Where Are All the Metadata Librarians?

It has been an extremely busy semester! In between projects, I was able to attend three really great conferences: ENUG (Ex Libris Northeast Users Group) Working Conference, THATCamp (The Humanities and Technology Camp) and Islandora Camp. Thankfully, all of these conferences were either local or just a train hop away. This was the first time I attending all of these conferences. And what an eye opener! Not only were these not really *conferences* but I was one of the very few metadata librarians in the crowd.

If these weren’t conferences, then what were these events. ENUG was more of a working conference. It drew approximately 100 people in the New England area who work with or are about to work with Ex Libris products (the Voyager, Alma, etc. line). On the program, there was a presentation on RDA and authorities. So on a whim, I decided to attend. I spent two days with a majority of system librarians,  several acquisition librarians and other librarians who wear several hats in either IT or technical services. Beyond the presentation on RDA, the discussions went beyond the ILS and even metadata to touch on issues such as  ILS design and inner workings such as indexing, batch uploading or how to create better workflows using ALMA for example. The keynote speaker was Corey Harper who spoke about the need for linked open data. I really enjoyed the broader discussions and the keynote speaker.

THATCamp is modeled after the unconference model where instead of lectures there are seminars. The original THATCamp started at George Mason around 7 or so years ago. The aim was to provide an informal setting for those working in the digital humanities to work with and learn from one another. THATCamps are now sponsored locally all over the world. The one in New England tends to draw about 200 or so people from all specialities (libraries, museums, faculty, graduate students, IT, digital media folks, etc.). Like most unconferences, there are lightning talks, impromptu workshops, seminars, demonstrations, and much more. Interestingly, I happened to be one of the very few metadata librarians present. The large majority of attendees hailed from academia, other fields of librarianship (humanity liaisons), digital media specialists and digital library folks. It was great to work with researchers and their data as they work through TEI and Omeka for example. Thanks to attending this camp, I am now working with a faculty member in Nursing who is studying the history of nursing through interview texts marked up in TEI!

The last adventure I had this semester was Islandora Camp in New York City. Islandora is a front end administrative management layer to Fedora, an open source digital repository. Created by University of Prince Edward Island many years ago, it is now a foundation linked to such spin off companies as Discovery Garden who will set you up with your own customized Islandora site (or multisite). The Camp was originally started at UPEI to help those who decided to implement Islandora. Like many unconferences, lightning talks or dork shorts held sway, along with impromptu sessions and seminars. This was a small regional Islandora camp that brought around 50 or so people from the area. I happened to be the only metadata librarian there.

All of these conferences were fantastic. I learned a great deal about my ILS, the digital humanities and Islandora. Of course, all of this is extremely useful for my daily work. One of my priorities is to catalog the audio-visual materials in Voyager. I help our liaisons with data management and the digital humanities, especially with TEI. Lastly, my library has implemented Islandora.

I learned a great deal and was able to help on a researcher’s project afterwards. What was even better than bring back all this knowledge was being out of my element so to speak. There is a word in French that is perfect for this, namely “depayser”. Roughly translated, it means to be out of our element (or country). With all three of these conferences, I was certainly out of the element of cataloging and metadata since I was either the only metadata librarian or one of a handful in attendance. This led to great conversations and perspectives on my work that I hadn’t considered or wasn’t able to see. In other words, this was a great opportunity to go beyond silos and work on connecting and networking. It made me realize that projects involving metadata need this type of networking. Because our systems and workflows are so complex, it is very rare that one person will do all the steps required to get a resource from a vendor or an archival physical collection to the virtual or physical shelf. This involves a number of processes, people, and skills. It is in our best interest to break down the silos and work on our process and skills. This doesn’t lead to losing our jobs but better defining how we can fit into the process. Another way to look at this is that if we keep insisting that we work alone or that our work cannot be understood by others, we risk being eliminated from the picture. Definitely this is a simplification. But taking a moment to remove yourself from your element is essential. You’ll learn something new. But more importantly, you’ll insert yourself into a discussion on metadata and how it relates to wider issues. This provides more visibility to the importance of metadata and the role it plays within a system. Give it a try this year!


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