One thing I wonder: why do we suggest that catalogers work the reference desk but don't suggest that reference folks work in cataloging?— Erin Leach (@erinaleach) June 26, 2016
I got a lot of answers to this question that helped me better understand this, but I'm still not sure I understand. There was a sense in the responses I received that while cataloging requires an understanding of complex ideas, the barriers to being able to work the reference desk were lower. Many people who work in public services expressed a hesitancy about 'screwing up' when it came to working with metadata that seemed to preclude cross-training in technical services.
I agree that nobody should be sent to cross-train in a functional area of the library without proper training. This is as much, I think, for the person's comfort as it is to keep the person from 'screwing up.' But I think that if public services people feel too self-conscious about working with metadata because they won't get it right, metadata creators have to reflect upon why. Are we too rigid? Do we expect too much? Are we too tied to the perfect at the expense of the good?
Don't get me wrong. I think that metadata creators should assume some public-facing duties. Teaching a couple of classes each semester has taught me a lot about pedagogy and about how our users find the resources they need to do their work. And those practises have informed my experiences as a creator of metadata. And I absolutely believe that people who do reference and instruction could benefit from getting their hands dirty with metadata. I think that understanding how records are created and what goes into describing resources would help inform their practice as people who help users access information.
But just like I work with people whose primary focus in librarianship is reference and instruction to hone my teaching skills, I think it would be valuable for people with public-facing duties to work with metadata librarians to hone their metadata creation skills. I don't think it's fair to expect a public services librarian to instantly be a great cataloger in the same way that I don't think it's fair to expect a metadata creator to instantly be a good teacher. But I think if metadata creators work with public services librarians, there is room for cross-training and development for long-term growth and increased understanding.
So let me float an idea past you. If you're a public-facing librarian, consider how you could work with enhancing the metadata that describes the materials in the collection you curate. How could subject access be improved? What information could be added to catalog records to help your users decide if an item is worth their time or not? Pull a few records from your subject area and make some notes. And then instead of telling the metadata creators at your library how they could change the records to make it easier for your user to find information, offer to work with them to do the work.
At its core, I think the Unified Library Scene is about building relationships. I think there is room to welcome public services librarians into technical services in the same way that public services librarians have welcomes technical services librarians into their spaces. I think that having a more holistic view of the library makes it easier for everyone to be successful in their jobs. It's the responsibility of public services libraries to cultivate an interest in metadata creation and it's the responsibility of metadata creators to take that interest seriously. Let's help each other build the library we want to see.