This is a guest post by Lauren Orso, who is working with me this semester in the Barnard Library Zine Collection. She responds to a mailing I received from Sandy Berman about Syndetics "value-added content."
UPDATED 5:30pm with thanks to Laura Crossett for pointing out some slight errata. :)
Fred Woodwarth, publisher of The Match zine, heard from a Match reader that Secret Ceremonies, a memoir by Deborah Laake (a book reviewed in The Match), was referred to as a "silly account of life in the LDS church and with a couple of rigid Mormon men" in Baltimore library's catalog record. Fred, who doesn’t use computers, mailed this finding to fellow computer eschewer Sandy Berman, who forwarded Fred’s letter and his response, to several "computer savvy catalogers and reference librarians" to do some research.
The summary is from a company called Syndetics that describes itself as “the premier source of specialized, high-quality bibliographic data designed to enhance library online catalogs.” Part of the “enhancements” are subjective book reviews that users can opt to use on their site (customers choose from a dozen reviewers to populate the field; this particular one comes from Book News).
It's Syndetics policy to redact misinformation, but I'm not sure/don't think it would change what's already in the system, as their TOS explains, "THE CONTENT IS DISTRIBUTED 'AS IS', AND WITH ALL FAULTS," though, as a matter of policy, content also is updated "nightly." I'm unclear if users can alter their own widget metadata if they find it unsuitable, but I’m assuming it’s not possible, as the "enrichment" plugins refer back to the Syndetics servers (you can change the CSS, however). Baltimore is not the only library using Syndetics, but Baltimore and Aspen were the only two public libraries (I could find) using this particular review ‘widget,’ though Powell's and Barnes and Noble are also using this particular review online.
On to Book List. The Book List review from their site is subscription only; I wasn’t able to access it myself and the free trial didn’t work for me. Book List, however, is ALA affiliated (see motto: Booklist Online: Book Reviews from the American Library Association). And the plot thickens...
So far, I’ve emailed Syndetics,
Book List (oops!), Book News and the Baltimore and Aspen libraries to see what's up, but haven't heard back from anyone yet and was unsure of where to go from there. It’s already been a week, though, so I’m not necessarily expecting a response at this point. So, where to go from here? I’m not sure. The Syndetics/Book Lists review comes off as authoritative in the catalog, despite its obvious subjectivity, and I agree with Fred and Sandy that this is unacceptable, but I don’t know what the next move is, nor do I know how many reviews are this scandalous and why ALA is letting them through. Thoughts?