I’ve talked about how the term “metadata” has become associated with so many jobs, tasks, or titles that I wonder if the term has lost much of its meaning to be helpful. I was reminded of my question while reading a recent thread on what to call catalogers. The term metadata came up. Another reminder was my supervisor who stated that everyone in her department does metadata. I’ve heard over the years on how people create metadata, do metadata, transform metadata, perform metadata tasks or are metadata librarians. I’ve read articles on the merits of metadata or the sad stories of what’s lost with no metadata. With each one of these cases, metadata is slightly different. My supervisor was referring to descriptive information entered and/or manipulated in Connexion, our ILS, or perhaps MarcEdit, a cataloging tool, before being loaded into our ILS. This description information is not really converted from another format. It tends to all be in MARC21 that needs varying degrees of local manipulation to conform to local practices. Some of my colleagues who have said that they create metadata sometimes refer to this process I just described. Others create metadata by entering information in web forms for digital repositories. Those who speak about transforming metadata typically work with xml editors, xml and xslt to convert an xml file of one structure into a different xml file of a different structure. In general, structure here refers to a particular metadata schema or an xml file that is a data dictionary. If you write an xml file in English, you use the English dictionary. Similarly, if you write an xml file in MODS, you use the MODS standard. Some of my colleagues who say they transform metadata tend to know some scripting or programming languages such as Python. Some of my colleagues who have said they perform metadata tasks talk about developing best practices for encoding content and content standards. In a sense, all of these examples illustrate that my colleagues create and edit information that contextualizes resources of all types in different software applications and for different audiences. You could say that despite all of these differences, the glue is that metadata is just data. However, a fellow colleague didn’t see metadata this way. For her, metadata was content entered into forms; of course, this could be just a matter of different perspectives.
It is these perspectives that highlight one important thing about this profession that deals with metadata. Namely, we are still a growing in terms of the diversity of tasks out there for us to take on and learn. This is what makes this profession so much fun. There is just so much to learn. One can take their job into so many different directions (hopefully seen as a positive and encouraged by their institution). In this respect, it is a good thing that metadata is elusive. Hopefully we won’t be able to pin it done to one task, one job, or one type of librarian.