Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Metadata Update #21: Standing on the edge of something new

This blog post was written at a point where my term position was coming to an end and I didn’t know if I would get the tenure track position which I did eventually get.  It seemed to make sense as a “metadata update” at the time but when I rediscovered this post the other day, I was less convinced of its relevance.  In the end I decided to edit the post and share it.


The summer of 1984 was about as hot as it gets in Saskatchewan, at least that is the way that I remember it.  All of my friends were getting summer jobs. With up-coming band trips and my budding interest in the latest clothes and records, I decided that it would be good for me to break out beyond the world of paper routes and babysitting to get a “real job”.

I don’t actually recall the details my first little resume but I’m sure that it was an impressive little sight with all of my babysitting experience, the various paper routes I had over the years and a reference from my piano teacher who I considered to be a very strict and “tell it like it is” person. I guess that I figured whoever read that resume would know my piano teacher and understand that if she says it, it must be true.

At any rate, on a hot summer day I braved the sweltering heat and headed out downtown on the bus in a too-heavy-for-the-weather purple top and pants.  I don’t think that I have ever owned anything so purple in my life since.  I think that I must have thought that I looked like Olivia Newton John or something!  At any rate, I went up and down the halls of the downtown mall with my hot little resumes in hand.  I stopped in at any store I thought might be of interest to me.  Most weren’t hiring or if they were, they didn’t want people who just wanted summer jobs.  A handful of the women’s clothing stores had me fill out applications but as I began to write my name in address, I felt in the pit of my stomach that selling slouch socks and stirrup pants and trying to look busy when the store was dead wasn’t exactly my thing.  However, I had resigned myself to giving any job that I could get a try and to be open-minded and adventurous.

Little did I know then that a decade later I would be the one who would take applications from young men and women who are all nervous and excited by the prospect of getting their first “real job”.   While it’s not something that is part of my work anymore, up until about 5 years ago I would get these resume treasures handed to me and I recognized the simple hopefulness, excitement and a little bit of fear in both the resumes which essentially have nothing to report and the eyes of the applicants which reveal a mind that really doesn’t know what to expect.  In the last few years when I was involved with hiring entry-level staff I noticed an increase in applications being randomly emailed to me or job searches that seemed to be largely guided by parents.  I sometimes wonder if some young people are missing out on the right of passage whereby they stand on the edge of adulthood with a practically empty resume in hand and a big hope in their hearts that someone will be willing to take a chance on them and give them a job.  Some may say that I don’t have a right to comment on the lives of today’s youth and maybe there are things about their world that I don’t understand.  A lot of change can happen in 30 years.  That being said, I believe that there are certain common human experiences and that we can experience them in cycles as our lives go through their various seasons.  I believe this as I find myself, in 2014, in very much the same situation as 1984.  I stand with my CV in hand and hope in my eyes.  Rather than hoping that those who read my resume understand what it means to be recommended by my piano teacher, this time I hope that those who read my CV understand and find some value in the work I’ve been doing for the last 30 years.  Maybe the people making the judgement are 10, 15 or 20 years younger than myself and I wonder what they think of what I have written.  As I find myself standing on that edge again, all that I can think of is that it is much easier to go through all of this as a teenager….

But, is there anything more annoying than someone beginning a story and not ending it?  Well then, I will finish my story.  After going through the mall I sat on a bench with two more resumes in my hand.  I thought about where else I might apply.  I pondered working in fast food but changed my mind as this is what many of my friends were doing and I had a feeling that I should try to do something different.  At this point the photocopied paper was a little soggy from warm hands in the hot weather.  I didn’t think that I should hand these resumes to anyone at that point so I started to head back to the bus which I ended up missing.  As it turns out, the bus stop was in front of the public library.  I decided to get out of the heat and go inside.  I walked upstairs to my favourite part of the library which had records and books about arts, crafts, movies and music.  I loved this part of the library and really enjoyed the fact that it was nicely air-conditioned as I flipped through records.  As I selected a few records from the “rock” section, I was distracted by someone who was shelving records.  I looked up and saw a young woman taking records from a cart and putting them into the bins.  People were trying to look at what she was putting away so that they could snap up the “best stuff”.  I thought to myself, “what a good job, you get to see all of the records before everyone else”.  I flipped around the bins for a while looking at records and then got up the courage to ask the young woman if she knew if the library was hiring people to work with the records.  She looked annoyed and grunted at me “in the admin office” as she turned so that I couldn’t ask any more questions.  I continued to look at the records for a bit and then walked over to the checkout desk where an elderly woman with a German accent was signing out records.  After the woman signed out my records I got my courage up once again and said that I wanted to apply for a job and needed to know where the admin office is located.  She corrected me by saying that I was looking for the “administration” office, not admin, and that it was located directly across the hall from the record department.  I turned to see the words “Administration Office” written in a dark black script on a glass door.  I felt a little embarrassed, thanked the woman and headed towards the office.

