Overcoming the Challenges of Implementing Standardized Metadata Practices in a Digital Repository

This is the first in our series of follow-up posts by Midwinter Lightning Talk presenters.

Many of you probably are or have worked with Metadata Librarians. So, what is it that a Metadata Librarian normally can do? (1) A Metadata Librarian normally can perform Authority control of entities, including personal and corporate names. (2) She or he can freely use controlled terms from the thesaurus and subject lists including FAST terms, as well as keywords. (3) She or he can freely add a field, delete a field, change a field label and adjust its mapping. (4) She or he can adopt Standard Controlled Vocabularies including Library of Congress linked data values. (5) She or he will follow certain cataloging or metadata guidelines such as those of Dublin Core, DACS, RDA or MODS. Ideally, she or he can add linked data URIs such as for personal and corporate names, places, or, can verify the linked data URIs added by the system.

However, in working with some repositories, trying to implement normal or standardized practices can be a challenge. For example, some repositories don’t provide the authority control option. Some use the name that the author enters for his/her account; they allow controlled names to be added as additional fields, but not indexed, not display under “browse by names.” Some repositories prefer keywords or their own taxonomy to subjects; they don’t display thesaurus terms or subjects as a facet, nor as a “browse by” option. Furthermore, catalogers may lose control of the fields; in some hosting solutions, a cataloger needs to make a request for any field changes to the vendor rep through a repository administrator. Another issue is that the harvesting, for example, to OCLC Digital Gateway can be inadequate.

You may wonder why all these changes. It looks like one reason is that the focus has switched from librarians to users; some repositories promote researchers’ assigning keywords to their own materials more than catalogers’ assigning subjects. Some repositories and libraries replaced traditional methods with other ways, for example, they have their own taxonomies; they also adopt research identifiers such as Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID); some libraries prefer institutional knowledge management names to LC authorized names. Essentially, some are designed more for authors, rather than catalogers or librarians. Also, we may have heard some folks say something like: Users don’t like library of congress subject terms, especially those with subdivisions. Authors don’t like controlled names etc. Are these more myth or fact? It’s worth considering. Today we will not address the various endeavors going on in the library community such as Bibframe led by the LC, but rather on the digital repository arena in general. Will metadata librarians and catalogers remain a strong stakeholder in the field of information description and access along with users, authors, vendors, information service or subject librarians?

For a Metadata Librarian, what are some of the responses to these challenges? The most important of all is probably working with other librarians including those from Digital Initiatives and Special Collections, and also subject librarians and authors. Some of the practical practices include: Establishing templates for different types of collections in the digital repository; Adding additional fields for controlled terms such as names besides the fields with uncontrolled or local values; Adding additional fields for linked data URIs; Duplicating or tweaking values for certain fields to get them harvested; Accepting author metadata, and keeping the option of metadata review open; and, making more requests to the vendor representative.

My final reflection would be the definition for “standardized Metadata Practices” changes over time and in the landscape of many systems and stakeholders; it is not quite clear whether a blend of more traditional practices and changed practices is a very good approach; are we gaining or losing anything by moving away from the traditional methods; and finally, it is beneficial when librarians work together and also with the vendors to make careful, practical and conscientious choices.

Slides are available at: connect.ala.org/files/2017MidWinter_Metadata_Deng.pptx.

Sai Deng, Metadata Librarian, University of Central Florida Libraries

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