Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Be what you're like

The problem with anonymous surveys is that you can't ask the respondent follow-up questions to provide clarification and/or context. So the words of the respondent have to stand on their own.

The surveys on the Hiring Librarians website can be completed anonymously. The anonymity is good because it gives respondents the freedom to answer honestly. The surveys published on Hiring Librarians have served as the catalyst for some hard conversations with some of the librarians I know. And the survey posted on Monday on the site is no exception.

The last two questions in the survey ask if the respondent believes that libraries are dying and why or why not. This particular respondent has what I think is a smart answer in that we (librarians) can ensure our survival by being careful not to latch onto those parts of our professions which are naturally dying off based on the needs of our constituencies.

The respondent then goes on to say:
I think if we’re focusing all our efforts on things that computers do better than we do (or will – like cataloging), then we’ll disappear. But if we focus on services that people need that the didn’t before (like better instruction, student services, digital humanities, etc.) then there is a place for us.
This quote has caught the attention of many of the catalogers I know and sparked yet another discussion about the ways in which administrators do not understand the value of well-formed metadata to library services.

Disregarding whether the assertion that computers will at some point be better at creating metadata than humans is correct, I wondered if the person who wrote this understood how their statement sounded to people who create metadata--specifically catalogers. I wondered if the reference to cataloging was made in passing, or whether the respondent considered the value judgement inherent in their statement about cataloging.

Talking to your stakeholders in a way they understand is not a new theme here at Constructive Summer. I have written before about the importance of creating a compelling narrative about the value that technical services adds to library services. And it seems frustrating to have yet another person suggest that metadata creation is an antiquated library service.

Yesterday, several people asked if I ever went back and wrote the elevator pitch I mentioned in the "On metadata and user experience" post. And this seems like as good a time as any to revisit that notion of a jargon-free elevator pitch.
Well-formed metadata is an information literacy issue. In order to develop information literate people, library resources should be discoverable. And that discoverability comes from well-formed metadata. Well-formed metadata allows library resources to be discovered through a variety of searching methods and a variety of platforms. In addition to making purchased collections discoverable, well-formed metadata uncovers hidden local collections that bring prestige to the organization. While many metadata creation tasks can be automated, successful metadata creation--the kind that makes resources discoverable--requires human intervention. Well-formed metadata, and the people who create it, are the foundation upon which library instructors build their instruction. Metadata creation is a public service.
Ultimately, I agree with the sentiment expressed in the quoted passage above from Hiring Librarians. It is important that we build services that meet the evolving needs of our users. Let's create and implement instruction that makes information literate people. Let's support the evolving field of digital humanities. But let's also build models for acquiring and describing resources that support those emerging services. I don't think that resource description is antiquated, nor do I think it's in danger of being eliminated--even in a post-MARC would where we link to data outside of our library resources in the descriptions we create. Let's do this--let's build an awesome, collaborative future. Together.

Stay positive,

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