In her post, Balancing the metadata portfolio, Kathryn Stine reported on discussions among the OCLC RLP Metadata Managers Focus Group members about how metadata services are changing. Inherent in changing services is a need for new roles and skills for the staff who compose these departments. This post is my summary of the March 2022 Metadata Managers conversation Kathryn facilitated along with Erin Grant (University of Washington), Daricus Larry (University of Arizona), and Daniel Lovins (Yale University).
One of the ways metadata communities learn about how the field is changing is through the analysis of job descriptions. In March 2022, the Metadata Managers Focus Group reviewed 24 job descriptions from 19 institutions posted in North America in 2021-2022. Our analysis revealed that these roles increasingly emphasize the relationships between foundational expertise in resource description with the discovery and access goals in expanded metadata portfolios. While this is far from an exhaustive study, it offered valuable prompts for discussion about how metadata managers approach the field’s evolving needs. Before the meeting, the Planning group identified two significant challenges:
How to balance innovative positions with the kinds of skills and experience likely to be represented in our applicant pool. For positions that involve coding or data science, it is hard to compete on salary with IT departments (not to mention for-profit companies). There’s also a risk of bait-and-switch if we hire someone for an assignment that was overly aspirational and fails to materialize. And regarding the traditional employment pipeline, we cannot control the kinds of students that are attracted to library and information science programs, or what subjects they study once they get there. We do exert influence indirectly, though, since library schools try to prepare graduates for the present and future job market.
How to ensure that we continue filling key positions for traditional cataloging. It is not always easy to convince senior management to fund legacy analog services in an ostensibly digital world. It is clear, however, that libraries will continue to collect intensively in both analog and digital format for a long time to come.
Many metadata units seek to fill open positions caused by a wave of retirements and pandemic-triggered resignations. Metadata managers are asking themselves these questions in response:
- Do I need to fill gaps from the loss of staff with deep cataloging and metadata expertise?
- Is this a moment to reimagine the role and take advantage of new opportunities?
Many of our metadata managers approached this situation by analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of their current team. This analysis can help identify whether a position could add technical expertise, familiarity with specific kinds of material, or a need to support different languages.
Metadata managers pointed out that one way to mitigate the impact of job vacancies is a good professional development strategy for existing staff. For example, one participant created opportunities for team members to try on new roles while others were on leave. In another case, a manager encouraged job shadowing for staff to explore new areas. Being aware of the career ambitions among current staff is not only helpful for retention. Still, it can also help managers better understand how to retain or promote people with interest and aptitude to try new things.
Being proactive also means always be recruiting. This could include actively offering outreach opportunities beyond existing student positions/practicums/internships. For example, metadata managers shared examples of seeking opportunities to speak in graduate school classes to get out in front of new pools of talent.
Crafting job descriptions
Metadata managers affirmed the patterns they saw in the reviewed job descriptions. Metadata work now emphasizes collaboration and working across multiple units in strategic ways. Ideal candidates can wear many hats and combine technical skills with soft people-oriented capabilities. These people skills may come in many forms, including direct outreach to faculty/students, cross-campus collaboration, project management, problem-solving, and advising. In essence, these are the kinds of social interoperability skills we’ve discussed in other OCLC research areas.
Hiring managers found that a gap analysis can help identify whether to hire for aptitude vs. experience. Participants suggested that candidates with the right “appetite, aptitude, attitude” for future challenges may be more desirable than focusing on knowledge of “an alphabet soup of standards, applications, or software languages.”
One of the significant changes that metadata managers face in crafting job descriptions is friction created by legacy hiring practices. In some cases, managers struggled to shift the focus away from existing job descriptions (e.g., cataloger, metadata, etc.). For institutions with a divide between “para-professional,” “professional,” and “academic” positions, shifting roles and responsibilities can be more difficult. Managers emphasized the need “to sell the work” to administrators and human resources by articulating broader needs (i.e., what it will take to accomplish shared goals). In one example, a manager creatively redefined a position by tying it to library objectives and also to broader university-level initiatives.
Next steps for Metadata Managers
As the new program officer facilitating the Metadata Managers Focus Group, I want to see where our understanding of job descriptions and hiring will go. I’ve started collecting recent studies providing broader library job descriptions and content analysis, and I’ve noted that many of these studies began before the pandemic and the “Great Reshuffle/Resignation.” In the March 2022 Metadata Managers discussion, the impacts of pandemic retirements, overall downsizing, and the resulting loss of knowledge and experience were more prominent than retention in general. It will be interesting to see the impact the current climate will have on our metadata work, particularly as the pace toward new ways of working increases. Although one participant mentioned the importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in one position, it was not a prominent part of the session. As we consider Reimagine Descriptive Workflows and efforts to remediate harmful descriptions, it may be worth revisiting metadata job descriptions through this lens. At 2022 ALA Core Forum, I learned that an ALA CORE membership survey received a small number of responses and doesn’t help us answer how metadata creation is becoming more inclusive as an area of work. The recent Art Museum Demographic Survey 2022 and A*CENSUS II: All Archivists Survey could be models for future research because they include additional information about how these fields are growing more inclusive.
In a November 2022 webinar, Marshall Breeding noted that a shift to new encoding standards and cataloging practices would come at a cost. Given the challenges that metadata managers are already facing in realigning, refocusing, and re-training staff, I wonder when the costs of sustaining current mature metadata ecosystems will be equivalent (or surpass) the costs of transitioning to new ways of working.
One Comment on “Filling the bench: Evolving roles in metadata job descriptions and hiring”
Hi and thank you for sharing this!