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.