This is a phrase that has been around for quite some time. From my understanding, OCLC created a button with this phrase on it. On March 23, 2011, Roy Tennant was the keynote speaker for “Good Practices for Great Outcomes”. Indeed, Roy Tennant saw a badge an attendee was wearing that said: Cataloging is a public service. At the last ALA midwinter in January 2011, Jee David and Jino Wakimoto presented “Cataloging is a public service: repositioning cataloging and metadata services”. As I’ve been following this subject, which has also appeared in some ALCTS e-forums, I’ve asked myself in my own work how cataloging and metadata is a public service. The badge and re-organization can perhaps help depending on the situation. Beyond that, there are some ideas that I’ve seen help keep cataloging and metadata in the realm of public services.
Cataloging/metadata is a public service in the sense that we work with users, whether they are library patrons or fellow colleagues. Users don’t always understand what we do in cataloging/metadata. It is up to us to work with them to help them understand. This can be done during meetings, workshops, or in any number of professional activities.
To work as a team with users, I liken users to “customers”. There are some in the field who don’t like the word customers in relation to library patrons or other library staff. But I see that this word has value especially in how we relate to our users. It is not just about making sure workflows and practices are followed through. It is about going to the customer, making sure that their concerns are heard and listening to the customer and their concerns. And yes, everyone has an opinion about cataloging and metadata. This doesn’t mean that one would act on every opinion or wish. However, it is sometimes enough to just listen to these opinions. Listening can be an excellent opportunity to promote cataloging and metadata. It can also be a great time to see how people outside your department or unit see you, your workflows and policies. You never know. You might learn something.
To help promote and serve users, it helps to be transparent. If you hide your workflows and policies, the risk is that bad rumors can circulate since the information is hidden. Also, accusations can be lodged because only a certain elect few are in the know. With information that isn’t sensitive or confidential, the more people who know about our services, policies and workflows, the more these people can understand what we do and see the value in what we do. Also, if there are any sudden or non sudden departures in the unit, new hires can more easily learn the history of the department and learn how things are currently done.
Everyone wants you to be flexible. I’ve often heard that staff need to be flexible in terms of taking on more job duties. I like to see flexibility more in terms of leaving the back room and working more with the public. As catalogers and metadata librarians, we spend a lot of time in front of our computers…alone. I think we need to go out and speak to our users every once in awhile. In other words, we need to think about consultations not just for digital projects and their metadata requirements. We need to think about consulting with fellow staff every so often to make sure things are on track.
Promotion is a key component of cataloging and metadata. It is important to explain the value of cataloging and metadata. If there are new projects that involve cataloging and metadata, see how you can help. There are other ways to promote your services. Try a libguide. It’s a great way to get your services on the library website. You can also develop a ticket system that some IT departments have. Your department can also create a blog where you put out announcements about your activities.
Basically, there are a number of ways in which cataloging and metadata are a public service. The most important aspect to remember is that it is not just about service but services. The services are not just the action of cataloging or created metadata. They are the services that lead to a project, the project itself, and the aftermath of the project. It is an ongoing job to help our users and ourselves do our jobs.