Patterns of publication and library collections as measure of technology shifts?


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We were pleased to welcome Dr Michelle Alexopoulos from the University of Toronto to OCLC last week. Michelle is an economist whose recent research has focused on creating and analyzing new measures of technical change for developed economies.
The abstract of her talk gives a flavor of some of this work, and why it was of interest to us:

Can the patterns of library collections be used to measure economic growth and technological shifts? In this talk, Dr. Alexopoulos will unveil new indicators of technical change that, she argues, resolve many of the problems associated with traditional ones (e.g., research and development (R&D) intensity and patents). Dr. Alexopoulos’ measures are primarily derived from previous unutilized information contained in MARC21 records (available from the Library of Congress and OCLC’s WorldCat database) on new book titles in various fields of technology over the last century. Further, Dr. Alexopoulos will discuss how the indices are related to inputs into knowledge production (such as scientific advances and R&D), and demonstrate that the measures are closely correlated with the commercialization date of new technologies. Finally, she will highlight a number of questions that the new indicators can help answer. [Presentation splashpage]

We are very interested to see Worldcat data used in this way, alongside other sources of data about book publication and use (books in print data and sales data). It was interesting hearing Michelle describe some of the reasons why books – and library catalog data – was a good candidate as an indicator:

  1. Book publication is linked to changes in knowledge (consider the appearance of manuals, how-to books, …)
  2. The timing is right: there is a good correspondence between the date of commercialization of a technology or process and the date of books published about it. This is supported by commercial interests of publishers in catching interest at the right time.
  3. Library catalogs group books into subject classifications which can be useful for analysis purposes.

We will make the slides and audio of the presentation available soon. Some further details of the approach can be found in these publications:

Incidentally, it was also quite interesting for OCLC colleagues to see an economist talk knowledgeably about the MARC format 😉


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