Wednesday, March 18, 2015

On metadata and user experience

In addition to writing on the blog, I tweet. A lot. While Twitter is great for rapid fire conversations, the downside of Twitter is that 140 characters doesn't allow for a lengthy development of a thought. The upside is having a blog where you can expand on an idea.

Today, I tweeted the following tweets:

And based on the number of re-tweets they got, I can tell that I struck a nerve.

There seems to be a disconnect between the notion of patron's discovering information via the online catalog and the creation and remediation of the metadata that populates the online catalog.

Cataloging departments are often understaffed and underfunded. Positions in cataloging departments often go unfilled after they are vacated, their funding line reallocated to a different part of the library. The 'do less with more' meme is true everywhere in libraries, but it feels truer in cataloging.

The value that administrators place on the creation and remediation of metadata in their organizations is less than, say, the value they place on the experience of users in libraries. But one inescapable part of a user's experience of the library is discovery of library materials in an online catalog. Maybe your users aren't looking for the same kind of material now that they were a decade ago. And maybe the ways they search are different. But if someone is coming to your library to find something, chances are that an online catalog of your library's materials is often the first place they go.

You can't have a good online catalog without good metadata driving it. And the best way to get good metadata is to support the creation and remediation of metadata within your organization.

Yes, there are tools that can automate this process. And yes, there are ways that we can streamline the cataloging of materials. I am not opposed to outsourcing of cataloging or the purchase of vendor records. But a value has to be placed on the metadata that is created from these sources as well.

So why are we, as catalogers, so terrible at communicating our value to the people in our organizations who drive decisions?

I think it circles back to yesterday's post on creating compelling stories. As much as we want people to understand our point of view, we have to start talking about how our work impacts the experience of library users in a jargon-free way. We all say that cataloging is a public service, but do we explain how the metadata that has been created and remediated in the appropriate ways has a direct effect on whether or not a user finds what they're looking for? Do we explain how fields in the records we create effect facted searching and how incorrectly coded records show up under the wrong facet?

I don't think it's always that administrators won't listen. I think it's that administrators have limited resources and it's not immediately apparent how the creation and remediation of metadata impacts how users experience the library. When you're trying to be a good steward of funds, it's easy to allocate resources to the services that you can see directly and immediately impacting library users.

I'm going to take my own advice on this one. I'm going to work on coming up with a compelling, jargon-free elevator pitch in support of allocating resources to the creation and remediation of metadata. I'm not saying it will solve the problem. But maybe it will start the conversation.

Stay positive,


Megan Brooks said...

Liking this post so hard right now. I'm wondering how people in my role in libraries - those of us who don't touch the metadata but instead use it and teach patrons how to use it - can work with you to create that compelling story.

Anonymous said...

Two metadata presentations I've given to non-metadata/cataloger folk:

Erin said...

That's a great question, Megan. I think that library users shouldn't have to know how the library catalog gets populated. But I think they understand when the metadata isn't right. They don't say "your metadata is poorly created," but they do tell us that when they say they can't find what they need. Your job and mine is to work together to talk to administrators about those pain points. And how it isn't the user who failed or the discovery layer which failed, but the metadata. When administrators hear about the value of well-created metadata from both sides of the house, the work of metadata creators becomes more visible.