There are a number of good resources that talk about the changing role of catalog/metadata librarians. This is a topic that I myself have talked about in past posts and in a recent book chapter. My focus has been on skills and new opportunities through initiatives. New roles and even librarianship today work increasingly with technology beyond typical word processors and application for spreadsheets. Having a basic knowledge of something like MS Office simply isn’t enough. If possible, those who understand how applications work in a broad sense are able to pick up most applications. This is how many librarians and myself learn new applications such as Open Refine or Sledgehammer. This process extends to learning about other tech skills such as scripting languages for example. New initiatives like digital scholarship offer opportunities to bring cataloging/metadata skills to the digital humanities or work with research data. In the midst of talking about skills and how to find a role for metadata in new initiatives, I overlooked another much needed skill, namely information organization.
One of my job duties is to train people to use Islandora to add and manage digital content in a repository. Islandora is not the easiest interface to navigate. Unlike some systems, the focus is not necessarily creating and managing metadata for digital assets. With Islandora, one can organize how digital objects are managed and organized. Some people are overwhelmed with the idea that they can organize their digital assets in their own concoction of collections and subcollections. Those who catch on the fastest tend to be those who are quick to technology and archivists. The former makes sense. What I’ve learned about many archivists is that they are trained or have learned to deal with collections from start to finish as holistically as possible. Those who have the most difficulty are those who have very little tech skills and cataloging librarians. When I train cataloging librarians to use this system, one of the first questions asked is where is the cataloging form (submission form)? The second question tends to be about how to add records as quickly as possible. The third is how to make updates on a global level to metadata in metadata records. These are excellent questions. These tasks and getting to a data entry form are essential to creating a context for digital assets. That way users know what digital asset they are looking at, where’s it from, if they can reuse it, etc. However, describing digital assets or managing their descriptions is only a part of what it means to add and manage digital content in a repository. It is necessary think about how these assets will be organized in the virtual space not just of the repository but also beyond. Further, digital assets are described not only by metadata created and managed in data entry forms or through a batch process of data created by individuals. They are described by audit trail information, harvest metadata, technical metadata, relationship data (in the case of Islandora/Fedora), citation link (we use handles), or access policies. Much of these data are created by the system or systems that interact with the various technologies of the repository.
Beyond tech skills and inserting catalog/metadata libraries into new initiatives, it is important to look at how to organize digital assets and objects in a virtual space. This is a skill that catalog/metadata librarians already have and can adapt to digital collections for instance. To do this is to look beyond records. One needs to look at information in terms of the relationships wanted and that are created and how data are organized. Both the relationships and organization of data has to be thought of in terms of how to maximize discovery, access, sharing and re-use. Diane Hillman talks about this often in her talks about metadata and linked data. Whether you’re working with MARC21 or XML, the problem is that this is the closed world of records. We need to break open this box. Breaking it open allows you to see data beyond the one in an XML or MARC21 (or even JSON, RDF, etc.) record. What are the relationships? What are the data in and outside the box trying to accomplish? It is not always the metadata created in a form that is the most important for a task such as re-use or even sharing. What’s interesting about this skill of information organization is that it goes beyond thinking of only records and it goes beyond thinking in terms of a set of standards. Don’t get me wrong. Standards are essentially. But sometimes, it is good to not think of information in this way. Again, this is stepping out of the box. What other ways are there to step out of the box?