That was the topic discussed recently by OCLC Research Library Partners metadata managers. Carlen Ruschoff (U. Maryland), Philip Schreur (Stanford) and Joan Swanekamp (Yale) had initiated the topic, observing that libraries are taking responsibility for more and more types of metadata (descriptive, preservation, technical, etc.) and its representation in various formats (MARC, MODS, RDF). Responsibility for establishing metadata practice can be spread across different divisions in the library. Practices developed in relative isolation may have some unforeseen outcomes for discovery in awkward juxtapositions.
The discussion revolved around these themes:
Various kinds of splits create varying metadata needs. Splits identified included digital library vs. traditional; MARC vs. non-MARC; projects vs. ongoing operations. Joan Swanekamp noted that many of Yale’s early digitization projects involved special collections which started with their own metadata schemes geared towards specific audiences. But the metadata doesn’t merge well with the rest of the library’s metadata, and it’s been a huge amount of work to try to coordinate these different needs. There is a common belief in controlled vocabularies even when the purposes are different. The granularity of different digital projects makes it difficult to normalize the metadata. Coordination issues include using data element in different ways, not using some basic elements, and lack of context. Repository managers try to mandate as little as possible to minimize the barriers to contributions. As a result, there’s a lot of user-generated metadata that would be difficult to integrate with catalog data.
Metadata requirements vary due to different systems, metadata standards, communities’ needs. Some digital assets are described using MODS (Metadata Object Description Schema) or VRA. Graphic arts departments need to find images based on subject headings, which may result in what seems to be redundant data. There’s some tension between specific area and general needs. Curators for specific communities such as music and divinity have a deeper sense of what their respective communities need rather than what’s needed in a centralized database. Subject headings that rely on keyword or locally devised schemes can clash with the LC subject headings used centrally. These differences and inconsistencies have become more visible as libraries have implemented discovery layers that retrieve metadata from across all their resources.
Some sort of “metadata coordination group” is common. Some libraries have created metadata coordination units (under various names), or are planning to. Such oversight teams provide a clearing house to talk about depth, quality and coverage of metadata. An alternative approach is to “embed” metadata specialists in other units that create metadata such as digital library projects, serving as consultants. After UCLA worked on ten different digital projects, it developed a checklist that could be used across projects: Guidelines for Descriptive Metadata for the UCLA Digital Library Program (2012). It takes time to understand different perspectives of metadata: what is important and relevant to curators’ respective professional standards. It’s important to start the discussions about expectations and requirements at the beginning of a project.
We can leverage identifiers to link names across metadata silos. As names are a key element regardless of which metadata schema is used, we discussed the possibility of using one or more identifier systems to link them together. Some institutions encourage their researchers to use the Elsevier expert system. Some are experimenting with or considering using identifiers such as ORCID (Open Researcher and Contributor ID), ISNI (International Standard Name Identifier) or VIAF (Virtual International Authority File). VIAF is receiving an increasing number of LC/NACO Authority File records that include other identifiers in the 024 field.
Karen Smith-Yoshimura, senior program officer, topics related to creating and managing metadata with a focus on large research libraries and multilingual requirements. Karen retired from OCLC November 2020.