Does technical services still have a distinct role?

That was the topic discussed recently by OCLC Research Library Partners metadata managers from seven countries. It was initiated by Philip Schreur of Stanford (and recently Chair of the Program for Cooperative Cataloging), who noted that although “technical services” had traditionally been organized around the modules of a local system, changes in the library environment have resulted in some major restructuring. Libraries have increased their use of outsourcing and now batchload records from vendors or other sources, blurring the lines between library and IT, and vastly reducing the number of materials that need to be cataloged manually locally. This in turn has allowed staff to devote time to broader issues of discovery and data management, and make strategic alliances with new partners outside of technical services.  Meanwhile, “metadata creation” is needed for resources not always part of the local catalog, such as digital collections or materials in an Institutional Repository.

The discussion revolved around these themes:

More widespread use and need for metadata, far beyond the traditional “bibliographic” metadata created by technical services staff.  Metadata specialists (a new alternative for “catalogers”) now deal with metadata of all types, with decreased focus on print and more emphasis on digital.  Technical services staff aspire to provide intellectual access to all resources, beyond those represented in the local catalog. A common discovery tool has driven the movement to more active metadata integration from the beginning of projects to ensure that metadata is cohesive.

Changing service portfolios and workflows, with new or expanded expectations. Technical services staff have taken on tasks that used to be done elsewhere. Among these new tasks: authority control for the institutional repository; managing electronic resources and licenses; integration with special collections and archives; helping researchers organize their data; creating metadata for digital projects; producing reports, dataloading and installing system upgrades (which used to be done by systems staff). There is a challenge to balance the workload between the influx of electronic and digital resources with print backlogs. Sensitivity to “organizational culture” in different units is more important than organizational structure.

New collaborations within the institution and with other organizations. Technical services staff  increasingly work in cross-divisional teams, such as staff involved with digital projects, archives, data mining, IT and liaisons with faculty. Alison Felstead at Oxford referred to two new posts in the Oxford institutional repository who report to cataloging but are part of the systems staff.  Libraries would like to work more closely with publishers to load metadata for e-resources into commonly used tools.

Need for new skill sets.  Managers need to “build digital confidence” in their staff—provide training in what is required to adequately describe and provide access to digital and electronic resources, and allow periods for experimentation. There is competition to recruit computer-savvy staff with IT, where the pay scale is much higher.

Several noted the need to evolve beyond “boutique-y” collection development and the need for a “metadata shepherd”. (Stanford recently posted a position for a “Metadata Strategist”.)  In general, we are seeing an emerging trend towards more fluid structures that allows staff to adapt to new workflows rather than organized around traditional functions.