Wednesday, March 05, 2008

LCSH v. techies

There's a big digital project in the works here at The New Job. They're digitizing something like 400 works or pieces, and then some of us in the cataloging department are charged with creating the metadata. Not from scratch or anything, of course--the works are originally out of the archives here, so there's some basic metadata available. I've been meeting with people about this project a lot in the past few days, since I am the Metadata Librarian.

And I finally think I have a grasp on what it means to the be the Metadata Librarian. My job is to make sure that the catalogers don't feel like they're selling their souls, and that the digital people don't feel like they're being nickel and dimed by the catalogers. Case in point: LCSH.

This new digital project is going to be pretty cool--two institutions working together to create a federated search portal that other libraries/archives will be able to use, as well, in the future, all under one umbrella. It's not the most groundbreaking piece of technology I've seen, but still. It's neat that they're doing it.

They did a pilot metadata creation thing a few weeks back, as I understand it. One cataloger told me that they were given 6 days (really four, since two of the days were a weekend) to create metadata on 35 records. No big deal, right? Wrong. Apparently the metadata includes LCSH. And let's not forget, all the catalogers here have their "real" jobs, where they do all the other cataloging that needs to be done.
So the catalogers are all in a tizzy because they think (perhaps rightly) that the digitization people just don't get how long it takes to do subject analysis, not to mention filling in the other blanks in the metadata record. Oh, and did I mention that the catalogers didn't have anything to look at while they cataloged? The digitization people didn't think that the catalogers needed to see any of the pieces in order to catalog. How does subject analysis get done when all you have is a title?

Now, on the other side of this, the digitization people (this includes the project manager), think that the catalogers are exaggerating how long it takes to do things, and that their time table is going to get screwed up if the catalogers keep insisting on needing more things and more time. I think that the digitization folks believed that the metadata and digitization would be done concurrently, or even that the metadata could be done BEFORE the items were digitized. This is of course possible...but only if, as one cataloger said to me "we go upstairs with a notepad and catalog it by hand in front of the original."

I've already come up with several solutions in my head for this, and I think this is why they hired me. I like creating compromise. But that's not the "biggest" problem.
The biggest problem is that the digitization folks have now started messing with the LCSH field. They have started asking for non-LCSH terms to be used in that field. The catalogers are horrified, of course. I'm kind of horrified, too, but not because LCSH is so inviolate. More because the non-LCSH term they want is not a "subject" at all. It's a type of material. But I think I have an answer for that, too, if I can phrase it correctly. Then everybody wins. We have a meeting today; we'll see how it goes. Considering that I'm totally new, they might not even want me to speak at all. :)

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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.