In several of my past posts, I’ve talked about change. In relation to the metadata services, I put out the survey because I feel that a change is needed where I work. More specifically, as users’ needs change, the way we help them, aka do business, also has to change. I’m not advocating for giving up cataloging or saying goodbye to MARC. Our users also need our expertise in describing materials that the library owns, borrows, leases and might potential lease, own or rent. This is one aspect to metadata services that is complex. It means advocating for change while also keeping the same services levels that we’ve kept with other workflows. This is not always easy or wanted because unfortunately it does mean extra work and inevitably training and skill building.

This week, I read a fantastic post by Sally Gore at “A Librarian by Any Other Name” called “Follow the leader”. She refers to an article, “Convincing Employees to Use New Technology” by Didier Bonnet at the Harvard Business Review. Briefly the article provides tips on how to go beyond technology implementation and how to successfully have technology adoption. According to the article, one of the primary reasons for not adopting a technology is that the effort was in the technology’s implementation and not its adoption. Further, new technology tend not to affect a change in how business is done creating a noted conflict from the start. To help adoption and change business practices in our digital working environment, Bonnet provides the following tips: do fewer things better, plan and budget for adoption, lead by example, engage true believers, engage HR and organizational people sooner and better, align rewards and recognition.

Sally Gore focuses her post on leading by example. She explains that many still say no to new technology. I would go further and say that many still say no to change that makes one feel vulnerable in the workplace. Her post has some great examples but finishes with the idea that in library land, our leaders need to be examples.

We need this same kind of leadership in libraries, in the Academy, and in other areas of science. Those of us who see and/or have experienced the value of implementing new technologies into our work need to be fairly tireless in banging the can for them. We need to continue to lead by example and hopefully, in time, we will all reap the rewards.

This is a great post and the original article is worth reading. I agree with Sally that our leaders need to be examples for not just new technologies but changes that help us meet the changing needs of users. However, it is not always the case that our leaders are ready to lead by example. It is important to incorporate the change and new technologies into your own workflow. In other words, everyone needs to lead by example.

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In my last post, I ended with the question of how to get the resources you need to create and deliver metadata services. I should say right now that I’m not sure really how to do this effectively. One issues is that metadata services is a very vague subject. What are metadata services? And then who delivers those services? There’s also the question of change and how change is accepted in your institution.

One of the reasons I put out a survey on metadata practices in digital scholarship was to find out what these practices were. Further I wanted to see it people had any suggestions or things that they tried at their institution that helped create and deliver such services. The second reason was that I was interested in seeing what is meant by a “public” metadata service. I wrote the survey around the time of the ALCTS e-forum on public service and cataloging. The majority of participants told stories of how they work at a public “desk” in the library and how their cataloging skills helped them find information faster and more efficiently for the patron.  With metadata services, I believe there is a public component. You might not sit at a desk for a couple of hours per day. But you are on call to answer questions from staff or patrons and then also you set up appointments for longer consultations. For myself, these public reference and consultation services concern almost exclusively digital initiatives (research data, digital humanities, and our digital repository).

Let me return to resources because I wanted to know how people responded to needs of metadata (creating, enhancing, transforming between various standards, best practices, etc.) in digital scholarship with a small staff and few resources for training. There was one respondent who described a pilot project at their institution. The respondent explained that the pilot project was a new attempt to provide services to those who work with research data. Essentially this pilot brought together several staff across units: metadata librarian, subject specialists, programers, digital librarians. Their goal was to draw on each others strengths to create a toolkit for faculty who produce research data (most likely in the sciences). This toolkit included tips and ways to get help from this team in the library. What I found interesting was that to have the staff resources necessary, this institution brought together a team of people who work in different areas. To help with training and time, this team helped each other learn together as they developed this toolkit for faculty.

This is something that my institution has had to do as well. No one person can handle all of these services together. This includes metadata services. With research data, often the researcher has the best handle on their data or at least you hope so. They might need guidance in terms of making it more accessible to a certain user base or more consistent for re-use for visualizations for example. However, they are the data owners not you. This allows the metadata specialists to work with a fellow data expert. When you add a subject specialists, you add another specialist who understands the researcher, their work and their “framework”. In some cases, the subject specialists has or participates in the researcher’s type of project. What is more is that the subject specialist also understands the library’s goal of helping the researcher with whatever they need help with (perhaps a data management plan, a digital humanities project, creating a timeline, submitting research to a repository, …). When you add a digital initiatives or even a programmer, then there are more people to share ideas and move forward. Instead of one person or one unit trying to respond to needs, you have a group working across silos.

With the survey, I would say that a majority of respondents worked across silos in their institution. I would venture to say that even the largest and well funded institutions don’t have all the resources they would like. To offer services, it is necessary to have a group effort. That way staff rely, learn, teach, and help each other.

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Understaffed : It’s not as bad as you think

I have written a number of posts on the disadvantages of being in an understaffed unit and/or library. Many of us work in understaffed and unfortunately underfunded libraries. So, many of us also know the difficulties faced with being a solo anything. In this post, I wanted to focus on the advantages of being a solo everything.

  • Job security: I thought I would start with something light and funny. Yes, being understaffed means there’s a lot of work that piles up. I’m not sure if this boils down to job security. However, when faced with numerous tasks and what seems to be an endless workload, one sees the work differently. In my case, as there is always work to be done, it is good to get away from the job and do what I need to and get re-energize for the next day. Of course, there are always priorities while other projects sit. I don’t always get to everything on my to do lists. I like to know that during my down time there are projects that are waiting and thankfully can wait to be finished.
  • Variety: In large cataloging/metadata units, you take care of an aspect of the process. Perhaps you’re the music cataloger, the serials cataloger, or digital humanities metadata specialist. In smaller libraries or libraries that are just understaffed, you might be the MARC cataloger and resident nonMarc metadata specialist. This means that your day is filled with different tasks. Perhaps you start with a streaming video, move on to TEI with a twist of linked data, followed by a dash of data for a data management plan. You might even end your day with regular expressions. This is definitely calls for a high level of flexibility to move from one system to the next. I have found that this type of variety inspires me to learn more about what I don’t know. This variety also helps me to better realize how metadata is really crucial for much of the research we do today. Whether it is publishing a data set, creating a digital collection or entering a bibliographic record into the ILS, metadata helps people contextualize what they are looking for and of course helps people access, discover and find what they’re looking for.
  • Independence: It is often the case that in understaffed units you are left to your own devices. This is simply because everyone in your small unit has the same problem as you, a lot of work. Everyone is pretty much very busy. As a result, you are left with the great advantage of thinking out of the box, on your feet, and taking on perhaps more leadership in roles than in larger libraries. This is not to say that in larger units staff on the ground don’t take on leadership roles. Of course not! However, in a small library, you are most likely the resident expert. If you’re like me, that’s a scary thing because I certainly don’t feel like an expert. But this means that you make decisions that affect library wide decisions. It also means that in addition to doing actually work on the ground, you also are more than likely developing best practices for your shop! What an experience.
  • Always learning: I spoke to a colleague who worked in a very small library before his current job. He did a little bit of everything and almost became the interim director. I’ve also had the opportunity to work in many areas of the library. This is great and invaluable experience. Because of that, I can help out at the iDesk or with reference questions where I work now. I think this type of experience is also helpful to understand what your colleagues do in a larger institution, which in turn creates more of a community of understanding.

Of course, there are limits to being a solo everything. Some libraries are so understaffed that some of the work just doesn’t get down or more critically the library closes. Thankfully I work at a medium sized library. Though I now work in a unit, I still get to help out in various other areas and continue to promote that community of understanding. And I still get to learn.

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