In the office I was greeted by a thin middle-aged woman with dark hair.  She looked very serious and was extremely soft-spoken.  I asked about applying for a job but almost as soon as I asked, I remembered my embarrassingly soggy resumes.  Fortunately, I didn’t need a resume.  I just copied information from it onto an application form.  I put a note that I really wanted to work with the records.  I then handed the application in to the woman at the desk who said thank-you and turned to make the piece of paper disappear somewhere behind the desk.  She then said goodbye so I figured that it was time for me to leave.  I went down the stairs with a bit of spring in my step and some hope that I might be asked to work in the record department.

A couple of weeks went by and I had, in the meantime, become busy with more babysitting and odd jobs.  I nearly forgot about the library until one day I got a phone call to come in for an interview.  As it turns out, it was August and the time for summer jobs was over.  However, the library was looking for someone to work with records and films on Sunday afternoons during the school year.  This wasn’t exactly what I was looking for but I thought that it sounded interesting and decided to go for it.  Once again, it was a very hot day and I had worn a black woolen suit for the interview thinking that this is what a person should wear in order to look “business-like”.  The woman who interviewed me seemed very shy and she looked at her hands the whole time.  I later worked with this woman and found out that despite her shyness she is an intelligent, interesting and dedicated librarian but at the time I had a hard time understanding why she was more interested at looking at her hands and the desk than at me when I answered questions.  It worried me that I was doing something wrong so I was a little relieved when the questions were finished and I was asked to put some books in order.  I did the best that I could and another woman came to look at them and said that I got the order right.  I was then thanked for my time and sent on my way.  A few days later I got a telephone call offering me the job.  I would train in August and then start my regular shifts on Sundays.  And, from then on I have pretty much always worked in a library.

So really, what does this all have to do with a metadata update?  The reality is that just as a middle-aged adult, for any one or more of various reasons, can be thrust back into a situation where the comfort of an established career and position are pulled, pushed or stripped away and find him or herself with toes hanging over the edge to some great unknown, so do I think many libraries are having a similar experience as they stand on the threshold of major change.  Some say that RDA stands for “retirement day approaching” while others are fascinated by the possibilities what linked data offers for the integration of library metadata with other types of metadata and structured information as well as what it means for the discoverability of library resources.  Of course, there are many other feelings along the way which run the gamut from doubt and scepticism, to fear and general discomfort, and to curiosity and the desire to experiment and innovate.   Maybe we are like the over-dressed teenager, walking around in confusion with sweaty, uninteresting resumes in her hands.  Maybe we need to give up on our resumes and black woollen suits and remember that deep in our hearts we think that it would be cool to work in the record department.  Maybe we need to find that vision that got us here in the first place.  What does that vision mean today and where might it take me?  I know that work is no longer about air conditioning and getting to see the cool records first.  In reality, that’s about as good of a vision as most adolescents can formulate.  The question is how that vision passes through 30 years and lives today.  I think that the first part of the vision is that I see myself working in a healthy, stimulating, supportive and energized environment.  Air conditioning is so far back in history that it doesn’t even hit the radar anymore.  That being said, if it were to disappear on a +35C day, I would likely start to think about it again.  The second part has to do with being part of the new and exciting developments and seeing how they all turn out.  As a teenager, I was excited about hearing new bands and new songs, deciding whether or not I liked the music and then seeing how well the music would do on the charts.  Once again, my teenaged vision was quite narrow and specific.  It’s not that I wouldn’t mind listening to the latest music every now and again in order to form my opinion, etc. but this isn’t exactly what turns my crank anymore.  It’s not that I like change for the sake of change but I love to watch how things develop over time and learn to see signs of when things are starting to really take off or when they start to falter and what happens after either of those scenarios.  That being said, I realize that not everyone has the same vision and that the change we are facing doesn’t inspire in others the same curiosity and energy that is stirred in me.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Metadata Update #20: April 2014 RDA updates

This blog post was originally intended to be posted in June 2014:

I’ve finally gotten around to completing my reading about the April 2014 changes to RDA.  As is the case with reading the details of any descriptive cataloging standard, it’s enough to either give you a headache or put you to sleep if you try to focus on too much of the detail at once.

