Tuesday, April 18, 2017

It's like a dead-end when a road map is useless

One thing I like to talk about over here at Unified Library Scene headquarters is the value of well-formed metadata. Because I'm a cataloger, I'm often looking at the idea of well-formed metadata as it relates to the library catalog. But I think that well-formed metadata has value outside of the cataloging department as well. I was interested to read this post on OCLC's Hanging Together blog about how the changing landscape of metadata creation and remediation requires an emphasis on new skill sets for both early career and incumbent metadata creators.

I was especially interested to think about the Hanging Together blog post in relationship to this post from Ithaka S+R which highlighted aspects of their 2016 US Library Survey. Figure 1 of this post addresses the functional areas of the library to which library directors at baccalaureate, masters, and doctoral academic libraries indicated they would add positions over the next five years. At doctoral institutions, nearly 70% of respondents indicated they would be adding positions related to "specialized faculty research support (digital humanities, GIS, data management, etc.)."  At masters institutions, this functional area was significantly smaller at about 25%. At those institutions, the area that stands to see the greatest amount of growth in the next five years is "instruction, instructional design, and information literacy services" at nearly 40%.

If you go back to the 2016 US Library Survey, you can see a table that corresponds with this one. In this table, library directors at masters and baccalaureate institutions indicated which functional areas they would be reducing employee positions. It will probably not surprise you to learn that technical services, metadata, and cataloging was the highest vote getting functional area at about 25%. In fairness, this was down from close to 30% in 2013.

While it's worth noting that the responses for added and reduced positions aren't exactly one-to-one since there isn't data on which functional areas library directors at doctoral institutions would target for position reduction. But I suspect, anecdotally anyway, that technical services would be what they chose were they to have been queried.

The Hanging Together blog posts indicates that managers are looking for people to work with metadata who understand how information is organized rather than being skilled at working with a specific schema. The post also suggests that those of us who are interested in helping to recruit and retain the next generation of metadata creators "should promote metadata as an exciting career option to new professionals in venues such as library schools and ALA's New Members Roundtable." The author goes on to state that "emphasizing that metadata encompasses much more than library cataloging can increase its appeal, for example: entity identification, descriptive standards used in various academic disciplines, and describing born-digital, archival, and research data that can interact with the semantic Web."

While some of the tasks the author outlines in their post can be directly mapped to the faculty research support described in the Ithaka S+R survey, much of it still maps directly into functional areas of the library that may be cut in the next five years. And while many of the respondents to the Ithaka S+R survey indicated that they have a commitment to reskilling staff and reallocating them to different areas of the library, it's no wonder that people who understand metadata concepts and have technological skills are choosing careers in industries outside of librarianship--a problem that the Hanging Together post points out.

The disconnect between the need to recruit and retain people who can create well-formed metadata and the fact that these positions are some of the first to be targeted for elimination in academic libraries is one that needs to be addressed. After all, some of the emerging faculty support services rely upon well-formed metadata to be successful. I hope that connecting the dots is the first step in facilitating this difficult but necessary conversation.

Stay positive,

No comments: