At a recent eScience Symposium conference at UMass Medical school the keynote speaker focused on how we have become jugglers in our attempt to provides services to those who deal with big data. This is very true. I think it is especially true for those who work in cataloging and metadata. This brings to a statement made by a colleague who recently graduated (she’s been working now at her first job for almost a year) and is now in a special library. In short and to paraphrase, she’s looking to expand and develop her skill set. She expressed interest in a list of “10 skills for metadata librarians” somewhere on the web. She’s been researching job ads and other materials out there. I’m not quite sure what “other materials out there” means exactly. But if you’ve been in the business awhile, you know that metadata skills and competencies have been written about for some time now. I found several good articles from 2000 onward that talk about skills and competences for metadata librarians. This subject is also an oldie but favorite one at conferences both regional and national. I’m sure she was able to find similar references as I with a quick Google search.
However, I was more interested in her reference to a set list of skills that metadata librarians need/should? have, especially when you take into consideration job advertisements. I mentioned that job advertisements are certainly a good way to keep an eye on trends. But it is better to view these advertisements with a critical eye. It’s necessary to know the lingo. Beyond that, it is necessary to have sense of the institution posting the ad. Is it a large academic library, small public, special library, archives? Another key to analyzing the job ad is to consider the unit in which the position belongs. Is it digital initiatives, cataloging? I also follow job advertisements to keep track of what’s new. I’ve noticed a trend with metadata librarian jobs. The first is don’t judge a book by its cover. Yes, the position states metadata librarian and manages to include the word metadata at every turn. But when you look closer at the skills, generally it is primarily MARC cataloging in all formats with some nonMARC knowledge, typically Dublin Core and MODS and hopefully some xml and xslt. This is the job that many catalogers have been doing for quite some time and tend to be found in newly renamed cataloging departments. The second is really a spin on the first except the proportions of nonMarc and MARC metadata are not the same. In this type of position, the metadata librarian has to handle any MARC workflow but is primarily the point person for metadata for digital collections. The third trend is a metadata librarian/programmer. This person works typically solely with nonMarc metadata, transformations, scripting, applications development. Skills are much more technical in this last trend including perl, java, python, php and the like. Now these are general trends and like all generalities misses many of the fine points. But it does highlight the concept I begin this post with, namely juggling. No matter what percentage of MARC or nonMARC cataloging, programming languages or not are required by the job, juggling is necessary. One day you’re looking at standards such as RDA, the next it’s VRA and then you’re writing a php or python script. This brought me to my other reply to my colleague.
Given the variety of skills and types of metadata librarian jobs out there, I suggested these are more a function of the expectations of the institution you work for. If you are looking for a job, then researching that institution and its trends is of the utmost importance. My colleague thought this was an interesting idea and proceeding to say that our positions are different because she works with homegrown systems whereas I don’t. Well, at that point it would have been nice if my colleague did some more research into the matter. Actually I think many of use homegrown applications no matter what your trend of metadata position. Think of MarcEdit. In fact, this is one of the joys and frustrations of metadata work. We have to work with a number of vended, homegrown and open source systems and make that work look seamless and easy. So perhaps if there are any skills that are really good to have for metadata, it’s being flexible and knowing how, when and what to juggle.