I do have a few comments to make about this update.  First of all, many of the changes are, in my mind, just clarification of the points which help to bring metadata creation away from the world of trying to fit as much information as possible onto a little index card and into a complex international information environment.  For example, it is reinforced that for serials you don’t assume that users understand that “v.” stands for volume.  Instead, volume should be spelled out as such as should issue.  This does make sense in an international, multicultural and multi-generational environment.  Certainly, for many users “v” stands for the Roman numeral five and in other parts of MARC records (such as where pagination is notated) “v” definitely does represent the Roman numeral 5.  As library workers and metadata creators we can’t change the fact that publishers tend to number the preliminary content of the print publications using Roman Numerals but we can control how we record information in our records and we can continue moving toward the goal of creating records which will be understandable today and sustainable into the future.  Many of the changes in this update reflect movement towards that goal.

My second comment is one of concern.  I am not one who supports rants in blog posts but this one exception.  I realize that many libraries and information contexts wish to harmonize the past with the present in terms of the continuity of format in their metadata records.  But doing this must be done in a reasonable way and resources shouldn’t be wasted on continuing practices which have no pratical purpose in the long run.  Some of the “options” which are increasingly creeping into the updates appear to be reactionary rather than moving the progress of metadata creation into the future.  It could be that I am misunderstanding the purpose and intent of the options but at this point I haven’t seen an explanation that makes sense.  If, for example, ISBD punctuation is no longer seen as necessary or required in a linked data environment and if the applications which are used to display the results of searches can be designed to implement suitable display of records, including punctuation, why do we need to have options which “allow” for an obsessive concern over spacing and punctuation which no longer seems relevant?!  Why do those involved with cataloging RDA in MARC continue to make it such a big deal whether or not centimeters, as abbreviated, has one or two periods after it?  If I ever read or hear that debate in a serious forum again I think that I will pull out every bit of my voluminous hair!          

My wish for the near future is that the cataloguing and metadata community revisit the original vision of RDA, FRBR and FRAD and begin to question their assumptions and beliefs.  In today’s economic environment, very few libraries have the resources to waste on having highly-paid, highly-trained staff obsess over punctuation, spacing and even things like shelf-listing when these aspects of the records they create have very little impact on the functionality of the records or bring little benefit to the users.  In my last blog post I noted how much work needs to go into an RDA record for some non-print resources to make it as functional as it can be for those who are trying to discover and use that resource.  In my opinion it would be so much better if the cataloguing community could learn to let go of those things which were important in the past for reasons that no longer exist and focus on creating those highly discoverable records which following RDA has the potential for creating.

Just as I don’t generally like ranting blog posts, I also don’t like it when people complain repeatedly about something but don’t make any sort of effort to either accept what they don’t like or do something about changing it.  At this point, I only have a couple of months left in my term and one of my goals while I am still in this position is to seek out opportunities to educate anyone who will listen about the future of metadata and why the focus of our attention and our energy needs to shift.

Metadata Update #19: CLA 2014

I attended the Canadian Library Association’s annual conference in Victoria British Columbia on May 28th to the 31st.   The setting and the spring weather were wonderful.

Notice that I haven’t used the usual abbreviation of CLA seeing as for some of my readers the abbreviation CLA stands for California Library Association.   The two large library associations which are both commonly called CLA has definitely confused me in the past.  Of course, in thinking about RDA, I see another situation where limiting the use of abbreviations where the audience for either a metadata record or a piece of writing moved from the local to international sphere.

This was my first time attending CLA and I wasn’t quite about what to expect.  In the previous two years I had attended ALA Midwinter and had come to enjoy the highly specialized meeting and presentation topics as well as the fast pace of the event.  In looking at the CLA line-up I was a little concerned that I may not find enough there of interest to me to justify exceeding my professional development account to attend.  In the end, I was quite pleased with the conference topics, various discussions I was able to have with other librarians and the ability to network with Canadian librarians and library assistants in general.  Rather than turn this post into a review of the ups and downs of the conference, instead I would like to focus on two sessions which I believe were of particular concern to those following this blog.  Specifically, I attended a preconference on cataloguing non-print materials in RDA and a session which presented some research on RDA implementation across Canada.


