The owl of Minerva


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The home page of the Rush Rhees library at the University of Rochester displays a picture of a statue of Minerva. I sat through an interesting presentation this morning from Jennifer Bowen and David Lindahl about the Extensible Catalog project at Rochester. Their powerpoint template prominently featured a picture of a stutue of an owl, which is also on the library home page. This conjunction of images reminded me of Hegel’s famous note about the Owl of Minerva.

The owl of Minerva is the owl that accompanies Minerva in Roman myths. It was used by the nineteenth-century idealist philosopher G.W.F. Hegel to mean philosopher. Hegel noted that “the owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk” — meaning that philosophy comes to understand a way of life just as it passes away. [Owl of Minerva – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

I thought this apt as it is interesting to me that we have a flowering of interest in the catalog, and an appreciation of how much better it should and could be, at just the moment when the classic catalog may be fading in importance as a central venue of user activity.
This is as discovery is lifted out of the integrated library system and distributed in user workflows (the Rochester presentation shows, for example, how search is embedded in course pages), in the evolving discovery to delivery fabric (resolution, metasearch, …) and syndicated to search engines. Which of course, also raises interesting questions about how data created within the catalog regime (MARC/AACR/controlled vocabularies) plays with data created within other regimes (A&I, digital asset management systems, and so on).
Related entries:

Update: There is an Extensible Catalog blog where the project can be tracked/discussed.


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