Thursday, May 26, 2016

The secret to a happy ending is knowing when to roll the credits

I mentioned in my last blog post that I'm writing a book chapter. I'd had "Naming and reframing: a taxonomy of attacks on knowledge organization" by Tina Gross on my to-read list for a while. And this chapter I'm writing provided me a great opportunity to read it.

To say that I have some Capital-F feelings about this article would be a pretty significant understatement.

In the article, Gross identifies 10 types of attacks of knowledge organization and then goes on to define and give examples for each of these attacks. Gross doesn't offer any solutions to the problem of attacks on knowledge organization and states pretty plainly that the point of the article is not to solve the problem, but to establish language through which we can describe it.

There are two attacks that I think have a symbiotic relationship: disregarding quality and distorting user behavior.

When describing disregarding quality, Gross writes:
There is such a thing as metadata being good enough without being comprehensive, and there's also such a thing as declaring hopeless garbage to be good enough without considering the implications for users. Doing the latter is self-defeating--when metadata fails to facilitate the level of searching needed by users, they have a less satisfactory experience. Usage is likely to go down resulting in even less justification to support and pay for the creation or acquisition of quality metadata. (p. 266)


This particular attack leads to the library infrastructure version of chasing one's tail. For whatever reason, the metadata creation standards at a library decline. Because the metadata is incomplete, incorrect, or both, users can't find what they're looking for and usage of key resources that are powered off of the shoddy metadata goes down. Administrators look at the decline of usage of the key resources and decide that the because the usage is going down that the resources devoted to creating metadata that powers those key resources can be reallocated.

While a metadata creator might be able to draw an immediate connection between the change in metadata quality and usage of key resources, an administrator might not necessarily be able to do the same if they don't have an understanding of how metadata informs search results and all they have to go on is the usage data of key resources.

While we're on the subject of what users do or don't use, let's look at distorting user behavior. Gross describes it as "asserting that users don't use certain types of metadata, even though major search functions are powered by them" (p. 267)

This attack has as much to do with the narrative constructed by outside forces as it does with what libraries know to be true of their users based on actual evidence. There are a not-insignificant number of studies which suggest that users don't start their research in the library catalog, so administrators decide that resources used to create metadata can be reallocated to other library services. There are two things that strike me about this:

1. What seems to be missing from these studies, though, is how many library users interact with the catalog at some point during the research process. Just because a user doesn't start their search in the catalog doesn't mean they don't go there at some point in the process.

2. Our users are not a monolith. What is true about the research process of one user group may not be true of all user groups.

So which comes first--disregarding quality or user behavior? And, perhaps more importantly, where do metadata creators go from here?

I don't have the answer, but I have a couple of ideas.

First, metadata creators should be gathering as much information as we can about user behavior and using that information to guide the decisions we make. We should know what our users find most useful in catalog records and be focusing our attention on that. This differs from library to library and user group to user group. So while you can probably use those reports that construct a narrative as a starting point, you're going to have to interact with actual users to understand the context at our own library.

Second, our public services colleagues have to help us gather data about when users can't find what they're looking for because of poorly-formed metadata. This data can help metadata creators make the case for the re-reallocation of resources back to metadata creation. Nothing says 'hey, we need more resources in the cataloging department' like evidence of where users have walked away empty handed. To the extent that it's practical (and legal), I would advocate share reference interview transcripts or notes as well as catalog search logs.

Finally, I want to say that I picked on administrators a lot in this post, but I do so affectionately and with the understanding that our administrators have a lot to think about and decide on any given day. And, ultimately, they work with the information we give them to make the best decisions they can to allocate resources to library services. It's our job to give them the information and tools to make the best decision possible.

Stay positive,

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

I am king of all I see, my kingdom for a voice

I'm in the midst of writing a book chapter--which sounds like the world's worst humblebrag,I realize. While it's been a real challenge for me to write long form, it's been nice to have the space to expand my thoughts beyond the length of a blog post and explore my ideas a little more.

I'm not sure that this will make it past the cutting room floor, but yesterday I wrote:
Metadata creation has both a privilege problem and an image problem and we have to wrestle and reckon with both in order to find a place where metadata creators are both valued for the work we do and empathetic in the words we use.
This isn't a particularly novel idea, nor it is particularly inflammatory. But it's not a place I came to easily and without struggle.

The LIS program I attended didn't have a lot in the way of theoretical grounding as as a English major with a creative writing focus, I wasn't exposed to much beyond literary theory as an undergraduate. So being exposed to critical theory and ideas was something that has only happened in the last few years.

When I turn over new ideas, I am almost never walking through new territory. There are people who came well before me and people whose work is more recent. And I am both aware of, and grateful for, their work.

I appreciate how Emily Drabinski has challenged me to think about how impossible it is to fix (in any sense) language that describes people.

I appreciate how April Hathcock has challenged me to understand my privilege and my complicity in the maintenance of oppressive systems within the LIS community.

I appreciate how Maria Accardi has taught me to bring my whole self into my work and to value the worth of all of the users I serve.

I appreciate how Derrick Jefferson has challenged me to think about intersectionality in the LIS community.

I appreciate how Netanel Ganin has challenged me to think in literal terms about the construction and application of LCSH.

