An interesting thread on the Visual Resources Association listserv caught my attention this week about what was originally dubbed a “professional folksonomy” of visual resource metadata – in effect a sort of wiki version of OCLC for visual resource cataloging. The idea (as with OCLC) is that it is a huge waste of time and effort to recreate work records when the cataloging has already been done by another professional and a record is already held by another institution. Perhaps there is a way to set up a centralized wiki database of basic work metadata accessible by member institutions.

Good idea. Of course there are snags – how are the records vetted for authoritativeness? Who does the work of maintenance and oversight (as someone pointed out, sites like Wikipedia have full time staff, and OCLC certainly does – without significant funding this probably could not get off the ground)?

My impression of the VRA from past conferences and discussions is that even though these ideas have been tried in various forms, there’s no real cohesive cross-institution knowledge of the projects underway or resources available. I heard about several institution-level databases holding such metadata that could be harvested by other institutions, IF they knew about it. From the recent discussion, it seems like the dialogue is not getting this across and there is not enough effective collaboration. From the responses to the original idea I can see that there have been many such innovative projects. Centralizing them somehow seems like a great goal with exciting potential.

Then again, many of the VR folks at the 2006 conference had never even heard of OCLC or were aware of its importance to bibliographic cataloging. Not to negate or patronize VR institutions (there are a lot of unique complicating factors to organizing and disseminating visual resources for sure), but this does seem a long time coming…I’m interested to see where it will go.