Catalog or Metadata Librarian

I recently attended the New England Technical Services librarians annual conference. This year, one of the breakout sessions was a panel of fairly new metadata librarians speaking about an informal interest group they created. They were part of a consortium of small liberal arts colleges. Not all who attended the group were metadata librarians as it was open to any interested in metadata. This is a fantastic idea to create a professional support group in your area. Networking aside, you can help one another with questions that are complex. During the Q&A, an attendee asked what the difference was between a cataloger and metadata librarian. The answer was revealing. In short, it was highlighted that a metadata librarian deals with bulk or a mass of records all of the time, non-marc metadata standards, discovery layer(s), and unique sounding tools and scripting languages (Python, OpenRefine, XML, XSL). One might be tempted to then make the jump to say the opposite of catalogers or….

Metadata Librarian Cataloger
Works in batch Works with single records
Works with non-marc standards Works with marc standards
Works with discovery layer(s) Doesn’t work with discovery layer (perhaps the online catalog)
Uses unique tools and scripting languages Works with marc based tools and no scripting languages

There are problems with this sort of binary assessment. And I don’t think the panel presenters would agree to this either. But there is something about the now old dichotomy of cataloger and metadata librarian. Let’s bread down this binary table.

Dealing with batch: I feel this comes from a generalization where batch activities are done by a systems librarian. This isn’t always the case. Also, for anyone familiar with MarcEdit, dealing with hundreds of records or more at a time is a common activity. Also, catalogers are able to deal in batch thanks to the work of those creating and maintaining records one at a time. In this sense, I really don’t see a big difference between the metadata and cataloging world.

Working with non-marc standards: The cataloger has worked with Marc standards because they are the de facto standards of the ILS and systems revolving around those ILS. Again, it is best not to generalize. Dublin Core began perhaps 30 years ago and has been used by catalogers. The world of repositories relies on other standards but many employ marc standards such as controlled vocabularies or name authority files. This is what I’d call a gray area. It is becoming even more so as ILS become more sophisticated with the ability to work in a variety of standards beyond marc.

Working with discovery layers: What is the difference between Primo and an OPAC? Is it just complexity? An OPAC is an inventory of what is in the cataloged that has been indexed to facilitate searching, browsing, access, and discovery. At their base, discovery layers are also indexes but more complex and wider in breadth than just an inventory of what the library owns or “rents”. Libraries long ago made the move to discovery layers and with that catalogers have had to be mindful of how records appear in those layers and how they interact with other resources being feed into the discovery service. Repositories and tools such as ArchivesSpace in this sense require a person to be mindful of how data appears in these discovery layers as well.

Unique tools and scripting languages: Catalogers have a variety of tools at their disposal. Many use scripting languages … does PyMarc ring a bell?  The tools are slightly different as a binary file requires a different tool than an xml or jsonLD file. Again, I think it might be a stretch to say one doesn’t use tools and languages and one does.

I think the work is similar. Both catalogers and metadata librarians strive to ensure contextual information leads to a successful search, browse, discovery and access within a multitude of systems and using a vast array of standards and tools. Thinking about this, I am beginning to wonder if it is not so much a difference of tasks or knowledge but the desire to see a profession moving past the catalog. Unfortunately, the cataloger is often compared to a data entry specialist even though this is not the work of the cataloger; yet back perhaps 30-40 years ago and even data for both catalogers and metadata librarians there is a data entry element (transcription anyone). But that term, cataloger, is tied to the catalog and the task to catalog an item in the catalog. Many libraries have moved on to inventory and discovery systems. These systems require looking beyond one record at a time towards the relationship of our records as they are created, managed, and exchanged between a host of systems. Could it be akin to systems design and thought? Let’s save that discussion for another post.

Continuing, I wonder if the panel presenters’ answers reflect the need of our profession to move beyond the term of cataloger. In a sense, this word has become associated with a particular type of job function. It seems that metadata librarian has a broader definition in terms of what is required for the job meant to encapsulate the changing nature of what it means to ensure contextual information leads to a successful search, browse, discovery and access within a multitude of systems and using a vast array of standards and tools. Does this mean it is time to put cataloging as a job title away? Is it time to even move beyond the title of metadata librarian towards a metadiscovery or metadata and discovery librarian?

I believe we can think positively of the title of cataloger. Our jobs today are built on this foundation after all. If changing to metadata librarian or even metadiscovery librarian helps us push the boundaries of our profession as it evolves, then we are all metadata librarians. It is not so much what makes a cataloger different from a metadata librarian. It is the natural changes taking place in our profession. To move forward, we need to understand what our predecessors did as much as possible. It is also crucial to stop diving the profession into 2 chunks of cataloger vs metadata librarian. Yes. Some of the tools, tasks, and knowledge difference between those who work primarily in marc based systems and those working in non-marc systems. This is true of rare book cataloging or electronic resources management (KBART?). I would say that we need to step back and see our profession that is evolving and often struggling with that.