An information resource is any item that comprises information. It covers a variety of media, including print and digital sources such as, books, charts, physical and virtual artefacts, websites and DVDs, encompassing a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres, like novels, images and plays. Information resource description is the deliberately considered choice a library staff and/or teacher librarian (TL) make in describing and categorising any information resource to make it easily available to find, identify, select and obtain, based on the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR), explained in more detail later on (Hider, 2012, p. 18). This essay discusses and analyses the following four key concepts and principles in information resource description: information organisation, the requisite for information organisations to classify information, what organising information involves and the role of metadata standards.
Information organisation is the often complex concept involved with information management (Hider, 2012 p.11). A key purpose for any library system is how physical information resources and digital information resources are systematised and then described and organised to maximise effective user access and usage. Information resources can be described and organised in a multitude of ways. The choices in organising print and digital resources will have implications on the effective search, access and retrieval of an item by its user.
The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) endorses library specialists to create effective “information access and use through systematic and user-centred description, categorisation, digitisation, storage, preservation and retrieval” (ALIA, 2014). The ever increasing amount of information available in both print and digital format make it progressively more difficult to access and determine its place in a catalogue (Hider, 2012, p.xi). It is therefore necessary for an information agency to organise information that will assist its clients to effectively find, specific quality resources that satisfy their research goal be it for entertainment (such as reading for pleasure), investigation of a particular inquiry topic or a random and vague enquiry.
There have been historical, political and social reasons that various information agencies have been established to contextualise concepts and principles of information resource description. Hider (2012, p.12) stresses the importance of a common standard to be adopted because detailed and consistent data input usually results in a more effective information retrieval system. Once common standardised data has been universally accepted by prominent international library agencies, library services can profit from a unilateral provision which benefits all library users. Australian TLs need to understand and appreciate the significance of Resource Description and Access (RDA), FRBR and the Schools Library Catalogue Information Service (SCIS) because combined, they provide the foundational structure upon which most current Australian library systems operate.
Outlining a brief history of RDA is essential, as it has significantly changed user access to resources by expanding results of a search. Prior to computers, physically present resources were catalogued on a card system where one could access a resource primarily based on author, title, subject, date of publication, edition and other elements (not all of which were direct access points) that conformed with the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (AACR), the second edition of which was updated in 1978 to AACR2 (Bowman, 2003, p. 9). This was adopted by many countries across the world as a standardised system for providing rules and access points for library resources, which worked successfully.
The introduction of computers and keyword searches critically changed how users locate resources, as it included online resources. It was concluded by the Joint Steering Committee in 2004, that a revision of AACR2 to accommodate these needs was not enough and that a whole new system was necessary (Hart, 2010, p. 2). RDA, has become an innovative standard to describe information resources and provide effective and consistent access, designed for the print and digital realm (Joint Steering Committee for development of RDA, 2010). As a result, the RDA Toolkit, an online cataloguing resource was introduced to the library community in 2010 (RDA Joint Steering Committee, 2010). Embodying the foundations of AACR2, RDA delivers a comprehensive set of instructions and guidelines, with access and detailed resource descriptions that cover a multitude of content and media.
Fundamental to RDA is FRBR which recommends that a library catalogue do more than just locate the whereabouts of a particular resource (Welsh & Batley, 2012, p. 8). A FRBR-based catalogue not only describes in detail the item to be recorded but links it relationally as a work, expression, manifestation or item (Group 1 entities) to any other bibliographic record that also may be of use to the end user. This concept is based on an entity relationship model which links Group 1 entities to other items of interest to users of bibliographic data such as other people who had a secondary role with respect to the resource (Group 2 entities) and the “subjects of those products of intellectual and artistic creation” (Group 3 entities) (Oliver, 2010, p. 17). This is similar in many ways to how search engines are structured and why so many users initially look on the internet because they are guaranteed of getting a “hit” when keywords are entered. The quality of the “hit” may be dubious, which is why it is important for digital and physical libraries to have, consistent databases and catalogues that yield instant high-quality resources.
