Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Metadata update # 36: What Makes a Great Leader

As happens with this blog from time to time, I have been away from posting for a while.  The reasons are many. 

I was thinking about all of the interesting and supportive email I got last year and it reminded me that people do read this blog - at least sometimes.  Given that I'm not in a position at the moment to write posts like I used-to, maybe I can at least write short ones.

Today I am reflecting on the issue of leadership in cataloguing and metadata and perhaps leadership in libraries in general.  There is no question that our discipline and sub-discipline, if you wish to call it that, is undergoing significant change.  It occurs to me that those working in cataloguing and metadata positions need to be leaders and to be supported by good leaders.

An article on "great bosses" written by someone called Matt Mover came through my mailbox from LinkedIn and it struck me as a perfect place to begin my own reflection on the issue of leadership in libraries:


The title is "Great Bosses are Passionate to Everyone".  The title was puzzling to me.   I didn't know what it meant so I thought that I would skim through it.  After skimming through it I went back to read it in detail and felt that it was an excellent point from which I could restart my blog.

There's no sense in making the same points that you can read for yourself in the article.  Maybe you agree with what he has written and maybe you don't.   What I take away from the article is that "good bosses" are passionate about their work; are strong and mature; and they have your back and are out to support you.  As the cataloguing and metadata profession goes through this time of change, we need to be good leaders and we need to have good leaders.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Metadata Update # 35 Change and the Future of Libraries

I've noticed that there has been a lot of talk lately about the future of libraries.  The idea that a profession would think and talk about where they are going and what changes will occur is nothing new.  What does seem to be remarkable in the last year or so is that there is a more formalized movement to understand and start to map out that future.  For example, I recently spent some time reading the information on the ALA Center for the Future of Libraries website (http://www.ala.org/transforminglibraries/future).  While the blog, articles and other resources collected up on this web page appear to be just starting to pick up steam, the fact that this Center exists at all is an indicator of the growing interest in the future direction of libraries.  In addition, the San Jose State iSchool annual world wide virtual conference (mini-conferences are being tested this year) has the topic of "Libraries of the Future" http://www.library20.com/.  It seems that the more that I read, and listen to the discussions in the field, the more that I can see how formalized discussions about the future are becoming.

One of the key messages that has come out of the discussions is that libraries need to change in order to meet the needs of today's patrons and patrons of the future.  Libraries need to change to remain relevant and effective.  There is a realization that while libraries had no real competition, quick and easy access to services like Google Scholar and Wikipedia has changed the landscape.  There are also changing needs for library space and library locations.  The theme is that the library profession realizes that libraries need to change in order to be successful and remain relevant in the future.  It's not that everything that libraries have developed and achieved over the years is thrown away and we will start over.  While it is true that in some areas there likely will be revolutionary change, the changes and adaptations that libraries will make in the future will likely build upon and extend upon the strengths that libraries have already built.

So what about those areas which will be turned on their ears because of change?  While those working in the specialization of cataloguing and metadata are aware that such changes are in the works, I get the impression that many outside of it don't fully appreciate how much things will change in the next half decade or so.  When I was at ALA Midwinter 2016 I heard a very interesting talk that Sally McCallum (Chief of the Network Development/MARC Standards Office at the Library of Congress) where she described a dramatic and unprecedented decade of change for modern libraries with regard to information discovery and access.  Of course, cataloguers can all guess that she was talking about the shift from MARC to BIBFRAME.  I think that she is correct in suggesting that libraries have begun to cross into a brave new world which, with some initial hard work and hardship, will lead us to new opportunities and realities which we can only begin to imagine today.  Yet, I get the impression that many in the profession don't yet believe or understand the scope and nature of change which cataloguers are just now starting to appreciate.  I get the impression that the impact of the revolutionary changes that are to come in the near future aren't restricted to the area of cataloguing and metadata.  The key message is that libraries will change and some of this change will be dramatic.

Given that this topic is of growing interest, I would like to write a few posts in the upcoming months which will explore the topic of  the future of libraries and the nature of change.  Given that my program of research focuses on disruptive change in libraries, I already have done a lot of work and writing in this area.  However, I like the idea of doing some informal writing and reflecting on this topic as opposed to exclusively writing journal articles and columns.  Also, I find the feedback email that I get from my blog to be very helpful in terms of broadening and deepening my understanding of the topics I write about.

