That was the topic discussed recently by OCLC Research Library Partners metadata managers, initiated by Sharon Farnel of the University of Alberta, Roxanne Missingham of Australian National University, and John Riemer of the University of California, Los Angeles. An indispensable skill in these times is the ability to explain in a concise, compelling, and relatable way to administrators and other decision makers why resources should be allocated to creating and maintaining structured metadata. The audience for these appeals frequently will not have a background or past work experience in this type of work. Many professionals in need of ideas for making arguments for metadata as a strategic priority could benefit from exchanging ideas and techniques for effective advocacy.
A number of managers reported that they had opportunities to advocate the benefits of good metadata with colleagues in other units. Several have cross-divisional committees which coordinate metadata efforts. Letting colleagues in other departments make the pitch for good metadata can be more effective than doing it yourself. Having catalogers staff the reference desks can both demonstrate the value of metadata to public services colleagues as well as illustrate which metadata is really important to discover and locate the library’s holdings. Colleagues need to understand that metadata will be required from the earliest acquisition stages and for digitized (or born-digital) collections. Some have started requiring a “metadata strategy” for each new project, and including a metadata component in their collection development strategies.
Some strategies for effectively advocating the value of metadata included:
- Show practical examples highlighting end-user value.
- Demonstrate to senior staff with common names how good metadata distinguishes them from others sharing the same name.
- Point to examples where cutting corners in metadata creation caused more work and expense later.
- Tie requests for funding to an institution’s strategic initiatives.
- Give examples of how much we’ve changed and are doing things differently.
- Note how good metadata today can easily be re-used in a linked data environment in the future.
Metadata managers had many “elevator speeches” to describe metadata’s value, including:
- Metadata services represents “a value delivery system, not just a cost center”.
- Good metadata enables discovery in multilingual and non-textual environments.
- The facets we use to narrow search results in the online catalog are the metadata that we are creating.
- Imagine not being able to find items, not being able to account for expenditure of public funds acquiring materials, not being able to identify resources for digitization or exclude what is in copyright.
- Metadata is more effective for discovery and information management than the “data deluge” of full-text searching.
- Many of the materials in institutions’ collections are not searchable as full text, and thus people must rely on the ability to search and browse the metadata describing them.
- Cooperation with partners (other higher education institutions or legal deposit libraries) requires us to know what we actually have in our collections, often at quite a granular level.
- Producing quality metadata influences research funding and assessment.
- If researchers can’t find data sets, their value is diminished.
- Scholar portals that highlight an institution’s research output rely on good metadata for discovery.
Many noted that automating routine tasks has dramatically increased their output, even with fewer metadata specialists. Metadata specialists are often perceived as an inefficient “cottage industry” devoted to “data entry” into templates. The level of expertise required is frequently underestimated. “What metadata professionals do is to provide a research infrastructure, and like other forms of infrastructure, it is taken for granted until something goes wrong with it.”
Given the increased demand for good metadata, we need to demonstrate our agility to address new initiatives, our interest in exploring new ways of doing things, and use automation wherever possible. Automation is critical for metadata remediation. Combining professional catalogers’ expertise with technology improves throughout, and frees up staff to describe the library’s distinctive collections no one else has.
The British Library’s Unlocking the Value: The British Library’s Collection Metadata Strategy 2015-2018 offers a number of persuasive statements, including this one from its summary:
Our vision is that by 2020 the Library’s collection metadata assets will be comprehensive, coherent, authoritative and sustainable, enabling their full value to be unlocked for improved content management, greater collaboration and wider use of the collection.
Graphic: Word cloud generated from June 2017 discussion notes.