Tuesday, April 7, 2015

All my friends

I've written before about how change is scary but that we're headed toward what I have fondly dubbed the post-MARC future and, well, we need to embrace it. Or, if not embrace it, at least show up for it.

In those previous posts, I've written about how change is difficult, but we need to embrace the discomfort we feel in the midst of change and not let that stop us.

I stand by what I've said, but I've started to notice an "us vs. them" mentality when developers and catalogers start talking about the post-MARC future. Catalogers are the worst, developers say, because they're holding onto an antiquated way of working and thinking.

Oh yeah, say the catalogers. Well, developers are the worst because they want to cut us out of the process of metadata creation.

I couldn't be your friend, even if I tried again.

I really enjoyed this post by Galen Charlton that attempts to humanize the different points of view of the various players. It paints an unflinching picture of both sides of the "us vs. them" divide. And Charlton's post resonates with me, I think, because I believe that discussions about the post-MARC world break down so quickly is that each side forgets the other's humanity.

It's possible that a library technologist can automate bibliographic description to the point that a machine can describe an item in my library's collection better than me. It's possible that library technologists will create workflows that make traditional cataloging obsolete.

Even so, catalogers are people who do jobs. Not obstacles to be overcome.

I feel like there is a subset of catalogers who have tried to engage with the library technologist community. There was a push for catalogers to learn coding through Code Academy and home grown initiatives like CatCode and Libcatcode. In 2012, a joint ALCTS/LITA interest group was formed to address this desire to improve coding skills. For this year's ALA Annual Conference, there is a ALCTS pre-conference on coding for efficiencies in cataloging and metatadata as well as an ALCTS pre-conference on linked data in the "real world."

Yes, there are both fearful people and fear mongers among us. And yes, those people derail meaningful, constructive conversations about the post-MARC future. But I also think that there are enough catalogers trying to meet library technologists halfway for them to return the favor.

Are library technologists committed to learning more about content description standards and encoding standards for both MARC and non-MARC metadata? Is there a push for library technologists to learn the mechanics of building records using RDA? Is there going to be a joint ALCTS/LITA interest group for address the need for library technologists to improve their cataloging skills?

Building systems and structures that leverage metadata in meaningful ways is important both for libraries and their users. But I don't think it's fair to exclude catalogers from the discussions on how to build those systems, either explicitly or implicitly. Especially when catalogers will, most likely, be the people using those systems to do their (radically different) jobs.

I can tell that we are going to be friends.

I'm totally in favor of constructive conversations about how to build the post-MARC world. And I believe that part of the Unified Library Scene is partnering with people in different areas of librarianship with whom you share mutual interests and concerns. You can't achieve your goals in a vacuum, and relationships matter.

Becky Yoose lays out some of the challenges in this blog post of establishing such a dialogue. I think Becky's right. I think we start to work toward change, but hit The Wall and lose momentum. We get busy and worn down, revert to thinking in terms of stereotypes, and retreat to our respective corners.

I also think that Becky is right about metadata creation and coding being secret siblings. We certainly argue like siblings, anyway.

As I wrote earlier, it's possible that library technologists will automate bibliographic description to the point that traditional cataloging becomes obsolete. If we're being honest, I think it might happen at some point during my lifetime. But how different would those systems and structures look if catalogers and library technologists worked together to build them?

The answer, I think, is that those systems and structures would have the best of traditional bibliographic description and the best of coding.

But in order to do that, catalogers and library technologists need to find common ground and a safe space to have hard conversations, where both sides get an equal say in how the post-MARC future gets developed, and where meaningful work can be accomplished. I am hopeful that the revival of #mashcat might be that space.

Stay positive,

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