Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What do you mean, you don't have metadata experience?

(This has been in my drafts for a while. I finally decided to publish it. Maybe one of these days I'll publish all the other drafts I have sitting around.)

A few weeks ago, a cataloger who thought she might soon be unemployed emailed one of the listservs I subscribe to. One of the things she wrote really caught my attention: “The few cataloging jobs that I saw required metadata experience, which I don’t have…”

I could say who wrote this and when it was written, and the post can be found in this particular listserv’s archives, but since I don’t know if this person would be ok with her name also being in a blog post, I’m not including it here. The important thing is simply that she wrote this, and that this is not the first time this has come up.

Offlist, I emailed her about this statement, saying that, actually, she does have metadata experience. MARC is a metadata standard. In fact, it’s a very complicated and unintuitive metadata standard – lots of fields and subfields. The average person, looking at a list of MARC fields, would probably not be able to immediately equate, say, “245” with “Title statement,” and yet for many catalogers who regularly use MARC it actually becomes more comfortable to see fields and subfields rather than plain English labels.

If you know MARC, you have metadata experience. You may not have experience with Dublin Core or EAD or ONIX or XML or whatever else, but you do have metadata experience, and you can apply what you have learned from MARC to learning another metadata standard. (This, of course, takes an employer who is willing to train you or give you the time to get trained - which is a valid worry, what with all the employers who seem to want new employees who can be put to work with little or no training.)

Not everyone writes or talks about MARC and metadata as if they are two completely separate things, but it has still somehow been embedded in some people’s brains that they are separate things. On listservs and in blogs, I have read complaints from people that catalogers aren’t very good at recognizing transferable skills. The mental separation of “metadata” and “MARC” is, I feel, one of the main reasons why this is so, and it cripples catalogers and makes them afraid. Skilled catalogers don’t think they are qualified to be metadata librarians (or whatever else they are called). They think that what they do is becoming obsolete.

I do believe that, one day, catalogers will probably be using something other than MARC. However, I don’t live in fear of my future and my career(*)…because I believe there will always be a place for someone who can create and edit metadata. I can learn a new metadata scheme if I need to. After all, I learned MARC.
If you'd like to know more about MARC's place in the metadata world, check out "A Visualization of the Metadata Universe." Actually, this shows you the place of 105 metadata standards - it's awesome and kind of pretty.
* - I do worry that, one day, there won't be any jobs for people like me in libraries. I could work for a corporation if necessary, and almost ended up at one during the course of my post-grad school job search, but I'd prefer to work for a library. With all the outsourcing that's going on, however, that may not always be possible.


  1. Well said! Catalogers ARE metadata specialists - the name has changed but the job remains the same. If you can understand metadata, you can figure out how to use the format or rules/standards for that particular need (MARC, Dublin Core, Onix, etc.) - just like in reference that if you understand how a database search works you can figure out EBSCO, Gale, MD Consult, etc.

  2. Great Post Melissa! So very true. Library skills translate to lots of other industries and formats. When I need it, I am so getting your help with the resume!

  3. Great post! And Tracy and Melissa, I hope neither of you are planning to leave anytime soon!