:: Digital Libraries Columns


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 They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date. :: Digital Libraries Columns

Metadata Leadership


   You may not believe that our dependence on MARC alone limits our future
   (see "[145]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 "[146]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

   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
   [147] Understanding Metadata
   UnderstandingMetadata.pdf University of Illinois