To start out the discussion, I'd like to share a blog post that I wrote for a colleague's blog nearly 2 years ago on disruptive change in library technical services http://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2014/12/02/technological-disruption-in-technical-services/ .  While I spoke about change in technical services, I think that the issues it brings up are relevant to practically all aspects of librarianship.  Then, if you are interested, I will be expanding on the models discussed in this blog post at the Library 2.016 mini conference. on October 6th 2016.  The nice thing about this conference is that if you can't make the live presentation, the recordings are freely available to watch at any time in the future.

After the conference, I hope to continue to expand on the topic in this blog.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Metadata Update #34 - Remembering Mac Elrod and a Life-Long Love of Cataloguing

For the last few months my blog has taken some different twists and turns.  In reality, I have felt quite overwhelmed by my workload and other aspects of my personal life that it has been a challenge for me to focus on the types of things I would typically write about in this blog.  In fact, some days it’s hard to concentrate on anything at all.  The recent passing of well-known cataloguer Mac Elrod has lead me to do more reflection on how what we write online can be read by more people than we could ever imagine and can impact individuals and the profession in ways that we will never know.  I have also spent some time wondering about why it is that some people carry such a deep interest and love for their work which even advanced age and failing eyesight have difficulty diminishing.

For those who follow any of the many cataloguing and metadata listservs, the name Mac Elrod will likely be at least familiar.  Years ago I followed the famous/infamous “autocat” listserv and this is where I first read the thoughts and ideas of Mac.  I have long since had to discontinue following autocat in favour of other more specialized lists.  However, I never lost track of Mac’s musings on cataloging theory and practice seeing as he followed and was active on the more specialized lists as well.  There is no question that Mac’s posts generated thought and discussion.  I can’t say that I always understood or agreed with what he wrote but often I was struck ideas that likely would never have occurred to me and/or benefitted from learning about different experiences and perspectives.  It was not until about 3 years ago that I discovered that Mac was an elderly, retired cataloguer.  In fact he was just a few years younger than my own father.  The idea that someone in their 80’s would be pouring over RDA instructions and the new cataloguing models and then making the effort to follow and post his thoughts in multiple listservs impressed me significantly.  Although my father was a retired scientist and liked to spend time on his computer, I don’t ever recall him reading scientific journals or him mentioning that he had been discussing the latest research with his coffee group of retirees from the research institute where he had worked for over 35 years.  In the years directly after retirement, I recall hearing a bit of “lab gossip” about who was working on what projects but it seems to me that the more that time passed, the more his reports from the “coffee group” focused on details about spouses, children, grandchildren, vacations, downsizing, aches and pains and other sorts of topics one would expect from a group of retirees rather than the scientific work they once undertook.  It’s not that my dad never talked about his scientific work but those discussions were firmly planted in the past.  He spoke of past projects and papers, former colleagues and mentors who have since passed on, and amusing anecdotes of experiments gone wrong. 

In thinking about stereotypes, one might expect that a retired chemist and researcher would be reading the latest literature and discussing and debating the latest finding and theories with his retired colleagues until well into his or her eighties.  On the other hand, one might expect a retired to cataloguer to putter around tending potted plants and spend hours in an overstuffed chair reading literary works with the aid of an oversized magnifying glass.  However, Mac and my dad proved these stereotypes to be quite wrong.  For my dad, when his days of working were finished, he was ready to move his focus onto other things as were many of his retired scientist friends.  Mac, on the other hand, retired from being the head of cataloguing at the University of British Columbia to start his own cataloging service for special libraries and then, as he gradually passed the lion’s share of the business to family, to focus on reading and writing about the current changes in cataloguing.  Why was there a difference?  I don’t know for sure and I’m not sure that anyone can really know more than what can be observed on the surface.  Before my dad retired, he was active and engaged in his field and it’s not like he dropped that interest suddenly.  I guess that his life changed and other things gradually became more important and interesting to him.  Based on the many posts that Mac wrote about cataloguing, I suspect that despite all of the other interests which were mentioned in his obituary, cataloguing continued to stimulate his quest for making sense of things and passion for helping others.  He had a lot of other interests but cataloging was just such a big one for him that it wasn’t going to easily become overshadowed.      

