Library Journal "Digital Libraries" Columns 1997-2007, Roy Tennant
Please note: these columns are an archive of my Library Journal column from 1997-2007. They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date.
You may not believe that our dependence on MARC alone limits our future (see "Building a New Bibliographic Infrastructure," Digital Libraries, LJ 1/04, p. 38). But you can't deny that libraries now deal with a wide variety of metadata formats. Libraries must increasingly accommodate bibliographic records encoded with a variety of standards and emerging standards, including Dublin Core, MODS, and VRA Core. The problem is that many libraries still rely solely on MARC and AACR2. Meanwhile, the world of information is passing us by. How important is this problem? There are now literally millions of useful online items that lack MARC cataloging and will likely never be cataloged in MARC. We ignore these resources at our peril. Our users will justifiably seek assistance elsewhere, as many already have. Ignoring the problem will only make libraries increasingly marginalized. What are we to do? Catalogers into the breach The best-trained professionals to lead us through the metadata maze are catalogers. Catalogers understand that the basic concepts remain the same whether you have a MARC record in hand or a record encoded in simple Dublin Core. They know that key metadata issues such as granularity (see "The Importance of Being Granular," Digital Libraries, LJ 5/15/02, p. 32ff.), accuracy, authority control, and controlled vocabularies still apply. We need trained catalogers to lead the way into a world beyond MARC and AACR2. Happily, some have already accepted this challenge. Rebecca Guenther at the Library of Congress has been active in efforts to create new metadata standards to meet the opportunities of our new information environment. Long active with the Dublin Core effort, Guenther also pioneers the Metadata Object Description Schema (MODS), a new XML standard for bibliographic data. Diane Hillmann of the National Science Digital Library (NSDL) also embraces new formats and tools. Although Hillman comes from a "traditional" library background, she now oversees a sophisticated metadata operation for the NSDL as the director of library services and operations. She recently edited Metadata in Practice (American Library Assn., 2004), which provides practical case studies of librarians using metadata to do useful work. Library schools respond Some library schools also recognize this issue and are revising curricula and creating new classes to focus on all forms of bibliographic metadata. I recently participated in an online seminar for a class at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The course, "Representing and Organizing Information Resources," involved a number of metadata theorists and practitioners through online conferencing software. The students were engaged, intelligent, and asked perceptive questions. The interaction was encouraging and gave hope that this new crop of librarians would understand the opportunities and challenges that new metadata schemes offer libraries. Unfortunately, I cannot be so sanguine about the ability of libraries to retool their staff. The staff we have The larger and less tractable challenge is that of catalogers long out of school. Some have neither the interest nor motivation to relearn their jobs. Yet many others are eager to perform such roles; they just need administrative support. One of the easiest and most important steps a library can take is to communicate effectively the need for metadata expertise. Catalogers should hear, from the highest levels, that the library both needs and expects them to take on this new role, that of true bibliographic metadata experts who can "speak" Dublin Core, MODS, and whatever other useful standards emerge. Give them tools With such a commitment should come support to make it real. Time and money are needed for catalogers to attend workshops, use online training modules, and read. Of course, libraries cannot expect the same output of MARC records from staff while they learn how to create, manage, and exploit new metadata. One good start to get up to speed on metadata is the excellent paper "Understanding Metadata" from the National Information Standards Organization. If cataloging staff can be "retooled" in essential new concepts and skills, they can become essential members of a team that will help re-create modern library service. Should libraries fail in this, we risk having our users give up on us as being hopelessly irrelevant in an increasingly online world. __________________________________________________________________ LINK LIST Metadata in Practice www.alstore.ala.org Understanding Metadata www.niso.org/standards/resources/ UnderstandingMetadata.pdf University of Illinois leep.lis.uiuc.edu/spring04/LIS450ROL