introduction:

The future of bibliographic control will be collaborative, decentralized, international in scope, and Web-based. Its realization will occcus in cooperation with the private sector, and with the active collaboration of library users.

Page 2:

Recognize that people are not the only users of the data that we produce in the name of bibliographic control, but so too are machine applications that interact with those data in a variety of ways.

Page 3:

In 1902, the Library of Congress began producing catalog cards for purchase so that libraries that purchased the same book could buy catalog cards from the Library of Congress… The service continues to this day, although now bibliographic data are in machine-readable form and are shared over networks.

Page 4:

The economics of creating LC’s products have changed dramatically since the time when the Library was producing cards for library catalogs.

…it receives no funding specifically directed at providing bibliographic services for U.S. libraries.

Page 7:

…it is necessary to embrace a view of bibliographic control as a distributed activity, not a centralized one. Data about collection usage–such as inclusion in curricula or bibliographies, citation links, circulation and sales figuresl–are all valuable bits of information in the universe of bibliographic control.

Page 8:

All possible means of collaboration should be considered. …needs to consider carefully when it is appropriate to distribute effort and when to discontinue it.

Page 9:

…the standards landscape in the library field is murky, with many different organizations working on similar standards in a non-coordinated fashion. LC should consider sharing the standards effort within the community and collaborating with other interested institutions to create a rational and efficient means of managing the standards needed for information exchange.

Page 21:

2.4.1 LC: Study possibilities for computational access to digital content. Use this information in developing new rules and best practices.

Page 22:

The use of language strings such as personal or corporate names as identifiers hinders data exchange across languages and across different information communities.

3.1.1 Develop a More Flexible, Extensible Metadata Carrier

Page 24:

New discovery environments are emerging that extract and merge data from several library systems.