Bradford Lee Eden on Technical Services

In the current issue of Information Technology and Libraries (June 2010, v.29, n.2), Bradford L. Eden, Associate University Librarian for Technical Services & Scholarly Communication at UC Santa Barbara, wrote an article called, “The New User Environment: The End of Technical Services?”. The claim that technical services will die either a slow or quick death is something many of us have already heard in many flavors. Does anyone remember Tennant’s death to MARC? The twist with Bradford’s article is not that he predicts that technical services will end by a certain date. On the contrary, technical services as a unit within the library will undergo or should carry out drastic changes to meet the needs and demands of users today. Bradford concludes that staff in technical services are still needed because of their skills to organize and describe information.

He writes:

…technical services staff, with their unique skills, talents, abilities, and knowledge in relation to the organization and description of information are desperately needed in the new information environment. It is the responsibility of both library administrators and technical services staff to work together to evolve and redesign workflows, standards, procedures, and even themselves to survive and succeed in the future. (page 99)

This is Bradford’s conclusion. He begins by offering a picture of where we’re at currently and some suggestions as to how to get to this future. I would like to highlight some of his points that I find of particular interest and importance.

  • Instead of complaining that no one understands or appreciates technical services, consider what catalogers/metadata specialists already do and can do
  • Instead of fighting change, accept change in ways that support technical services to meet users needs
  • Instead of staying in the back office, go out, seek support in new ways, and leave the office

Though these points sound like news bits hot off the press, there is some very good advice in what Bradford offers in relation to new skills for those in technical services. It is necessary to open up to more collaboration with colleagues and users. Whether you want to refer to these people as catalog or metadata specialists, it is necessary in particular in organizing and describing digital collections to speak to everyone involved. This requires an understanding of how to interact with the public, project management, and definitely IT skills among other things. This also requires being flexible because change is becoming more of a constant within technical services. Whether it is a new format, a new standard, new information or new user needs, it is necessary to be able to assess these changes and adopt those that really do help users with their information needs.

Bradford is right on the spot when he says that catalogers or metadata specialists (I use the two interchangeable not Bradford) need to be comfortable in both the print and non print worlds – meaning AACR2, RDA, metadata schemas, XML, data collections, batch loads, automated metadata, and the like.

However, I don’t agree with Bradford on everything. For example, take this excerpt on WorldCat Local:

The appearance of WorldCat Local will have a tremendous impact on the disappearance of proprietary vendor OPACs. There will no longer be a need for an integrated library system (ILS); with WorldCat Local, the majority of the world’s MARC bibliographic records are available in a Library 2.0 format. (page 95)

The switch from several integrated library systems to OCLC’s WorldCat does not seem to me to be one of dropping vendors all together. Sure, OCLC is officially known as a non-profit organization. Yet, I think we all know that many of their practices resemble those of a vendor. I see this switch that Bradford describes as going from many vendors to one.  I’m not sure that WorldCat Local is the answer, especially if records are in MARC.

Despite some differing of opinions, this is a short but good read from Bradford. It will definitely get you thinking of how to try creative things in technical services or at least see how to approach the changes that are already here.

7 thoughts on “Bradford Lee Eden on Technical Services

  1. Brad Eden

    I agree. It is a shame that they can’t see the larger purpose of the article, like you have. But there are those out there in the profession who feel that any change whatsoever is bad. I sometimes wonder whether they see the bigger picture. Again, thanks for the overall objective opinion and posting regarding my article

    1. Jen

      It is too bad as you say. It’s hard enough putting thoughts and opinions in front of critical eyes. But change is already here. Not that I can predict the future but even in the past 2 years were I work, we have many new workflows, a new name, and the realization that changes will keep coming. Thanks for your comments.

    1. Jen

      Thanks for the link. Not sure what to say except that other than attacking an individual, there are more inspiring ways to disagree with a person’s ideas.

  2. Brad Eden

    Jen: thanks for at least reading the article through, and seeing that I am providing a new future for technical services, not an end. More than Jeffrey Beall read, I’m afraid.

    1. Jen

      Brad: I’m not familiar with Jeffrey Beall. If you have a link to review that would be great. I enjoyed your article because it was positive focusing on change. I also liked how you emphasized the key role that catalogers or metadata librarians can play because of their skills in organizing and describing information. Too often, I’ve heard defeatist views about catalogers and cataloging. It’s great to read the opposite perspective.

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