Accepting that we likely will never understand the complexities of what keeps a person passionately engaged in their field as Mac Elrod was, I can say that I feel grateful for all of thoughts, ideas and experiences which Mac wrote about over the years and I also feel inspired by his persistent passion for his life’s work.  I have seen firsthand that the work which may capture our hearts and imagination in middle age may not automatically transfer into old age but, for some like Mac, the spark remains and in our age of electronic communication that spark can have those unknown impacts I mentioned earlier in this post.   As far as I am aware, Mac did not publish large volumes of papers on cataloguing and while Mac did teach cataloguing in his lifetime, he was not a fixture in an LIS faculty.  From what I can tell he was an active cataloguer and supervisor of active cataloguers for the majority of his working life.  He was in the trenches of the day to day work of cataloguing and he was outgoing enough to talk about it…. To share his ideas, opinions and experiences.  This is something that I feel needs to be recognized and appreciated.  When I think about essentially how Mac kept his interest in cataloguing and remained interested even as the models were changing, it helps me to keep perspective as I struggle with issues in my own working life and reminds me that the work is both interesting and intellectually challenging, despite stereotypes and myths to the contrary.  It also reminds me that academic librarians often focus on papers and conference presentations despite the fact that other forums for communication such as listservs and social media are also important modes of communication and discussion for cataloguers.  In fact, these “alternative venues” may actually be more influential and further reaching than LIS literature.

So, as the cataloguing community mourns the loss of a long-time active and outspoken colleague, we also recognize and appreciate his contributions over the years.


If you haven’t done so already, I suggest that you read Mac’s obituary which is found in the link to the community newspaper from the area of his home.  While Mac had an active career in cataloguing, he also was a social activist and had a very full and interesting life which is worth reading about:    


Also, in honour of my father who passed away a few months previous to Mac’s passing, I have also included his obituary which you may also wish to read.  Certainly there is a contrast between the two with my father being a more introverted type who, while busy none-the-less, had interests which were more likely to focus on his home, garden and other small hobbies.  That being said, his construction projects were a little more than what one would typically consider to be a hobby.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Metadata Update #33 - Responses to Upate #32 and more reflections

It’s been 3 weeks since I posed Update #32.   I’ve had a surprising amount email and other feedback since then.   Update #32 came as close to going viral as anything I’ll likely ever write….  It got shared on a number of social media sites, including some that were previously unknown to me.   There were some interesting discussions to be had.  However, most of the comments weren’t posted on my blog but came to me via email, took the form of in-person discussions or were made on social media websites where the post was shared.  Of course, the email sent directly to me was by and large highly supportive and/or contained details of similar experiences reported by other librarians.  The social media discussions displayed greater variety of opinions.   I’ve found the latter to be particularly useful in sorting out the bigger picture of where my own experience fits on the spectrum of what is happening in libraries elsewhere. 

It’s hard to summarize all of what I read but I can talk about the major themes.  The strongest theme was that most respondents felt that managers/administrators and, to some extent, librarianship in general does not properly understand the cataloguing and metadata discipline.  Some felt that the problem, which one respondent called “low levels of appreciation”, exists more for those who are “cataloguers” than “metadata librarians” while others.    Some made the observation that there are librarians who have worked as cataloguers in the past and base their view of the discipline today on that past.  I was surprised at the number of respondents who referred to these “former cataloguers” in some way or another in their comments.   As a few pointed out, the “past experience” is often a very limited.  It was suggested in more than one email I received that these “former cataloguers” can be problematic when they believe strongly that they understand the work without making an effort to update their knowledge.   These librarians reported negative consequences when the “former cataloguers” make decisions and take action based on beliefs which are not only outdated but outright inaccurate.  One respondent said that her manager had a habit of consulting a “friend” who is a cataloguer at another institution to get her “ok” before making decisions rather than speaking directly to her supervisee!  Then there were a handful of stories from public libraries which were, I’m not sure what else to call them except, odd and shocking.  After reading one of the stories I said to myself sarcastically, “Why not let the patrons catalogue the books, what would be wrong with that?”!  I suppose that it would be one thing if the library had some sort of dedicated interface for doing that sort of thing but the librarian who told me his story said that his director felt that the patrons could work directly in the ILS.  Apparently the director didn’t think of the implications of giving untrained volunteers access to the entire bibliographic database.  Ok, so let’s say that I got a very strong message that there are many cataloguers and metadata specialists out there who have the very strong impression and opinion that their work isn’t understood or appreciated.

 If a sense of “feeling misunderstood” was the major theme, I would say that the next most significant theme was a sense of “overworked and underpaid”.   This theme came out both in the email and in social media.  The stories took the form of outright wage disparity relative to other library workers to systemic barriers which prevented cataloguers from progressing in their career.  There is a sense that there is a trend to eliminate cataloguing positions at a time when there is a lot of pressure on cataloguers to be more productive while learning the new models and skills.  More than one email referenced a “head in the sand” attitude with regard to preparing for the current and upcoming changes in cataloging and the movement towards BIBFRAME.  As I have heard at my own library, one commenter said that her colleagues disbelieve that any significant change would occur in the near future based on the large gap between RDA was first talked about in the library community and when it as eventually implemented.    

