How Can I Be A Metadata Pro?

I remember about a year and a half ago the department where I  worked was in the process of hiring an entry level metadata librarian. The department ended up with a recent graduate with skills in xml, web design, database, etc. and some experience with MARC21, etc. It could be said that our recent hire was more comfortable with technical skills such as xml and databases rather than cataloging serials or a/v materials in Connexion. However, with some training and practice, our recent hire caught on quickly. Or…at least the hire caught on quickly to how to do the actual work. Unfortunately, the hire had more difficulty with how to promote their skills learned in school to the department. Furthermore, the recent hire had difficulty promoting the value of the work done by the department. The unfortunate aspect to this difficulty is that promoting the value of cataloging and metadata isn’t necessarily something learned in a classroom. Many cataloging and metadata units have trouble promoting the value of their work and are thus unable to teach this skill to new hires. Other times, old stereotypes about what catalogers and metadata people do and what type of people they are can be hard to shake. And so, this problem of promoting the value of cataloging and metadata is one encountered by many departments, catalogers, and metadata librarians.

So how do you promote the value of your metadata work? First off, I don’t have the answer to this question. Like many in the field, I am searching how to do this better. But, in my search, I have had the opportunity to network and ask this question to those whose work I respect. These are departments where catalogers and metadata librarians are heavily promoting their skills, knowledge, and the value of their work. When I ask these people how they do it, interestingly they reply to start small. It is not so much about being a metadata pro as in professional to outshine everyone else but more a metadata promoter with the healthy sense to start small in key areas.

What is a metadata promoter besides the advice of starting small? What does starting small mean anyway? The advice I have received from these metadata pro are to become more involved in projects, learn the admin speak, become more flexible, and remember the public.

  • Get involved
This is a double edged sword. Many departments or units are understaffed and feel pinched in more ways than one. The idea of taking on more work seems ludicrous. However, the gains are enormous with getting involved. The advice I received consisted of several points. The first way to become involved is to seek out a test project with a limited number of your staff – typically one or two people. With a plan in place, a timeline, some training if necessary, this test can help you guide your way to helping your colleagues and community become more aware of the benefits of cataloging and metadata. A good example is the Miscellany Collection at Tufts, which began as a test digital collection. Another way to become involved is to get the word out there. People in the department can hold brown bags on cataloging, metadata, indexing, etc. The department can also create working groups on metadata, authority, and/or cataloging; these sessions can be open to get the opinion of others in the library as well as ensuring that your colleagues see what you’re doing. This is an approach taken by Indiana University Libraries and their digital brown bags. Another way to get involved is to touch base with your “clients”. I know many have an aversion to this word. But, cataloging and metadata has been for some time a public service. Remember the OCLC badge “Cataloging is a public service.” Set up an appointment with people you already work with and those you want to work with. Pitch your ideas, see what is working and what is not, etc. You might say that you already do this – there are already too many meetings at work. However, these meetings should be different in that it is an opportunity to promote the value of metadata, learn the needs of your clients, and see how you can help them do their work more efficiently. Take for example the initiatives of the University of Massachusetts where metadata folks play a role in data management plans and digital initiatives with their metadata guidelines, which include people other than metadata librarians. Other ways to get involved is to create documentation for your department. North Carolina State University has a good website for their department and one on creating documentation for metadata related projects.
  • Learn to speak to your supervisors and administration.

Let’s face it. Most of them don’t speak cataloger or metadata. I have people come up to me and say… “Oh you’re the data entry secretary” or “isn’t all of that stuff automated now.” The challenge here is to learn how to relate what catalogers and metadata librarians do in terms that other colleagues will understand. The trick is to lay to rest what myths and stereotypes are being perpetuated in your institution. The other trick is to formulate ways to communicate how cataloging and metadata can further your institution’s key agendas. For example, right now in many academic libraries, escience, which includes data management plans to a certain extent, is a hot topic. Data management plans require that people write a section on metadata. Furthermore, any big data set needs some metadata in order to be searchable. Going even further, to share data, it is necessary to understand in what framework that data was set. That data set’s metadata can provide that. There are a number of values to metadata that can be promoted with data management plans and escience that supervisors and administrators can understand. Actually in this area, there have been a number of workshops, online webinars, and the like.

  • Be flexible

We hear often hear this phrase. To become more involved and learning how to better promote your skills means that you’ll have to become more flexible with your time, schedule, and perhaps even your own myths and stereotypes about the work you do and the work of your colleagues.

  • Remember that this is a public service

This seems fairly straight forward. But I think the big lesson here is that we have to leave our offices. Take a look at many of the big cataloging and metadata departments. They offer “metadata consultation” services. Just like at the information desk or library chat service, catalogers and metadata people at these institutions are reaching out to their public. They are advertising their services. At the same time, they are promoting the value of cataloging and metadata. These consultations are for other library colleagues and the community served by the institution. In this sense, catalogers and metadata librarians serve a diverse and often demanding public.

These are just a few bits of advice that I have received from colleagues when I ask them the question: How do you promote the value of metadata? What advice do you have?

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