Category Archives: cataloging

The Problem with Records

In the past several weeks, I’ve been fortunate to have attended several one day conferences. In this post, I want to highlight a presentation by Diane Hillman called “Moving to the Open World: It’s not as scary as it sounds”. This presentation was on how linked open data can work for library data in terms of making our data accessible and discoverable by others. This was a fantastic presentation and one of Diane’s best. Out of all the information in the presentation, I want to highlight an important theme that not only Diane spoke about but that has come up before in reading about library data. This is that using xml to describe items is not very different from MARC records. To put it differently, with xml, we create records or documents that are hard to share, expose and provide relationships for the pieces in the xml record. On slide three of Diane’s presentation, she explains that xml assumes a closed world and the xml record is the equivalent to a metadata record or MARC record. What does she mean? For library data and when xml is implemented, the large majority are implemented according to what is called a schema and written in XSD or extensible schema definition. A XSD outlines the requirements that an XML needs to follow to conform to that XSD. Let’s take the analogy of languages and dictionaries. To write effectively and clearly in German, it’s good to know how to spell words and basic grammar. This is syntax and semantics, which is outlined in an xsd. To return to the world of libraries, to implement the metadata standard of MODS or Metadata Object Description Schema is to create an xml file that follows the requirements outlined in the MODS xsd. And we are familiar with this type of analogy. To create a record in my ILS, I have to follow the MARC and RDA standards. Just like a MARC record, one in XML has text in it. For example, a Dublin Core record has the elements in the angle brackets and textual information between the opening and closing angle brackets. We can move these XML records around through harvests or data migration. We can transform them into different XML files according to different metadata standards. We can display the information in the XML. This is no different from what we do with MARC records. And this is the closed system. We need to break out of this closed system. Of course, RDA attempts to do that with its focus on relationships. Another way is to use linked data. To varying degrees of success this can be implemented in XML. There is the MODS RDF ontology. Though there are a few linked open data projects mostly by large research universities like Stanford and Cornell, I am not aware of any institution using MODS RDF ontology. However, MODS RDF along with BIBFRAME express the need to make data open and shareable on the web. I would definitely recommend Diane’s presentation.

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Evolving Role of E-Resources Librarian

I didn’t find my session on workflow efficiency. However, I attended a great session on how the role of electronic resources librarian is changing. I wanted to share with you my notes from the session because the presenter did a great job of asking the question about how everyone’s role in the library is changing. The presenter was Monica Moore from the University of Notre Dame Libraries; her slides should be up soon on ALA Connect.


Monica Moore presented a captivating topic which she introduced as how the role of electronic resources librarians has evolved. What made this topic interesting was that Monica delved into the meaning of “role”. She began by looking at how job titles have changed over the years. Is the title “electronic resources librarian” meaningful? Does it represent what these librarians do? Is it an outmoded title almost akin to the phrase “technical services”? Monica began asking these question because her role has changed. Increasingly, it is becoming apparent that librarians in technical services have to be better communicators and educators. Monica explained that her role has increasingly become one of an interpreter. As such, she must not only communicate but also educate her colleagues about the technology and systems underlying her work in electronic resources. This begs the question of how to communicate this effectively when certain issues that are brought to the attention of the electronic resources librarian might not be directly be about technology or systems but policies that affect the institution as a whole. Also, these technology and systems have an impact whose influences are felt throughout the staff and user community. Monica provided two examples of how complex this new role can be and how misunderstandings need to be fielded by an interpreter. The first example was a ticket logged that asked a record be fixed because of an inconsistent date range. The problem was not necessarily the date range in the record in the catalog but SFX and several systems that need to talk to each other to delivery information. The second example was a request to fix records to disallow a certain type of content. This was not so much a technical question but that of policy in terms of what goes into the collection or not. Monica explained that there is a lot of information that is lost in translation. Long detailed emails are insufficient in helping to really bridging the divide between those who rely on e-resources and the librarians who make it happen. It is also misleading to think that answers boil down to that of technical systems or technical services. Instead of the “who needs to address this”, we need to look at “what needs to be done”. This change in perspective will help bring this issues to the institution as a whole. Electronic resources do not fall solely under one person’s job anymore.

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In several of my past posts, I’ve talked about change. In relation to the metadata services, I put out the survey because I feel that a change is needed where I work. More specifically, as users’ needs change, the way we help them, aka do business, also has to change. I’m not advocating for giving up cataloging or saying goodbye to MARC. Our users also need our expertise in describing materials that the library owns, borrows, leases and might potential lease, own or rent. This is one aspect to metadata services that is complex. It means advocating for change while also keeping the same services levels that we’ve kept with other workflows. This is not always easy or wanted because unfortunately it does mean extra work and inevitably training and skill building.

