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Will Full Text Search Replace Cataloging?

With the Macintosh offering full text searching of everything on your hard disk and Microsoft promising the same in “Vista” (its next version of Windows) and Google and other search engines making it practical to find a lot of needles in the Web haystack, the government is finally asking, Could search technology replace some information management standards? (by Aliya Sternstein, FCW.com, Oct. 17, 2005).

A Request for Information (RFI) dated Sept. 15 from the General Services Administration and the Office of Management and Budget asks, “Does current search technology perform to a sufficiently high level to make an added investment in metadata tagging unnecessary in terms of cost and benefit?”

Of course, it shouldn’t be an either/or question, but that’s the way it is often asked in IT departments, commercial outfits, and even libraries.

The article notes that The National Institute of Standards and Technology wants to withdraw the Government Information Locator Service (GILS) because the agency considers it obsolete.

The Government Printing Office (GPO) is also involved:

GPO … has assigned several employees to OMB during the past year. One of those employees will soon return to GPO for work on a new digital distribution system capable of verifying and tracking all versions of official government documents.

GPO officials say the system’s design will ensure authenticity of government information and permanent public access to that information.

“The RFI will help our efforts since we are working closely with the community that generated the RFI and [that] is developing enhanced search tools,” GPO spokeswoman Veronica Meter said.

The article also quotes Brewster Kahle on how the Open Content Alliance project may dovetail with government initiatives. “The combination of large digital archives and the Internet could allow us to take all the U.S. government information and make it available through technologies such as commercial search engines,” Kahle said. “We hope that the government considers the OCA as a way of achieving its aims.”

See also: RFI on Information Retrieval and Sharing, by Eliot Christian, (8 Oct 2005) CGI Working Group CGI-WG-L@LISTSERV.ACCESS.GPO.GOV.

There are a lot of issues here and the potential for some really powerful new tools and services. There is also the potential for the loss of standards, authority control, markup, and the authenticated listing of all government information (per USC 44). (Have you ever tried to search “copyright” on LexisNexis? Sometimes full-text search just isn’t enough….)

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