All of this is to say that I understand that when I think and when I write, I'm standing on the shoulders of the kindest, most thoughtful giants I can imagine.

Stay positive,

Friday, May 20, 2016

Friday jams (05/20/16)

May has been a really busy month. I've got a lot of really great projects in the works, but even fun work feels tiring sometimes.

You know who else have been busy? Tegan and Sara. Their new album, Love You To Death, comes out on June 3rd. Which is two days before my birthday, so happy birthday to me! Anyway, this performance of the first single from that album, "Boyfriend," is pretty great. Enjoy!

Ugh I need Tegan and Sara to not read my old diaries. Like I'm still upset about it and that interrupts my enjoyment of the song. TOO REAL.
ANYHOW. The other day Erin mentioned Better Than Ezra on twitter dot com and we're just gonna have to go there and do that today, okay?  This used to be the lead-in music for the 4th inning of cardinals baseball and it made me so happy every time I heard a few seconds of it.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Oh dance, don't stop

I have Future of Libraries fatigue.

There...I said it.

I have Future of Libraries fatigue and the future hasn't even gotten here yet.

One of my favorite posts from Rachel contains this gem:
Here's the thing about the future:
There is no map.
There is no telling, there is no knowing.
It is out there and you have to go whether you like it or not.

I love that so much I printed it out and it's on my bulletin board at work, reminding me that the future is coming whether I want it to or not.

Two things I want to acknowledge at the outset:
1. I recognize that I need to stay informed about advances in the field of librarianship. I try to read widely about new projects and ideas. And when I feel like it's appropriate to add my comments, I do.

2. There are people (and libraries) who have the infrastructure and the bandwidth to live out beyond the bleeding edge. And for those experimenters, it is fruitful to keep their eyes open and their ears to the ground in identifying what the Next Big Thing might be.

Having said that, I want to say this: librarianship should be present with users to understand their needs and react to them as quickly as possible. And you can't be present if you're busy talking about what the future might look like.

So what does it mean to be present with users and to react to needs quickly?

Libraries needs to be agile and able to change course quickly when an emerging user need is identified. And this requires a commitment to experimentation and an acceptance that not every initiative is going to succeed. It requires that libraries stop romanticizing the past and drop the 'but we've ALWAYS done it this way' mindset in favor of letting of of what isn't working to make room for new things that will.

It also requires an engagement of users at every possible opportunity. Have you talked with your users about what new services they might want that you don't currently provide? Have you invited your users to give you feedback on services you are considering establishing? And if you have, have you taken their feedback seriously and acted upon it?

Look, there is absolutely nothing wrong with identifying how you want the future to be better than the present and then altering the course of the present to reach that future. We should all aspire to eschew stagnation at both a personal and organizational level. After all, libraries create strategic plans and then work to bring those strategic plans to life. And most librarians have the opportunity to include growth goals in their annual evaluations.

But let's not sell our present users short by focusing so much on a future that, when it arrives, will probably be significantly different than we even dared to dream.

Stay positive,

Monday, May 9, 2016

The right notion in the meantime

Last week I attended the Program for Cooperative Cataloging's Joint Operations Committee Meeting. This is, essentially, the business meeting of the various groups that form the PCC. This year's OpCo meeting included a lot of discussion on BIBFRAME and what a world after MARC might look like. In the midst of this conversation, I sent out a couple of tweets:

There is much about BIBFRAME and the post-MARC world that I don't understand. And until I attended this meeting, I was pretty sure I wouldn't wade into this discussion because I had nothing smart to add.

But now I do.

Building a new encoding standard is really amazing. I doubt many people really think of it that way because it's such nuanced work. Honestly, I don't think about how amazing it is most of the time. I mean, I quit the BIBFRAME list because it was so far over my head as to be useful to me. So the wonder of standards creation is lost on me most of the time.

The part about building an encoding standard that excites me most is that it gives us the opportunity to radically reconsider our current practises. What parts of our current practices are so important that we want to preserve it and what parts no longer serve us? What new practices could we incorporate to better serve our user communities?

I hope that as the metadata creation community builds out and implements BIBFRAME that we don't just try to map MARC fields into BIBFRAME elements and create what might essentially be considered MARC2.0. I hope that the community takes the time to consider what MARC fields are essential in helping users complete the tasks that brought them to the online catalog in the first place.

This evaluation and decision-making process requires the metadata creation community to think about who it considers its users and what they might require in order to successfully navigate the online catalog. I desperately hope this means consulting with actual library users in order to devise user tasks and use cases based on actual user needs as opposed to talking about a monolithic user.

This evaluation and decision-making process also requires the metadata creation community to have a difficult conversation about administrative metadata and about the extent to which the metadata community itself is a user. What I think we need to wrestle with as a community is the fact that while the metadata community is a user, we are not the primary user. We should not put our needs first and we definitely shouldn't cling to old ways of doing things because they suit our needs. Instead, I would argue that the metadata creation community should identify the minimum amount of administrative metadata required to successfully complete our work.

As we build this new encoding standard, I hope that we decide to use this opportunity to radically reconsider our metadata creation process. And when we do, I hope our benchmark for which practises to continue and which to stop are based entirely on end user needs and not on our own.

Stay positive,