A third minor theme was a critique of academic libraries and certain collegial processes.  The two previous themes seem to support this one.  If librarians generally don’t understand what cataloguers do and why it is important, then they are not likely to see the efforts of cataloguers as meritorious.  If collegial decisions have a significant impact on what cataloguers are paid, it is reasonable to see that over the years the wages of cataloguers will eventually fall behind that of their peers. I’ve heard over the years that cataloguing librarians tend to be low-paid, I did not have an understanding of how this could be possible.  However, if one takes into account merit increases, there seems to be quite a bit of logic in trying to piece together the process through which cataloguers might fall behind their peers over the years.  I admit that I was surprised to encounter as much criticism of academic librarianship and collegial processes as I did.  Until 8 years ago I had worked primarily in public libraries and knew nothing about how academic libraries work.  After 5+ years of working in academic libraries, I’m not going to claim that I understand everything.  Being a collaborative and cooperative person, the concept of collegiality appeals to me and I’m not ready to turn on it yet.  That being said, I recognize that there are many librarians who have a very negative view about how “things get done in academic libraries”.   While every university is slightly different, I feel as if I became a little less na├»ve about a certain dark side of academic librarianship after reading a few of the stories of more experienced academic librarians.  While I haven’t become cynical about collegial processes, I think that my approach will likely be more cautious and critical than it was in the past. 

Finally, a number of commenters and email writers suggested that I look for another job and find a place where my efforts and attitude would be appreciated.  Two suggested that I should be happy that I have a job.  Of course, the latter comments were found in social media and were not statements made directly to me.  I didn’t find it surprising to find a diversity of opinion in this regard.  In fact, I found that in social media there were some good debates and commenters challenged each other on the issues.  For example, the string below came from Reddit is a great example of how the discussion can swing from one extreme to the other in terms of opinion.

[–]bibliotudinous 2 points3 points4 points 13 days ago
She's lucky she even has a full-time position as a cataloger. Some libraries have a half-time person, or even "data entry clerks". Another example of the people who control the purse strings not understanding what librarians do.
[–]mindmountain 1 point2 points3 points 11 days ago
Well employers certainly do. Catalogers are normally quite handsomely rewarded for their time so maybe she should worry less about what her colleagues think and pay attention to her bank manager.
[–]Banjohobo[S] 1 point2 points3 points 11 days ago
Are you a cataloger? 
[–]mindmountain 1 point2 points3 points 11 days ago
For a time yes. I was.
[–]Banjohobo[S] 2 points3 points4 points 11 days ago
Well, that isn't how it is anymore. I don't know many catalogers being paid handsomely for work that a lot of libraries have declared non-essential. Please re-read /u/bibliotudinous's all-too-true reply above.
[–]mindmountain 1 point2 points3 points 11 days ago
Public libraries don't pay well but academic libraries and rare book institutions do. My pay was slashed almost in half when I had to go back to being a library assistant after contract work. I feel sorry for her because the place she works for sounds awful, all that pompous self promoting to further a silly meritocratic system. Her colleagues sound rude. I hope she has luck finding a job elsewhere before they chip away further at her sanity.

