Mastering the Math: The Not-So-Mindless Musings of Two 21st Century Metadata Wonks

By Nannette Naught and  Laura Dawson

"Slow down, start at the beginning.”

“Decrease the drama, keep it simple, silly.”

“The facts, Ma’am. Just the facts.”

Long lost episode of Dragnet or guiding remarks made by system designers in a focus group at ALA? Honestly, it can be hard to tell the difference at times. And yes, we metadata wonks understand the hard, uncomfortable truth of this statement. Heck, we’ve lived it!

So now what? How do we as a knowledge industry move beyond the battle lines of our individual business cases? How do we as professionals productively collaborate across the divides of discipline and raison d’etre? WHERE DO WE BEGIN?

As we said last week, for our parts, we metadata wonks begin with trusted, experienced human knowledge acquisition and deployment engines with access to vetted, curated collections of knowledge. Trained information and data service professionals backed by institution-branded, collaboratively curated, community-aware resource collections, we access either in person, virtually, or via the ubiquitous, affordable software programs deployed on our phones, tablets, watches, and laptops — aka Libraries and Librarians.

So starting here, bringing Joe Friday with us into the 21st Century...

Fact: Learning is contemplative. Humans do not simply point and click their way to knowledge. Unlike machines, people do not simply additively take in information and automatically get smarter. Learning is an experience that requires active thought.

Volume (even organized volume) ≠ Wisdom.

Fact: Research is contextual and collaborative. Unlike simple mathematics, human learning is not necessarily incremental, but rather, oft nonsequential and unpredictable. Knowledge creation is a shared experience that requires active thought, appropriate access, and imagination.

1s and 0s (even organized, interconnected 1s and 0s)  Thought.

Fact: Inquiry is a dependent and serendipitous process. Unlike nascent, database-driven sort and retrieval algorithms, the human brain natively understands real world objects and complex relationships. The investigative act is a personal, emotion-inclusive, uniquely human experience that requires MORE. MORE than just machines with their 1s and 0s, fledging algorithms, and sales-driven, mob ruled, short-term, oft insecure, point and click document collections.

THE Web (even the linked, semantic web)  Library.

Which brings us back to last week’s conclusion, to move beyond current stagnation, the knowledge economy requires a library-led programming toolset and the resulting librarian-curated, web-formatted, web-accessible metadata that augments current sales-driven applications with knowledge- and language-driven contextual metadata to power its services and applications.

Which if we are honest, requires us all (aka not just us metadata wonks) to face yet another hard, uncomfortable truth — said efforts within the Library community seem stalled at best; in crisis at worst. Heck all of us, leadership and feet on the street alike, are living this truth daily! So why, oh why, can’t we take a clue from Nike and Shia LeBeouf and “JUST DO IT,” already?

Heck, as many correctly point out, library metadata was authoritative, global, and knowledge-based before anyone even conceived of the web, let alone email. Librarians, archivists, and their cadre of associated technical professionals were serving communities long before anyone received a degree in computer science, let alone web design or search engine optimization. And therein lies the rub. The rub or controversy that is holding us back: The epic battle between commercialized computer science and community-based library and information science.

Thankfully, here, the wisdom of Dragnet holds: Strip away the drama (aka commercial versus community) and get down to the facts (aka the science). And Voila, a simple fact, not to mention a very human truth, emerges: Computers are simply the vehicles through which library delivers knowledge and information (and for that matter commercial interests deliver their products) to communities (geographical, practice, institutional, academic, public, K-12, and specialized communities). Communities of people who are:

  • Driven by their individual wants, needs, and relationships;
  • Learning, researching, and inquiring in very human ways.

Which brings us metadata wonks to our main point for the week: We believe subtraction, not addition, is required, if we are to successfully escape the current trough of disillusionment.

We believe it’s time to STOP ceding authority, ownership, and, and frankly, definition of what is possible/needed, to the programmers.

We believe it’s time to QUIT relying on simple arithmetic, directory-like relational databases, and 5th grade level semantics, to discovery, deliver, and manage our resources, our patrons, and our businesses.

We believe it’s time to STAND UP for ourselves and the communities we serve by insisting that data, library, and information science aided by computer science move forward together as equals — no ugly step children, no domineering bullies allowed.

Then and only then, can we collaborate successfully across the divides of discipline and motivation to additively:

  • Move innovation forward, grounded in Tradition and Diversity.
  • Reliably extend service levels with Economics and Ethics.
  • Help ensure Peace by relying on shared Governance structures and Negotiation methodologies.
  • Achieve collective and individual Success through Innovation, Service, and Peace

Join us next week for ideas from Digital Book World about how our lifecycle partners the publishers, distributors, and aggregators see this playing out in 2017 product and service lines. And the following week for ideas from ALA MidWinter about how their lifecycle partners the librarians, researchers, and library technologists see this playing out in their institutions and within their communities of practice.

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