Today’s library user takes electronic catalogs for granted. Being able to remotely search the contents of a library is not only convenient, but it also allows for a tighter integration between the lending practices—you can see if a book is loaned out.
During a period of several decades, a number of service firms made very profitable business out of the digitization of the paper-based library catalogs used by public, educational, and private libraries. Old fashioned card catalogs were a form of analog database, with each card constituting a single record.
The structured data: title, author, publication date, subject, LOC number, etc, could easily make the transition from paper form to electronic database. However, many librarians had added unstructured data to many of the cards in their catalog, including information on the quality and status of the book, and other comments that would be useful to either the maintenance of or reference to the book. These annotations represented a rich set of stored knowledge that were largely lost during the brute force digitization process.
Annotations are a form of metadata that, because of their informality, are typically not recognized as having organizational value. Life goes on, and the loss of a several generation’s worth of neatly scribbled notations around the edges of well-rounded index cards are hardly the biggest problem confronting today’s library.
Are we likewise putting organizational knowledge at risk by not providing our users with a robust and portable annotation mechanism to support their use of digital documents? This has obviously not been an unsustainable problem. Its debatable just how much electronic marking up has taken place on workstations and laptops, but the ubiquity of tablets, which are clearly much more convenient for the reading—and annotation—of longer documents and books, likely means that the sum total of digital annotations is growing at an accelerating rate.
What’s the value to the enterprise of the stored knowledge represented by digital document annotations?
Should the CIO be looking for ways to facilitate the creation and exploitation of this form of stored knowledge?
Does it represent a form of metadata that is worth managing and protecting to ensure that it is available as long as it is useful?