By the way, I really would like to know which libraries “handsomely reward” their cataloguers.  Maybe I could get a job at one of them.  While some librarians related stories of much more concerning circumstances, many more felt that my library has a “harsher” than average environment. I’m not sure what I will do with that information but it definitely is reassuring to know that not every cataloguing or metadata librarian is having the same or worse experience than mine.  
At any rate, what I found the most interesting is that I didn’t find a single reference as to how to help our colleagues understand better what we do and why it is important.  I’ve spent a bit of time this morning scanning through my email to double check to make sure that this observation is accurate and I found nothing that would change my conclusion.  I admit that supportive email helped to make me feel less alone in my struggle.  However, now that I’ve begun to work on thinking about how to take this information and move forward with it, I’m still not sure what I will do.  While I have made a number of attempts to inform my colleagues about the changing nature of my work and the significance of the changes, I have to admit that my efforts have been largely ineffective.  I was hoping that perhaps I would hear stories of librarians who were able to “get the message through”. 
When I shared the post on FaceBook one response included an article about the engineers who deal with rusting structures and how their work is critical but often misunderstood and seen by planners and top administration as an annoyance or a nuisance.  I particularly liked the last line of the article “People often cut the budget and then wonder why they have an issue five years later.”  How many cataloguers can make a similar statement?  Maybe the fact of the matter is that within most professions there are those specialists whose work is largely invisible and not understood by the profession or the public but critical to the work and purpose of the profession all the same.  The rust engineer article suggested that planners find the information that rust engineers provide to be an annoyance because resources need to be poured into keeping old structures from rusting-out and falling down.  It is work that is largely not seen and not impressive.  This is money which planners and administrators see as taking away from resources which would otherwise be used to “move forward” and build new things. Yet, as the article points out, the State of Liberty would cease to exist if work is not done to prevent rust from eating away at it.  Maybe cataloguers are in a similar situation.  Maybe administrators perceive that large amounts of money is poured into cataloguing and is seen as a black hole.   Spending on cataloguing prevents libraries from providing more resources, services and spaces, etc.  Perhaps the Reddit comments about cataloguers being paid “handsomely” reflects the idea that some within the library leadership may have that cataloguers get paid a lot for doing work which has little value with regard to progressing the goals of the library – or at least that’s the way that it appears to them on the surface.  For the most part, outstanding cataloguing doesn’t put a feather in the cap of the library or university.  However, bad cataloguing can make black marks on a reputation.  What I find highly interesting is that when those black marks show up, library managers don’t always make the connection back to the quality of the cataloguing.  Very recently I have heard leaders within libraries make statements which seem to imply that these black marks can be fixed by computer programmers – not understanding that the programs are working as they have been designed to work and the problem exists within the metadata or cataloging itself.  After successfully making the case that the problem exists with the metadata, I’ve also seen more than one case where a librarian will suggest that a programmer can somehow remedy the situation. 
In conclusion, perhaps the cataloging and metadata specialization does have a bit of an “image problem” but this is not anything that is knew or unique to librarianship.  There may be some limitations on how much cataloguers can expect the rest of the profession to take an interest in and understand their work.  However, many librarians and other library workers can and do understand and appreciate the work of cataloguers.  According to what I have heard in the last 3 weeks, it appears that the majority of cataloguers and metadata specialists feel that the source of the “overworked and underappreciated” problem lies with library managers and other decision-makers.  While I didn’t find any specific advice or approaches for dealing with this problem in all of the email and social media discussions I read, other than suggesting that I get another job, I think that a reasonable way to move forward can be inferred.  Cataloguing librarians and metadata specialists need to begin making a stronger connection between the work that we do and the objectives and values of those who manage their libraries and make major budgetary decisions when we talk about our work and the purpose for the current and upcoming changes.  I just read a document this morning that leads me to think that this will not be an easy task but, as I said in my previous post, I’m not one to sit around feeling sorry for myself.  Maybe I am feeling a little overwhelmed, though.
As for some of the advice offered to me from my colleagues around the world, rest assured that your comments remain in the back of my mind.  Most of all, I’d like to thank everyone for their interest and taking their time to share their stories and ideas with me.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Metadata Update #32 - Reflections on the status of the metadata librarian

Ever since I had the chance to change my focus in library work 8 years ago, I wanted to be where the action was.  I had spent many years working in public services and had enjoyed doing reference work in the era before people Googled everything.  However, when the reference desk started to get quiet, I knew that it was time to move on.  I didn’t know where I was going to but I knew that I was going to go to a place where I was needed and could help to be part of building whatever the future would be.  I kept my mind open to opportunities and felt that I likely would work in the area of electronic resources or electronic information in general.  When an opportunity came up to develop my skills in the area of cataloguing and metadata librarianship, I jumped on it.  At the time it made sense to me that if people want to do most of their searching for themselves, we have to have better and more agile metadata than we did at the time and I wanted to be part of the movement that would build it.

