Beyond Simple Math & 5th Grade Semantics: The Not-So-Mindless Musings of Two 21st Century Metadata Wonks

By Nannette Naught and  Laura Dawson

For the sake of clarity, as wonks, we started at the beginning with simple math and basic sentences. But let’s be honest,

  • The business of knowledge is far from simple. Knowledge acquisition, creation, and communication are complex tasks requiring advanced semantics.
  • The mechanics of the knowledge economy are a far cry from straightforward supply and demand. Knowledge creation, acquisition, and curation are more about performance than parts.
  • The obligations of knowledge stewardship are far and away larger than the web. Knowledge rights, ownership, and access are international in scope and fraught with location- and community-specific considerations.

And, for that matter, let’s get real, as modern day metadata mechanics, most of us are:

  • More concerned about music, streaming digital media, and demand driven acquisition than articles, offsite storage, and comprehensive collections.
  • More affected by the need to demonstrate impact, the pressures of digitization, and concerns related to institutional and service alignment than usage counts, known item fulfillment, and search versus discovery sidebars with our vendors.

And while we’re at it, let’s put a fine point on the problem and explicitly state our operational struggles — the “nickel and diming us to death, but can’t afford to stop long enough to replace” work -rounds our behemoth, scarce-resource-guzzling 20th Century information systems require of us in the 21st Century knowledge economy. As trained, GenX and Millennial information, data, and content scientists we are forced to spend way too many hours in “dare we say it” repetitive, menial data massage tasks such as:

  • Recataloging content objects and enhancing their string-based, record trapped metadata.
  • Finding, investigating, and hand correcting the associated master and local holdings record collisions which make our collections invisible and unavailable to our patrons. Over and over again, with each update, renewal, replacement, and reconciliation.
  • Rescuing valuable, expensive researcher and student access from our disconnected ERM- systems and KB-focused acquisition and delivery processes.

From this vantage point then, let’s clearly outline our shared interests. As 21st century, knowledge industry leaders, we are united with our management colleagues across the lifecycle by our:

  • Deep interest in the economics of metadata modernization and the ongoing costs (time, money, and opportunity) of our community’s extended re-engineering efforts.
  • Strong commitment to quickly and effectively bridging the gaps in communication, understanding, metrics, and use cases that plague both initiatives. Be those gaps within our niche or with our software development friends who create the applications that deploy our data.

And with all this, finally, off our chests, let’s throw some light on this 21st Century knowledge economy we keep talking about, using the recent ALA MidWinter Conference as our crystal ball.

  • What does it look like? And how is it different than the production and inventory infrastructures of yesterday? In one word: Energy. With over 15 years of attendance under my belt (yes, I, GenX, Nannette, have been attending since 2001 in San Francisco), I can honestly say, perhaps more than any I have attended, the knowledge economy seen through the lens of this conference looks like Diversity, Responsibility, and Transformation!  From the active, visible, and varied president elect candidates to the council and committee meetings where strategic plans, realistic achievable budgets, and forward reaching conference updates are being not just discussed, but enacted, this is a vital industry, on the move.

For me, it’s spirit was best summed up in a single quote:
“If you can make the 14th Librarian of Congress, a Librarian, you can do anything … Librarians are having a moment, remember your power.”Carla Hayden, in her address to Council. (And yes, earlier this year as the second link shows, she also visited those PCC meetings, gathering place of many a library metadata wonk.)

  • Who are the players? And how are they different than yesterday’s? Quite frankly, some of the players you already know — LC, Ingram, and TLC or as we noted last week, libraries, library technology companies, publishers, distributors, aggregators, and the like. Others, however, like Biblioboard, DLSG, and BluuBeam are more recent entrants with new landscape shaping technical offerings. As to difference, I go back to the words Energy and Spirit. Old or new, these players are different for their willingness to actively execute real, working software on the cusp of change. They are not simply promising a future feature set, they are actively demonstrating an understanding of 21st Century use cases and a commitment to economical service modernization with tangible results.