This week, I read a fantastic post by Sally Gore at “A Librarian by Any Other Name” called “Follow the leader”. She refers to an article, “Convincing Employees to Use New Technology” by Didier Bonnet at the Harvard Business Review. Briefly the article provides tips on how to go beyond technology implementation and how to successfully have technology adoption. According to the article, one of the primary reasons for not adopting a technology is that the effort was in the technology’s implementation and not its adoption. Further, new technology tend not to affect a change in how business is done creating a noted conflict from the start. To help adoption and change business practices in our digital working environment, Bonnet provides the following tips: do fewer things better, plan and budget for adoption, lead by example, engage true believers, engage HR and organizational people sooner and better, align rewards and recognition.

Sally Gore focuses her post on leading by example. She explains that many still say no to new technology. I would go further and say that many still say no to change that makes one feel vulnerable in the workplace. Her post has some great examples but finishes with the idea that in library land, our leaders need to be examples.

We need this same kind of leadership in libraries, in the Academy, and in other areas of science. Those of us who see and/or have experienced the value of implementing new technologies into our work need to be fairly tireless in banging the can for them. We need to continue to lead by example and hopefully, in time, we will all reap the rewards.

This is a great post and the original article is worth reading. I agree with Sally that our leaders need to be examples for not just new technologies but changes that help us meet the changing needs of users. However, it is not always the case that our leaders are ready to lead by example. It is important to incorporate the change and new technologies into your own workflow. In other words, everyone needs to lead by example.

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In my last post, I ended with the question of how to get the resources you need to create and deliver metadata services. I should say right now that I’m not sure really how to do this effectively. One issues is that metadata services is a very vague subject. What are metadata services? And then who delivers those services? There’s also the question of change and how change is accepted in your institution.

One of the reasons I put out a survey on metadata practices in digital scholarship was to find out what these practices were. Further I wanted to see it people had any suggestions or things that they tried at their institution that helped create and deliver such services. The second reason was that I was interested in seeing what is meant by a “public” metadata service. I wrote the survey around the time of the ALCTS e-forum on public service and cataloging. The majority of participants told stories of how they work at a public “desk” in the library and how their cataloging skills helped them find information faster and more efficiently for the patron.  With metadata services, I believe there is a public component. You might not sit at a desk for a couple of hours per day. But you are on call to answer questions from staff or patrons and then also you set up appointments for longer consultations. For myself, these public reference and consultation services concern almost exclusively digital initiatives (research data, digital humanities, and our digital repository).

Let me return to resources because I wanted to know how people responded to needs of metadata (creating, enhancing, transforming between various standards, best practices, etc.) in digital scholarship with a small staff and few resources for training. There was one respondent who described a pilot project at their institution. The respondent explained that the pilot project was a new attempt to provide services to those who work with research data. Essentially this pilot brought together several staff across units: metadata librarian, subject specialists, programers, digital librarians. Their goal was to draw on each others strengths to create a toolkit for faculty who produce research data (most likely in the sciences). This toolkit included tips and ways to get help from this team in the library. What I found interesting was that to have the staff resources necessary, this institution brought together a team of people who work in different areas. To help with training and time, this team helped each other learn together as they developed this toolkit for faculty.

This is something that my institution has had to do as well. No one person can handle all of these services together. This includes metadata services. With research data, often the researcher has the best handle on their data or at least you hope so. They might need guidance in terms of making it more accessible to a certain user base or more consistent for re-use for visualizations for example. However, they are the data owners not you. This allows the metadata specialists to work with a fellow data expert. When you add a subject specialists, you add another specialist who understands the researcher, their work and their “framework”. In some cases, the subject specialists has or participates in the researcher’s type of project. What is more is that the subject specialist also understands the library’s goal of helping the researcher with whatever they need help with (perhaps a data management plan, a digital humanities project, creating a timeline, submitting research to a repository, …). When you add a digital initiatives or even a programmer, then there are more people to share ideas and move forward. Instead of one person or one unit trying to respond to needs, you have a group working across silos.

With the survey, I would say that a majority of respondents worked across silos in their institution. I would venture to say that even the largest and well funded institutions don’t have all the resources they would like. To offer services, it is necessary to have a group effort. That way staff rely, learn, teach, and help each other.

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