For years I’ve been blogging summaries of the OCLC Research Library Partners Metadata Managers Focus Group discussions. I have now synthesized the last six years (2015-2020) of discussions in the just-published OCLC Research report, Transitioning to the Next Generation of Metadata.
The firm belief that metadata underlies all discovery regardless of format, now and in the future, permeates all Focus Group discussions. Yet metadata is changing. Innovations in librarianship are exerting pressure on metadata management practices to evolve as librarians are required to provide metadata for far more resources of various types and to collaborate on institutional or multi-institutional projects with fewer staff.
This report considers:
- Why is metadata changing?
- How is the creation process changing?
- How is the metadata itself changing?
- What impact will these changes have on future staffing requirements, and how can libraries prepare?
I categorized all Focus Group discussions into five sections:
- The Transition to Linked Data and Identifiers: Persistent identifiers are crucial to transitioning from current metadata to future applications. The transition to describing entities in resources (work, persons, corporate bodies, places, events) and establishing the relationships and links among them could bridge the variations of names now in siloed domains within institutions. Identifiers could also help address the language issues impeding libraries’ relationships with marginalized communities.
- Describing “Inside-Out” and “Facilitated” Collections: The shift to supporting the creation, curation, and discoverability of institutional resources (in contrast to the “outside-in collection” in which the library buys or licenses materials from external providers) which may be shared with consortia highlights challenges and issues to some specific formats: archival collections, archived websites, audio and video collections, image collections, and research data.
- Evolution of “Metadata as a Service:” As good metadata underlies discoverability of all resources, metadata creation is extending beyond the traditional library catalog to new services. These include new metrics, a higher demand for consultancy in the earliest stages of library and research projects, new applications and visualizations, bibliometrics, and semantic indexing.
- Preparing for Future Staffing Requirements: The changing landscape calls for new skill sets for both new professionals entering the field and seasoned catalogers. A culture shift is needed, from pride in production alone to valuing opportunities to learn, explore, and try new approaches to metadata work. The Focus Group identified learning opportunities, new tools and desired skills, approaches to self-education, and ways to address staff turnover.
- Impact: The next generation of metadata will become even more focused on entities rather than record-based descriptions of an institution’s collections. The impact of authoritative, persistent identifiers such as those to be provided by the OCLC Shared Entity Management Infrastructure project launched in 2020 will be global, affecting how librarians and archivists will describe their collections, inspiring new offerings of “metadata as a service,” and influencing future staffing requirements.
On a personal note, I have greatly benefited from my interactions with the OCLC Research Partners Metadata Managers Focus Group and have been delighted to play a small part in this transition to the next generation of metadata. I look forward to your feedback on the report!
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.