There is an oft-quoted aphorism about metadata: Metadata is a love note to the future. It's a great idea, right, that the metadata you create will help future generations access information? But I think that we do ourselves a great disservice when we don't acknowledge that well-formed metadata is really the best kind of love note to the future.Our obsession with linked open data, despite the fact that we've been outsourcing our cataloguing for years and now have garbage metadata.— LIS Grievances (@lis_grievances) November 2, 2016
I think the problem with not being able to see the future is that it can lead us to make choices that make sense in the moment. It's easy to say that the feelings that catalogers have about poorly-formed metadata spring from a misguided place filled with artisanally created catalog records. It's easy to say that catalogers are perfectionists who have trouble accepting "good enough" records that get the job of discovery done. It's easy to say that the catalog is a place where we can cut corners because the catalog has less to do with the library user's experience than, say, the physical space. But saying all of those things can be problematic in the long run.
When decide that metadata creation isn't a task worth doing well, we're not writing a love note to the future. We're writing it a passive-aggressive note.
When we place value on quantity over quality or bottom-line over long term investment, we're making it more difficult for those future generations to access information in our libraries. When we accept poorly-formed metadata into our systems, we are creating a future where people we will likely never meet will have to remediate our metadata in order to make it usable. We are suggesting that it's fine to kick the can down the road, as the saying goes, to let someone else deal with it rather than taking the time to do things right the first time.
I should be clear about one thing. Vendors aren't inherently the villains in this story. Sometimes because of lack of staffing or money or expertise, a library has to outsource some of its cataloging to someone else. And whether we like to acknowledge it or not, those records we download from our bibliographic utility of choice are technically from a vendor. So whether you're downloading records from a bibliographic utility, sending pockets of your collection to be cataloged, or receiving MARC record with your newly purchased material, the fact that you're getting your metadata from a vendor isn't the problem. The problem comes when the records we receive have poorly-formed metadata and we either don't remediate it or don't demand that vendors create metadata that is up to our standards.
So it's time to acknowledge that simply creating metadata to describe a resource alone isn't a love note to the future. If we truly want to write a love note to the future, we should decide in the present that well-formed metadata is something to which we're willing to dedicate sufficient staff and financial resources.