I’ve felt a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment with my work as I learn the new models and standards and do the type of work which was once a mystery to me.  I feel a sense of pride that not only have I learned the basics of descriptive cataloguing, classification, and authority work but that I’ve also learned FRBR, RDA, some fancy footwork in MARCEdit, and, more recently, have been dabbling in getting a grasp on BIBFRAME.  I think back to all of the time I’ve spent studying the twice annual updates to RDA and the new cataloging community guidelines for applying RDA, time spent providing instruction on all of this to library assistants, the one or two conference presentations I do each year, the handful of articles published and the book that I wrote in only about 9 months on managing eBook metadata and I wonder how I did it all.  I even started to write a column for Library Hi Tech News.  Certainly, the past five years or so of my life seem as though they have been both the most intellectually challenging and productive of any time previous.  Shifting one’s career is certainly a lot of work but as I was doing all of this, I felt that I was achieving my goal of being where the action is and adding to the pioneering work that will help to make the bridge to the next era in library work.    Each year my professional development expense fund is depleted after a single trip to ALA MidWinter and I find myself paying out of my own pocket to take other training while evenings and weekends can be filled with planning training sessions, reading email, preparing articles or conference presentations or reviewing the most recent RDA changes.  Sometimes I have definitely felt like things are getting out of hand but it was ok because I enjoyed what I was doing and felt like I was adding something of value to the discipline.

A series of major shocks hit me over the past 10 months or so which have shaken my level of engagement and have led to me to question why I am giving so much of myself to this new work.   While I still believe in the value of the work I have done this far, some days I wonder if I have it in me to continue.  Something had blinded me to the fact that at my library I am a voice calling in the wilderness, or maybe even more accurately, the proverbial tree falling in the forest.  I really don’t know if anyone hears me and/or, if they do, if they understand or care.  The first shock hit when I prepared a file to have my work, including my book, considered for merit.  For those not familiar with the process, librarians can make a report of their work and achievements over the past year and argue that what they have done is meritorious and, if their peers judge the work to be of value, will receive a raise in pay.   Being the only professional cataloguer at my library, I have the sole responsibility for implementing RDA and training library assistants in it as well as keeping up to date with all of the changes, setting up WorldShare metadata manager, and doing all of the other duties which are often split among librarians at other universities.  Despite having a heavy load, I was actually able to make considerable progress.  I had my book published last year, published a number of articles, spoke at conferences, received recognition from my cataloging peers at other libraries, etc.  I felt that I had the strongest merit case of my career to date.  I was shocked when I did not receive any merit whatsoever.  I was even more shocked when I found out that my colleagues got merit for media appearances, LibGuides, blog posts, and a handful of articles published.   I had created a LibGuide too but didn’t even report it because it just didn’t seem like a big deal.  The same was true for my blog posts.  At my library reasons are only given for why merit was given as opposed to why it wasn’t given.   The sort answer is, I suppose, that my work lacks merit.  However, when I spoke to a librarian about why certain achievements in my file were overlooked, her reply was “nobody cares”.  Then as it began to sink in that RDA was going to continue to change, a new FRBR model was in the works and it seemed that new guidelines such as those for cataloging music kept popping up and then changing, I decided that I should begin to push more strongly to have another professional librarian who would also follow the changes and developments and so that it would not all fall on me.  At that point I was trying to question why I was spending money out of pocket for training and as well as my nights and weekends doing work when “nobody cares”.   The second shock came when I was told that my work is “just not important enough” to justify adding another librarian and that I should just stop doing some of the work that I am doing if I can’t keep up. The latter phrase is something that I have heard since I first suggested that maybe we should have more than one professional cataloging/metadata librarian way back in 2013.  I went around in shock for a few days after I received that message and then decided to ask for clarification in terms of whether or not the intent was to tell me that my work was unimportant.  The clarification I received was that my work is unimportant relative to all of the other things that the library needs to achieve.  This hit me particularly hard.  Then, just a few weeks later an announcement that the library would hire a third systems librarian was announced.  After that I was basically told that I would just tell the systems department what all of the new standards are and that they would “decide” how to implement them.  I remember riding the bus home wondering how this all would work and wondered how a programmer could select a system where I would create NACO records after I “explain the standards”.  I asked for clarification as to how this could be possible and I was told that they are “responsible for the systems” and they need to “make the decisions”.  It then occurred to me that my colleagues really didn’t understand my work.  The library assistants whom I had been teaching RDA for the last 3 years get it but I don’t think that anyone else does.  A series of other minor shockwaves continued to rumble through my work days and I can definitely say that for the first time in my life I have entered a condition of disengagement.

I’ve never been one to go around feeling sorry for myself for a long period of time or to lay down and let things get to me so I need to do something to lift me out of this condition.  I do believe in the value of what I’m doing and the direction that the discipline is taking.  However, I also have to be honest about it being hard to keep going when a person can’t keep up with things, can’t get any help and get repeated messages about the unimportance of my work.  In recent months I have attempted to educate my colleagues about what I’m doing and why it is significant and have been met with rolling eyes and the statement, “you have to forgive us if we fail to get excited about this stuff”.  While the library assistants seem to be very interested in what I have to say and want to learn about the new things, I just can’t seem to break through to my librarian colleagues.

