Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Learning Metadata

I've been going through "the literature", as the kids say nowadays, on metadata creation. Reading snippets of books published 3-4 years ago, reading blogs, reading articles, reading powerpoint presentations, watching webcasts (tangentially, have you noticed how many ways there are to disseminate information these days? whew!).
A question has been put to me "describe how cataloging departments can balance traditional cataloging functions with emerging technologies." Ok, that's not a question, really, but you get the idea.
And the answer is---I'm not sure. I actually think the question has a lot more to do with the idea of a "traditional" cataloging function than it does the emerging technologies. Traditional implies "old", doesn't it? Maybe "quaint". Something that's been around the block a few times, at least. But I don't think that, at core, cataloging functions are changing at all. And I certainly don't think it's about striking a balance. Because technologies are just tools.
I know that many catalogers (and computer scientists) think that the technology IS the function. MaRC is what we do in cataloging! EAD is what we do in archives now! But that's just not true. In reality, we SERVE. That's what we do.
As I've said before, I can be what many catalogers would call "lax" about the AACRII. The only reason I am, though, is because I don't see how it benefits users, in all cases. If a user needs to see something in order to understand the work better, then I give it to them, in any way I can. This can lead to bending or breaking of the rules, but so be it. I'm not a cataloging slave (that's reserved for my student-workers).
When we were in graduate school, I remember the students in the cataloging course that needed to know the exact right way to catalog everything. My cataloging professor told them over and over that the "rules" are not really rules at all; that there exist many different ways to catalog any given work/manifestation/item.
I think that the question I've been posed could benefit from this advice. Why do I need to balance my duties with technology? Don't I use my technologies to do my duties? Isn't that the point? I think maybe the question was designed to make me think about how cataloging is changing. And it is, I know it is. But I think that all these "monster" changes that are taking place are just semantics. If I start using Dspace instead of Horizon, the only thing that has changed is that I'm now focused on making electronic resources available rather than paper resources. And my goal is the same--give the user everything I possibly can to help them get their information. The balancing act is how do I serve, not how do I remember to put a colon after the title statement.

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"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.