I just finished reading Laura Smart’s new post, “What the heck is a metadata service?” This is something that I’ve also had to come to terms with. I was hired to be primarily the audiovisual cataloger with experience in electronic resources and metadata. Like many, my job has evolved and includes more metadata now than ever. The key was, and still is, to highlight the roles that metadata librarians can perform for other staff and members of my academic community. Like Laura suggests, it wasn’t the case that metadata (or cataloging) wasn’t a public service. The services provided by my library unit are mostly done in the background and very well. However, it was necessary to make these services “more visible” to use Laura’s expression. It was also necessary to add some new services.
How does one go about making metadata services more visible? Certainly MIT, Cornell, and Standford have done an excellent job. I have reviewed their web sites on metadata several times. Here, I decided to create a LibGuide, from Springshare. LibGuides aren’t fancy but an easy way to get content out there on the web. Another way of becoming more visible is to promote your services with people and at meetings. You can also volunteer for projects that involve metadata. Of course, the downside to many of these solutions is that some might accuse you of being everywhere and in everyone’s business. Another downside is that if you volunteer, it normally involves work on your part … on top of what you’re already doing. Another negative is that sometimes this simply isn’t enough. I have found it difficult to persuade people to think differently of metadata librarians and catalogers than just the police of the standards world.
Another important part of making services more visible is understanding that these services fit the needs of users. It is better for you as a metadata librarian to be able to connect to these users, understand their needs and also be able to talk to them about your services… in a way that they understand. It is this last point that is crucial. Over the last year and a half of having started to promote metadata services, talking about metadata and metadata services for users and even other staff members is sometimes very challenging. I’ve learned that not many staff and even less people in the community understand what metadata means. Because of this lack of understanding, they don’t recognize metadata when they see it and certainly don’t see the importance of metadata. I’ve also realized how many specific word-isms metadata librarians and catalogers use on a daily basis. Making our services more visible also consists in stepping out of this word and not using the word-isms. The narrative surrounding metadata will change depending on your users. Interestingly, I have found that in the science crowd, the notion of “documenting your data sets and/or research” is a way of explaining metadata. This might not work for the humanities crowd or the general public. Actually for the general public, I provide the following example. I first ask if they have ever been in a library. If they have, I ask if they’ve used a catalog. If so, I say that the information they see is metadata. If not, then I ask if they’ve used Amazon or something like it to buy stuff on the web. I then say that the information they see about the product is metadata. This explanation works fairly well, even though it doesn’t fully explain metadata or metadata services.
No matter the steps taken, this process is ongoing. Just like Laura mentions in her post, metadata services and technical services will evolve. There are certainly those who will resist. But the changes are already here. I see these changes as an opportunity to promote the hard work of metadata librarians and the services that are important for users and fellow staff.