So, this is an unusual blog post for me but I would like my cataloguing and metadata colleagues to share with me their experiences and ideas.  Are others having the same struggles?  Have they been able to overcome the struggles?  Am I in an unusually harsh environment?  I’m willing to work hard and I love the work that I do but it’s hard to keep going when I have nobody at my institution with which I can share the work and keep getting told that my work is uninteresting and unimportant.  Funny, even when I worked in public service I thought that cataloguing was a core library activity and that it was important. I had no idea that so many librarians don’t value it.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Metadta update # 31 FRBR and a World Wide Metadata Collaboration

When I was at ALA MidWinter 2015, I attended the FRBR Interest Group meeting which was discussing the topic of whether or not FRBR was dead.   At the meeting, it was revealed that while some felt that BIBFRAME supersedes the FRBR model and makes it irrelevant, there are others who feel that FRBR is an essential model for teaching RDA and linked data concepts (at least as it relates to library data) as well as for using "cataloguer's judgement".  I tend to fall into the latter category of librarians.  At the end of the meeting, the conclusion was that the interest group should not fold and that FRBR still lives - although it is need of updating and enriching.

I attended the same interest group meeting at Midwinter 2016 to find another discussion of FRBR and the new Library Reference Model (LRM).  As it turns out, some attendees were aware the LRM had been released a few months earlier but nobody who spoke seemed to be knowledgeable about the document contents beyond being able to give their initial opinions of what they read.  This is understandable.  With the new models, it does take quite a bit of reading and reflecting to be able to make sense of them let alone evaluate or critique them.

Since then the FRBR Review group has created a blog at https://frbropencomments.wordpress.com/ where librarians can read the projected changes to the FRBR model (LRM) and post their comments.  Comments can be posted until May 1st, 2016.

I really love collaborative projects and I particularly enjoy it when the collaborations are international in scope.  We are undergoing massive changes in cataloging and metadata and the more heads that are working on the models, the better.  I look forward to seeing how successful this approach is in terms of generating deep, diverse and intelligent reflections on the model and what it means for the practice of creating metadata and the systems which use it. 

It is quite interesting to see that content from tweets is also embedded in the main page.  The rate at which change is occurring in our field and the global context in which the changes are happening seems to make the use of social media an increasingly critical part of both keeping up to date and discussing the changes as they are proposed and/or implemented. 

If you haven't had a look at LRM yet, you may want to have a look at the link to the blog.  You can find the document there as well as comments which have already been posted.  I think that it is exciting that we are starting to see metadata collaborations occurring in an open global platform such as this.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Metadata Update #30 Pollution vs. Perfection - why trying to get the metadata right is a challenge

Wow, time sure goes fast.  No wonder I got behind in writing my posts in the last year or so.  Now I have a bit list of topics which I have intended to write about but never got around to, some of which have since become irrelevant.  So, a few are easy to cross off the list.

There’s one topic which I see has been mentioned in some form more than once on the list.  As I was making an attempt to preview the April updates to the RDA Toolkit, I realized that I had not yet looked at the February 2016 updates.  (for those of you who want to check-out the April changes, they are found here:  http://www.rda-rsc.org/sites/all/files/RDA-changes-2015-proposals.pdf).  As I got over various twinges of frustration at my realization that I remain forever behind in reading the updates, I was reminded of the theme that I had found running across the various possible blog topics I had listed.  This theme was essentially the challenge of keeping up with things in times of change.  It definitely is a challenge which seems to be taking up an increasing chunk of my Sunday evenings!

Earlier this week I heard someone comment that she had been told that cataloguers are overly picky about things that don’t matter.  This is something that I have heard before too. I’ve heard that we obsess and want things to be perfect.  When I’ve heard this sort of comment, I want to laugh at how ridiculous it sounds but then I realise that the person making the comment really doesn’t understand so it would be rude to laugh.  With all of the change that is going on, I’m not sure what perfection is and I certainly don’t think that anyone would purposely fuss over things that don’t matter – not in the last few years.  Sometimes in times of change, it’s a challenge to sort out what matters and what doesn’t – that’s why I often have to go back to the basic models that the new theory and practice is built on.  In reality, I find that most days I try to sort through the models, instructions and guidelines and just do my best.  The idea of attempting to fuss around and attempt perfection sounds like something akin to attempting to set up a tent in the midst of a tornado.   In reality, we’re pulling the lawn chairs in and running for cover! 

