Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Third Verse Same as the First...

Tomorrow I work a full day and then take Amtrak north to the final MLIS residency. While I'll certainly miss the inherent decadence of a forty minute flight to Seattle, I'm not missing the cost of a last minute ticket. I'm still hoping to get some funds from the travel scholarship, which would make my life so much happier and easier. We'll see.

In anticipation of residency I'm trying to ease myself back into a work cycle. It's amazing how easily the concentration and time management muscles atrophy with the slightest break in practice. Both my courses don't look terribly difficult, though I'm sure they'll be plenty challenging - I'm naturally nervous about them, but there's none of the abject fear brought out when I first read the Information Behavior course site. The only reading I've done so far is on metadata, which is a term that I admit I've thrown about with much abandon and very little understanding. While some the reading is floating in that nebulous philosophical area above my head, much of it is interesting on a practical level. I suppose that's what I find so attractive about cataloging and the like - how do I take this stuff and arrange it so people can find it and use it? I love the idea of making things easier to find and thus easier to use, be it by helping to clean up authority records in the catalog or updating a patron record.

One article*, which is an overview of metadata schemes in the library and museum world, there was a brief discussion about user-created metadata. Particularly in small communities (hobbyists), the shared understanding and, most importantly, shared language can be a boon for tagging. But, as I've seen in other studies, the lack of control can be an issue in terms of accuracy. I know of colleagues who dislike the idea of user tagging in a library catalog, not out of a sense of "Keep off my lawn, you crazy kids!" but more from the the realization that what is added might not be all that useful. A value-add should add value, not clutter things up. Getting a good base support of users to tag can be a challenge. An empty catalog doesn't spur on participation (if no one else is doing it, why should I?). While I know that I could probably hunt this down, doesn't anyone know of a successful user-tagging projects within the confines of a library catalog?

When read the article I was struck by the underlying calling for expertise. This shouldn't be shocking as the article seems geared towards nascent professionals. The idea of arrogance connected with expertise, the "I know what the user needs better than they do" has reared its controversial head in a number of my classes so I suppose I'm a bit sensitive to it. Is metadata a place where the user doesn't belong? At least, not directly. Clearly metadata and other features of the organization of information exist to serve a user based, which must always remain in the back of the mind. But I'm left wondering if you achieve the ultimate metadata goal (according to the article I read) of "rich, consistent, carefully crafted descriptive metadata" without some level of expertise and thus control. Does the creation and maintaining of the swarm of information surrounding information demand professional control or does it demand the creation of a controlled system that can be used easily by nonprofessionals (like Dublin Core)? How do you balance it all?

I doubt this is something that can be answered in ten weeks, but it's a start of something...

*Gilliland, A. J. (n.d.). “Setting the stage.” In Introduction to metadata: Pathways to digital information. Online Ed., Version 2.1. Murtha Baca ed. Available: http://www.getty.edu/research/conducting_research/standards/intrometadata/setting.pdf.

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