I’ll start off with the preconference session.  This session was a full day one presented by members of the Pan-Canadian Working Group on Cataloguing with RDA.  In addition to getting some hands on practice with the content being provided, I also appreciated getting an opportunity to talk to both librarians and library assistants from across Canada who catalogue and copy catalogue non-book format resources.   It was particularly interesting to hear about their successes and challenges with cataloguing their materials and their progress or lack thereof in implementing RDA locally.  I also learned more about the diversity of approaches across library sectors in terms of training for and the assignment of copy and original cataloguing.  Rather than do a play-by-play of the fine details of what I learned at the preconference I’ll do a bullet-point summary of my high-level learnings.  For those who would like to look at the details, they have been posted by the preconference presenters at this website:  http://cla.pwwebhost.com/conference/2014/ .  This is my summary:

·         Non-print resources have some particular characteristics which are relevant for discovery and retrieval for patrons who use those resources.   A generic appropriate to RDA won’t generate useful records for these patrons.  As a result specialist communities of cataloguers have been putting together supplementary guidelines for RDA cataloguing for specific formats or types of resources.

·         With non-print resources for which contributors such as performers, directors or illustrators are equally or more important than those persons or organizations who would traditionally be found in a 11x MARC field, without the guidelines and an understanding of the ways in which these resources are used, it is very difficult to create a truly useful discovery record.

·         RDA’s focus on controlled access points result in a highly useful record but can mean that a significant amount of work in terms of verifying names and uniform titles, for example, can go into creating a single record. 

·         Based on those who attended the preconference, there appears to be a fairly wide gap between late-career specialist library assistants who do copy cataloguing and limited original cataloguing of non-print formats and the newer metadata librarians who are expected to handle all resource formats and metadata schema.  The gap is not so much an age gap, although one does exist to some extent, the gap appears to be with regard to training and experience, vision of cataloguing and metadata creation and an understanding of the role and future of the metadata created today.  Because I attend such specialized meetings and sessions at ALA, I don’t generally get the opportunity to see the evidence of the gap.  The librarians who attend those specific sessions at ALA are generally doing the same sort of work and see themselves headed in more or less the same direction.  This definitely was not true for this preconference and listening to the divergent views and ideas about RDA reinforced in my mind the idea that what has traditionally been considered technical services in libraries is on the upward curve of a massive change.

The rest of what I learned are details which can be read in the documents posted on the website I mentioned previously.


The second session I would like to discuss was called RDA Implementation in Canada (see http://cla.pwwebhost.com/conference/2014/thursday.php#147 ).  The session was largely presented by the same people who presented the RDA preconference session.  The presentation focused on data collected through a survey done by the Pan-Canadian Working Group on Cataloguing with RDA in the months leading up to the conference.  I found the outcomes of the survey somewhat interesting.  In general, RDA implementation in Canada is quite low.  Exceptions are in academic libraries with Western Canada being a leader for RDA implementation.  Those libraries which employ a member of the Pan-Canadian Working Group on Cataloguing with RDA or have a library school associated with them tend to be the most likely to have a robust RDA implementation while libraries in the North and Ontario are significantly behind the rest of the country.  Some of the major struggles with RDA implementation appear to be the general lack of resources (time, information, funding, etc) to get staff trained and supported during an implementation.

Questions asked during the presentation and attendee discussion afterward were quite very interesting.  Among those libraries who have not taken any significant steps toward RDA implementation, the problems associated with not doing so are becoming increasingly evident.  One librarian from a northern special library reported converting RDA records to AACR2 and stripping out valuable RDA coding in the process.  It seems that even the smallest bit of information about RDA, what it is, how it works and the ultimate goals associated with it are greatly appreciated by those working in libraries who are somewhat isolated from the bigger picture of what is happening in the LIS field. 


In looking at the survey data and listening to the discussions, it appears as though the University Library is among the leading edge libraries in Canada in terms of RDA adoption and moving metadata creation towards the emerging international standards.  While this is definitely a good feeling, reflecting on the work that it took our cataloguing group to get to this point and the lack of time and resources some libraries have, there is a concern about what it might take for the majority of Canadian libraries to “catch up”.  Of course, not all libraries will ever catch up but if we want to continue to have an exchange of metadata to support the research, teaching and learning needs of our users, we do need to have interoperable metadata and much of that metadata needs to come from small and specialized libraries.


There were other very interesting sessions I attended and even a technical services round table session but I thought that these two sessions were the most important to blog about. 


Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Technical troubles!?

To my horror, I see that I have four blog posts which I wrote going back to this spring which I never published to this blog. 

I see that a couple of them are out of date.  I'll update them and start posting them as time allows.

With all of the editing tools in Blogger there is no reason to type out my posts in Word and then cut and paste them in here so I'm going to stop doing that.

I was getting ready to type out my November post which is a follow-up to my Library 2.014 conference presentation when I discovered this...so, it looks like you'll actually get five blog posts in the next month or so.  Nothing like doing everything at once.

Check back in a few days once I've had a chance to update my CLA conference update.