Maybe it was true in the past that cataloguers would get some sort of power trip over creating records that perfectly aligned with the old cataloguing rules.  Maybe that level of standardization and “perfection” was irrelevant and laughable – it might be the foundation of a stereotype which seems to still exist today.  In print and siloed electronic environments, the need for standardization wasn’t all that real.  But things have changed a lot in a short period of time.  In the recent work I’ve been doing on our internal metadata flows, I’ve realized that one little code in a control field can cause a malfunction which can impact on other libraries across North America.  Does that sound a little over the top?  Well, that’s a trailer for an upcoming paper I hope to get published later this year.  I have the data to prove it.  Some of those little number and letters really are a big deal and you have to get them right.  What I didn’t fully appreciate until I set out to study what was going on in detail was how extensive of a problem could result from a consistent mistake in records.  The reality is that not only do our systems talk to each other but because of WorldCat and z39.50 our metadata can be scanned and used by external agencies for multiple possible purposes.   Bad metadata is like pollution.  If you put bad things in the air or water, it not only poisons your environment but it poisons the whole earth.  Yeah, it really does.  I’m talking like the David Suzuki of metadata.

We can see that we now live in a brand new world when it comes to information discovery.  The walls between libraries are gradually falling down and our metadata is moving and exchanging in ways we would never have imaged as little as three or four years ago.   In this new environment things do need to be certain ways for the global system to work.  But, how does a person know what to worry about and what to let go?  There certainly has to be some things that can be let go or else we would make ourselves insane!  This is the $64,000 question.  Unlike the contemporary “Who wants to be a millionaire?” there are no “lifelines”.  We have some reasonable ideas about what we need to focus on and what the best choices are but the reality is that time will only tell in terms of where we are on the right track and where we are making mistakes.  The models guide us but the models keep changing because people keep bumping up against their limits and finding places where they don’t work.  I suspect that only contemporary cataloguers who have been following the rapid succession of developments since 2013 would really understand or appreciate my statements in this regard.  Just like the work that I’m doing right now to uncover the results of some coding irregularities, I suspect that sometime in the near future there will be someone who will be combing through my work to massage out the problematic spots and replace them with more enlightened coding.  For the last 3 years I have increasingly come to embrace the idea that living with ambiguity is the name of the game and that part of learning is that we will make mistakes.  One of the cool things that I have been learning is that with all of the new tools we have at hand, it make take some brain power to figure out the problem and an approach to solving it but it may not take very much actual effort to implement the actions to rectify the problem.  Some of the outcomes we can now achieve with ease, we wouldn’t even being to attempt a few years ago.

As libraries move toward the transition away from our record-based metadata containers and toward linked data environments, the need to “get it right” seems more real and more pressing.  If one piece of data is intended to link to another piece of data and that other piece is either missing or wrong, it’s not hard to imagine how the web of links could be broken and our discovery systems could fail.  As we work all of this out, I can see how those from the outside could see that is nitpicking and useless worry about detail.  However, unlike in our former cataloging environments, the need to get things to line-up properly appears to be a requirement and not just the product of obsessions over perfection – if that ever truly was all that common.  It makes me think of the mechanic that might work on your car or the technician who hooks the gas up to your furnace.  I doubt that anyone would criticize the person doing this work as nitpicking or being unnecessarily careful in terms of making sure that all of the correct parts are in the place, that they have been installed correctly and are in good working order.  I suspect that it will take a while for the larger library community to understand the reality that we now experience.  We will need to help people to gradually come to understand it.  It didn’t happen overnight for us, so it’s reasonable to think that it may take even longer for those who have less of a vested interest in understanding it.  However, the comments are a little disheartening in the meantime. 

So, on the topic of linked data, I thought that a good tool for this update would be LC’s Linked Data Tool where you can look up uri’s for the various controlled vocabularies which have already been mapped:  http://id.loc.gov/

As one final comment for this post, I find LC’s comment about the LCC in the search engine to be both interesting and “telling” with regard to the subject of this post:  “LC Classification entries are not included in general search results. You must explicitly select LC Classification in order to search the scheme. This is temporary while the impact of adding LCC to the current system is better understood.”  Wow again.  LC doesn’t know?!  I think that it can provide the basis of a new mantra for cataloguers and metadata specialists “this is temporary until what we need to do is better understood”.  However, in the meantime we need to do our work so we do the best that we can knowing that we likely won’t get it quite right – let alone get it perfect, whatever that might be.