For example,

  • Library of Congress’ BIBFRAME Initiative, drawing on real project planning that began in early to mid2016 (they’ve been reporting on it, in some detail, incrementally since late spring or early summer of that year) and in collaboration with PCC, IndexData, and others is actively completing the MARC to BIBFRAME converter, processing 19 million MARC records, and generating billions of RDF triples over the next three months to feed its active production pilot and the coming objectification of library metadata. Talk about realism and controlling the cost of re-engineering efforts, this is a whole new level of performance. This is from 1967 to big data, from “dirty by design” to “specifically semantic” in months not years. To my way of thinking at least, these are the foundations that will free re-invention efforts from the bounds of MARC-driven ILSes:
  • Enabling metadata mechanics to connect sales metadata to knowledge across the lifecycle. Need a reference point? Think back to Jean Godby’s ONIX mappings and OCLC Research’s Schema.org work of a few years back. Recast it against Selection and Acquisition in a beyond BIBFRAME 2.0 world, and a whole new era of metadata automation opens up.
  • Allowing metadata curators to establish relationships between people, pieces, collections, and disciplines. Need a guidepost? Think back to 2010 or so and Tom Delsey’s, Barbara Tillet’s, and the RDA JSC’s work on relationships and relationship designators. Recast it against metadata curation postBIBFRAME 2.0 production pilot, and a whole new world of metadata driven inquiry opens up — inside, and outside, the library system.
  • Empowering lifecycle leaders to drive ROI and assess impact. Need some lane markers? Follow Wayne Schneider’s (IndexData speaking at the BIBFRAME Forum) train of thought. A post conversion, big data world (on and off the web), working with curated metadata resulting from steps 1 and 2 herein. Library metadata which is no longer surrogate and outside content, but expressed in and aggregated against our resources’, digital content’s native languages (e.g., objectified XML). And a whole new world of learning, research, and inquiry facilitation (not to mention library operations cost optimization) opens up!

And on that note, let’s look at a few of those cusp riding, working applications which cast against this upgraded, connected metadata uplift wonk spirits and re-energize us.

  • BiblioBoard with its Amazon Kindle store style interface is helping libraries affordably and intuitively provide access to digital materials outside cumbersome discovery interfaces. Giving librarians and their patrons the ability to create custom curations and a personalized user experience akin to their relationship with their tablet. Talk about metrics, this is a whole new level of embedding. This is ILS information (they have integrated with SirsiDynix so far) powering the digital life of the user.
  • DLSG with its BSCAN Interlibrary Loan & Digital Document Delivery is easily and affordably (for less than the cost of 1 staff member for a month, initial purchase, and a small, in the $100s, optional yearly support fee) placing the power of immediate PDF-based interlibrary loan into the hands of any library. No muss, no fuss, no system understanding or technical knowledge required. Talk about ease of use, this is as simple as taking a book off the shelf and making a photocopy. This is a whole new level of service. This is near immediate, near idiot proof managed access to physical library collections anywhere, at any time, at minimal cost.
  • BluuBeam with its small plastic beacons and location-triggered alert capabilities is affordably and noninvasively allowing libraries to integrate their physical and digital presence through their patron’s handheld devices. Talk about patron engagement and personalization. Products like this with low points of entry and creative deployment; open the door to a whole new level interactivity and performance. This could be the beginning of demand-driven, patron-controlled, library-managed, location-specific, device-delivered service.

Whew! That’s a lot to say in one blog post! It’s too much to chew in a single three article series! It is quite frankly, insufficient to the tasks at hand. Don’t worry, we metadata wonks, agree with you. Moreover, we believe it is just the start of a conversation that needs to involve many more players and address many more issues, viewpoints, and perspectives. It is a conversation at the cross roads of centuries, services, and business cases. For the feedback we’ve received so far, it is an exchange of ideas that needs a home. Thus, as we close this series on Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Knowledge, we open the door to a “coming soon” Crossroad Conversations space at the former www.imteaminc.com address and add the voices of both Kathryn Harnish and a rotating series of virtual coffee participants.
Until then, two metadata wonks, signing off!

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