The Metadata Managers Focus Group met for informal round-robin sessions on May 24 and June 1 to discuss the question:
“What should metadata managers be learning?”
I hoped this open-ended question would provide us with ideas for future sessions and identify needs that we at the OCLC Research Library Partnership could help fill. Over the course of two sessions, participants didn’t disappoint, providing us with a broad set of topics to consider. Special thanks to Jennifer Baxmeyer, Princeton University, and Daniel Lovins, Yale University, for co-facilitating our sessions.
In reviewing the sessions, however, I realized we talked about what metadata managers are learning but didn’t surface much about how people are learning for me to pass on to you. Rather than one long post summarizing our session, I’m going to highlight the main themes and break them into four future posts.
Metadata is people!
We returned to the topic of staffing, recruitment, and training that we’d heard about in Filling the bench. In particular, we discussed the problem of succession planning within technical service departments. At the same time, metadata managers are also facing changing institutional leadership within their libraries or organizations. As Lorcan Dempsey, former OCLC Vice President of Membership and Research, and Chief Strategist, and Karen Estlund, Dean of Libraries at Colorado State University, recently noted in The technology career ladder:
An important factor to consider here is the large turnover in ARL leadership in recent years. Well over half the ARL dean/directors, 69, have been hired into their current role since 2018, with three additional announced to start by June 2023. Of those, 54 were new as directors to ARL, i.e., had not previously served as director at another ARL institution.
For metadata managers, this may require establishing new relationships with new leadership and advocating for the value and importance of metadata’s role in the library. In my first post in the forthcoming series, I’ll dive into how libraries are approaching the challenges related to succession planning.
We noted in our original prompt that metadata is always on the move, requiring metadata managers to constantly think about how to use the skills of their staff. In order to meet new challenges, we may have to think creatively about hiring new talent in different ways or augmenting existing staff’s capacity. Participants in our session discussed the steep learning curves they faced learning programming languages when going it alone. Others shared helpful examples of learning cohorts that helped staff gain new skills together. This post will return with some case-study examples of cooperative learning opportunities in libraries related to emerging skills, changing bibliographic models and content standards, and evolving toolsets.
During our sessions, we also talked about shifting away from thinking about cataloging/metadata work as just piecemeal editing of records towards more “data-oriented” mindsets. In some cases, this may be about dealing more with research information/data management that requires thinking computationally about data. But this could also be thinking more about “collections as data”—either to better understand our digital collections or to better manage print collections in shared environments (for example, see Collections as Data: Nascent progress and common need).
These questions come at the same time everyone is talking about emergent large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT. Metadata managers are being asked by leadership how these developments will impact or change our work. In this post, I’ll explore how these tools are already being used in metadata production workflows outside of libraries and what you may want to learn about combining knowledge graphs (i.e., linked data) and tools like ChatGPT.
Policy and strategy
It has been just over a year since OCLC Research released the Reimagine Descriptive Workflows report that provided a community agenda for reparative and inclusive metadata. Yet, metadata managers are often caught amongst various forces that make moving this work forward difficult. These tensions may be local, such as the need to have “all hands on deck” for an imminent implementation of a new ILS/LSP. There may be a significant lag between seeking approval from leadership and implementation. Any of these local factors can also encounter broader crosswinds. For example, some organizations that began to look at local subject headings for Indigenous peoples are now wondering how to proceed while the Library of Congress conducts an evaluation of its widely-used subject headings. I’ll close the series by following up with participants who are navigating these tensions in their institutions.