Summary of MDG session, 2-26-08

* Written by Jenn Riley *

The February 2008 meeting of the Metadata Discussion Group drew about 50 attendees. Thank you to everyone who continues to make this group a success.

The article for discussion this month was:

Chapman, John. “The Roles of the Metadata Librarian in a Research Library.” Library Resources & Technical Services v. 51 no. 4 (October 2007).

The discussion began examining what job responsibilities presented in the article represented entirely new tasks, which were slight evolutions from current practice, and which seem pretty much the same as duties of some current technical services positions. For the most part, the group felt that the four areas described (collaboration, research, education, development) were generally part of technical services responsibilities currently. Collaboration, especially with collection managers (Archive-It is an example of this at IU), was an area participants felt was already a strong part of technical services jobs, although expanding the scope to working directly with faculty might be necessary in the future.

The area of development was thought to be the most different from “traditional” technical services positions, requiring a stronger need to think about the final form of access for materials being described. Technical services staff needed to deal with this in the early days of automation but since access hasn’t changed much since then there needs to be more thinking in this area. Staff will increasingly need to deal with different levels and types of metadata – some web presentable, some more internally-focused. The will need to work closely with technology-intensive positions (although they do this already with MARC data). Designing new platforms and interfaces is what’s new.

The decision in this article to only look at positions within technical services may have been a practical one, but it does potentially introduce homogeneity into an inherently heterogeneous environment. Dealing with this heterogeneity is a key role of metadata staff. The MARC/AACR2 stack is well-tested, some of the newer ones aren’t. Metadata librarians will have to determine for each new set of materials which sets of standards to use. A major weak point now is that our mainstream cataloging system can only handle the one set of standards, so our users have to go to multiple places to access content. This heterogenity makes interoperability difficult. How do we allow things to be different when they need to be but not make them different just to be different? It’s fun to make up new things, but we have to be sustainable.

A participant noted that a colleague from another university had observed a trend that in places where there is significant funding for digital library work, metadata tends to be a separate operation, outside of technical services, and in places where there’s no funding, technical services is often asked to take non-MARC metadata work on themselves. Library organizational models are so fluid, it’s no surprise there are so many different models out there for metadata librarians and digital library work.

Asking technical to do non-MARC metadata is a huge investment – it’s asking already busy people to do more things. We also think we need higher-level salary lines for this planning work. But technical budgets are being cut. How do we deal with this? Don’t think of it as dumping more work on folks. Think of it as adapting to the world as it changes. It’s an exciting opportunity. Think outside the box – metadata work in acquisitions perhaps.

Regardless of the reporting structure, the group felt a strong need to move to mainstream processes. We know enough about how to deal with many types of material, even with non-MARC metadata, to make it operationalized.

A participant posed an interesting hypothetical situation: tomorrow we all came to work and all jobs with “cataloging” in the title changes to “metadata”. What would we need to make that happen? The first reaction to this proposal was that MARC is metadata so this could be true now. To expand into other types of metadata, would need training. More contact would be required with subject specialists to learn about needs these staff would not currently be aware of based on current standards. Staff would need a lot of support during the transition.

One function of metadata is to organize information, another function is to make connections between things. This means subject specialties will be more important into the future.

People think cataloging of online resources when you say metadata. But many definitions of metadata are broader, so the word is almost useless now in many cases. A view raised in discussion was that metadata facilitaties online discovery, whether the material is online or not. It’s the long-held idea of metadata as a document surrogate.

Although descriptive metadata is what’s primarily being discussed, acquisitions departments may need to deal with other types of metadata, especially rights metadata. Flexible staff that can take on digital library type activities when other duties lull are likely to be needed. Libraries will need to continue to prepare individuals for new work.

Author- Jennifer A. Liss

Human. Librarian. Consumes large quantities of data.