The tension of who, when, and why the title of cataloger and metadata librarian are used has been around for some time. I remember when I was still in my library program and saw that the title metadata librarian was key to how much in the cataloging profession was changing. Over the years, I’ve seen how titles are used, re-used, and often are there as drivers for strategic thought or current trends. When I got my first metadata job, it was different form the cataloging one I had been doing. Instead of doing one record at a time, as a metadata librarian I was handling thousands and doing much more batch processes. Instead of using marc21, my time was spent with MODS and Dublin Core. Rather than relying on MarcEdit, I had oXygen xml editor to help me solve data issues. Granted this was a naive view of my work. Batch processing has always been done in cataloging. Why didn’t I do it? Well I was a part time cataloger still in school and that type of work was reserved for the experience staff that were full time. Over the years and thanks to experience, I have reviewed many times my stance on the cataloger vs metadata librarian debate. In light of the close relationship that metadata and library content has with technology, I’m not sure either of these labels accurately reflect the future of these types of positions.
I have to take a side track to then come back to better explain what I mean. I was a conference just recently. I and some of my former colleagues got into a great conversation. One of my colleagues said that a metadata librarian didn’t need to know electronic resources or their management. Really, metadata librarians should be dealing with special collections. One of the primary reasons is that our systems now enable us to “turn on” packages that can be discovered by our patrons. I argued that this was a limited view of metadata. I saw the role of a metadata librarian that can certain “catalog” resources that don’t have records or that aren’t system generated. In this sense, metadata encapsulates the process of cataloging or creating that information to contextualize a resource in a particular system using our familiar tools of ILS or LSP, perhaps MarcEdit, Connexion, best practices, marc21, etc. However, I see that the role of the metadata librarian extends beyond this activity. It is also to help our colleagues understand how these records whether they be in marc21, MODS, Dublin Core, etc. are stored, managed, indexed, discovered, and accessed. This is particular true when it comes time to troubleshoot an issue. With my experience in Alma and Primo, the issue is more than often that of metadata – either in how it was brought into the system, erroneously stored, or managed ineffectively, or shared via systems that weren’t talking to each other. Since beginning my new positions, I heard this same explanation in terms of needed to troubleshoot issues. In this sense, the metadata librarian is almost like a data analyst with library data.
A generic description of a data analyst is: A person who collects and stores data on sales numbers, market research, logistics, linguistics, or other behaviors. They bring technical expertise to ensure the quality and accuracy of that data, then process, design and present it in ways to help people, businesses, and organizations make better decisions.
Translating this to the world of librarianship: the metadata analyst creates, collects, stores, and manages data on resources, usages, and other behaviors. They bring technical expertise to ensure the quality and accuracy of that data, then process, design and present it in ways to help our patrons find resources and our fellow colleagues make better organizational decisions.
This is a very high level view of metadata. And yes, this also means that librarians deal with metadata all the time. Many create and collect metadata as part of their daily grind and they don’t have to be metadata librarians.
What is special about metadata librarians? This is what I’m still exploring. My sense is that metadata librarians bring to the data a wealth of knowledge related to data standards for exchange, display, and management. For example, whey doesn’t the system librarian have to be a programmer and then also resolve issues of batch imports related to marc21? Wouldn’t it make sense to have metadata librarians work on batch imports? Many institutions now do this because the metadata people understand how this data is structured and works with other data in the system. This frees up time for the systems librarian to focus on the health of the underlying system. What about e-packages? Isn’t it just fine to just turn anyone on and let that package be discovered by patrons? Well, we all know the story of vendor metadata. It’s one of the good, bad, and ugly. Should we ask our ERM librarians to be aware of trends in e-resources, the vendors, orders, proxy, discovery systems, and data standards related to the library world? Metadata librarians can help in the evaluation of vendor records and where to access those records. Thankfully we have in many cases choices as to how we get these records for packages. There are a number of knowledge bases. And these large sets can be enriched by metadata librarians to fit the needs of both patrons and our colleagues. This frees up our colleagues to focus on their job. Of course you might say that this means that metadata librarians are doing more. The trend is that cataloging one resource at a time has decreased. We receive more in larger batches from more resources especially as our electronic exceeds our print acquisitions.
This perspective on the role of metadata librarians goes beyond just being the person to catalog one resource at a time. It involves breaking down the silos of where library units work solo. My view reflects the trend I see in ILS or LSPs. Our systems now are not as siloed as they once where. Especially with the next gen systems, it is possible to see the lifecycle of not just the resource but also the metadata in new ways -especially in reports and analytics. As I told a colleague recently, letting your metadata librarian learn more about the system doesn’t mean they will be the system librarian. Having your metadata librarian learn about the ordering process doesn’t mean that they will get up an order. This knowledge will however help the metadata librarian see more of the connections of metadata in librarian systems to be able to do their work better and certainly troubleshoot more effectively.