A post on the excellent Catalogablog makes me realize that thread on NGC4Lib is part of a veritable epidemic, an epidemic of what in my opinion is irresponsible trend-hopping hand-waving.
This business of “An entity-relational model is the wrong thing, now we’re in an RDF world!”.
I simply don’t think this makes any sense at all, and most of the people I hear advocating it are not in fact software engineers or computer science trained. Not that you need to be such to be educated, but we ARE talking about software systems here.
I disagree that an entity-relation model is any less relevant or important for RDF-type data. RDF-type data still requires you to create what RDF calls “vocabularies”, which are specifications of WHAT you are talking about (entities), and WHAT you can say about them (attributes and relationships).
I find all this “RDF changes everything” stuff to be over-blown, and have found few software engineers or computer science trained people in the “an E-R model isn’t the right thing for RDF” camp.
RDF or not, it doesn’t matter, we still need a formalized model of what we are talking about, and what we say about it. You need this in order to make your data inter-operable with other systems, and to write reasonable software that can understand it. This is just the way software engineering is done, and I think metadata engineering is a part of software engineering.
And the best, most time-tested, way of formally describing what you are talking about and what you say about continues to be an Entity-Relationship model, I have not seen a convincing argument that RDF chagnes that, I’ve just seen trendy buzzword waving.
Since most of the the cataloging world is still struggling to grasp basic principles of software engineering and computational thinking (which I think are _crucial_ for ‘cataloging’ or metadata engineering, for creating metadata for software use) — I think this kind of trend-hoping buzzword-waving is very dangerous in destroying the little consensus we have about actually moving forward into the computer world. (I could say “into the 20th century”, heh). We already have enough people taking a “reactionary” position against change, we don’t need to add people who think they are taking a “visionary” position against the actual clear software-engineering-based ways forward, advocating instead a vague non-solution of “I don’t know what it is, but it’s got something to do with RDF!”.
And I also agree with Shawne Miksa’s comment on the catalogablog post, although I’m not sure if Miksa means to be agreeing with me.
Miksa says: “I don’t feel we’ve taught catalogers to understand the catalog system in terms of a database–not truly, in any case.”
This is so true, and it is so much a problem. In the contemporary environment, we create metadata, we do cataloging, for a computer environment. But we are still creating metadata as if it were destined for printed out cards instead. Creating metadata for use in software systems is technology, catalogers need to be metadata engineers, need to be technologists. In fact, are whether they like it or not, whether they’re good at it or not. They don’t need to be programmers, but they do need to be “comptutational thinkers”.
And having that kind of computational thinking skills would give catalogers the ability to critically evaluate statements like “an entity-relationship model is so 20th century,” instead of simply thinking it sounds trendy and RDF is a nice buzzword, so it must be right. As Miksa says, it is VERY important that catalogers absolutely must “understand the catalog system in terms of a database” — or really, in case you think “database” is needlessly narrow and think RDF is our savior and is something different than “a database”, we could say catalogers absolutely must “understand the catalog system in terms of a software system.”