SCIS is a cost-effective service that provides “access to the largest database of school-related catalogue records in the Southern Hemisphere”, to which most Australian school libraries belong (Education Services Australia, 2013). Their cataloguing system is based on the principles of both RDA and FRBR (Beilharz, 2012). Economically, buying into a standardised catalogue is fiscally practical because it enables TLs to acquire and record an item in the same format as a neighbouring library, rather than having to produce identical records individually (Bowman, 2003, p. 9). Both libraries are following the same rules and codes as both are based on the same comprehensive database. Library users benefit because catalogues in a different situation are the same, making it easier to use as they are not manipulating a new system.
Organising information entails implementing a standardised and consistent library cataloguing system with the prime outcome of making information discovery easy, productive and efficient for its users. Library catalogues or Online Public Access Catalogues (OPACs) are a central component of the information access provided to libraries. While resource description is not a primary role of TLs as it is usually outsourced to information agencies such as SCIS, it is important for TLs to understand the principles of information resource description. This knowledge enables TLs to evaluate the effectiveness of access to resources within a school library via the catalogue and educational databases and how that access can best be utilised and promoted to its users. While SCIS provides a plethora of reliable and consistent features to include in a library catalogue, the TL is still ultimately responsible for ensuring these records are accurately integrated into their local system and make cognisant decisions about any necessary changes to records to enhance accessibility or create records when one is not available.
Metadata is “data about data” which includes the diverse features of a resource that are believed to be useful to “access, retrieve and manage it” (Chowdhury, 2010, p.62). Haynes (2004, p. 17), suggests the following five essential roles of metadata. Firstly, metadata provides a consistent information resource description which aids information organisations to facilitate appropriate description and cataloguing of information resources. While a book can be described in terms of the number of pages it has, a video cannot; a website has a URL and a map often contains coloured illustrations. Descriptions need to be reliable and streamlined. Secondly, by accurately describing resources, metadata accelerates information retrieval and resource discovery. Thirdly, metadata plays a central role as the building block of information organisation and content management. It provides more effective ways to organise information and enhances retrieval by making it more intuitive for its users. Fourthly, metadata enables the storage of important information about ownership, provenance, special marks and so on which can significantly highlight the authenticity of resources (digital in particular), useful for resource discovery and management. This is especially important for many school libraries which either have or are in the process of, establishing a digital collection as well as a physical collection. Lastly, the role of metadata is to ensure interoperability and data transfer between systems because metadata formats need to be interpreted and correctly installed on whatever computer platform is found in a library. MARC (Machine-Readable Cataloguing) is the most utilised record exchange system because it has a standardised scheme for encoding metadata to be ‘read’ by any computer (Hider, 2012, p. 122).
Hider (2012) writes that metadata sources come from a variety of people such as resource creators, publishers and information professionals who are specifically trained to enter the correct data. Hider advocates that the quality and standard of metadata is crucial to its distribution as it can make a critical difference to information retrieval. The quality of metadata is based on the principles of functionality, comprehensiveness, accuracy, clarity, consistency and vocabulary and authority control. Companies like SCIS, establish quality control processes to ensure that metadata is checked when records are being created (Chadwick, 2015).
The standardisation of metadata means that it can be used by different information retrieval systems and therefore by different libraries. Significantly, once that metadata has been created, it needs only be done once by information professionals and stored in a centralised place to be accessed again. It is interesting to note that libraries have now begun to share their records with internet search companies in order for their catalogues to be easily accessed across the web (Hider, 2012, p. 98). There are a multitude of metadata standards which are specific to a particular context such as museum archiving, book publishing and E-research and still the purpose of each, is effective and efficient retrieval of a resource by the end user – based on the first principle as stated by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) which is “the convenience of the user” (2009, p. 2).
In conclusion, this discussion has examined the key concepts and principles in information resource description by outlining a brief history of FRBR, a conceptual framework upon which RDA, a standard for descriptive cataloguing and SCIS, the major database of library catalogues in Australian libraries. It is important for a TL to understand what information organisation is and why it is necessary for information agencies to organise information because as the person who is responsible for accessioning, it is valuable knowledge in making informed decisions about how to organise print and digital resources to best suit the end user. The quality and standards of metadata contribute significantly to the role of a library catalogue in providing the end user with information effectively and efficiently.
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