Who writes abstracts?

I just went to search LISTA to see if the interview I did with a journal editor has been published yet, and instead, found the indexed record for my Against The Grain article. Complete with subject headings and abstract, none of which were requested or provided by me.

My own brief description:

“Changing the Way Libraries and Faculty Assess Periodical Collections in the Electronic Age”, AGAINST THE GRAIN, v.18 # 5, November 2006.  At SUNY Potsdam the time had come to change the campus conversation about periodicals, and in doing so, change perceptions about library periodical collections. The time had come to try something new.

It’s an article about how we began discussing our print periodical subscriptions with faculty from a perspective of student use and classroom assignments, rather than simply asking faculty to assist in cutting subscriptions. It’s about changing tactics in managing print periodicals in our online environment. It’s about focusing on mission and needs rather than dollars and numbers, and about improving relationships with our users.

LISTA says this about it:

The article discusses the libraries and faculties’ assessment of periodical collections in the digital age. Accordingly, the emergence of the Internet as an information stream would reshape and reframe professional values and practices specially in library services. The Internet had a profound effect on the production and distribution of scholarly information, and changed the user’s expectation of information delivery equally dramatically. Depressed economics had strained library budgets in higher education, and the emergence of online information resources, coupled with the rising costs of periodicals, had increased that constraint.

WTF?  That’s terrible.  And it’s never going to lead any of my colleagues and peers to the article for good, right, or relevant reasons.

Aside from my personal and professional discomfort with that description as a representation of my work, work I did in an attempt to contribute to our communal work… what else do our databases and indexes — which we provide to help our users — say about information resources that are equally ill-informed? What kind of guidance are our users getting in our privileged “library” resources, and how does what they find there compare to the information they find on the open web? I suspect that the balance of quality doesn’t always fall where we hope it does.

I am, of course, aware that part of what we pay for when we pay for databases (and LISTA is free) is the quality of indexing and abstracting.  I am aware that some companies pride themselves on the quality of their human-performed abstracting and indexing.  I am also aware that pride and sales pitches don’t always match reality, and that as more and more corporate services are being outsourced and globalized, we need to be more skeptical about the existence of the quality we’ve come to expect.

I suspect this is a good example of that problem.

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