by Donna Frederick
Services to Libraries, University of Saskatchewan
The Association of Library Collections and Technical Services, better known as ALCTS, is a division of the American Library Association. Approximately once a month ALCTS hosts an “eForum” which is a two day moderated email-based discussion. Current and pressing issues and concerns of librarians are often surfaced through these discussions. Some eForums demonstrate how online discussions can challenge our thinking and assumptions. While most of the threads are practical in nature and focus on mundane problems, the author of this post can generally uncover at least one valuable nugget which likely would not be discovered elsewhere.
The February 2016 ALCTS eForum was called “Career Progression in Cataloging and Metadata”. It was led by Lisa Robinson of Michigan State University and Stacie Traill of the University of Minnesota. Lisa and Stacie have provided a summary of the discussion which is referenced at the end of this post. The diversity of participants likely played a role in the wide range of points of view voiced. The “valuable nugget” of the month was about the assumptions we make when we apply traditional measures of effectiveness, productivity or efficiency to changed environments and the impact of making decisions based on the “evidence” derived from the application of those measures.
One of the discussions in the eForum was whether or not cataloguing and metadata creation are the same discipline. Participants generally agreed that both are unified by a shared theory of metadata. There was also agreement that the two are different in practice. Lisa Bodenheimer of Clemson University was able to bring clarity to the discussion when she stated that, “The need for different metrics and the use of different standards lead me to say, yes, metadata is a specialty distinct from cataloging.” The reality is that because the basic theory at the core of cataloging can and should be applied to all library metadata, technical services librarians often apply “tried and true metrics” to all forms of metadata creation whether it be traditional cataloging or creating records for one of the newer metadata containers. These measures often lead to conclusions about low productivity among traditional cataloguers which, if the difference in practice and the nature of the metrics used are well understood, are inaccurate. For example, some metadata creation processes involve taking 100s of traditional catalog records and, through a single action, convert them into new metadata records. Comparisons using a traditional metric is misleading in such a context. Neither the older or newer process is well-represented in the results seeing as the original cataloger may have needed to research topics or authors to create effective discovery metadata while the metadata librarian may have taken days or weeks to create a script or process which would process all of those records at once. The latter type of activity is not represented in existing cataloging metrics. Participants reported technical services decisions which were made based on data collected by applying metrics inappropriately.
While the eForum discussion of metrics appears to be most relevant to metadata and cataloging librarians, it demonstrates a concern for evidence based library and information practice. Metrics are used to extract the evidence upon which we make decisions. To measure something, we must understand what it is we are measuring and ensure that the tool for measurement is appropriate. When we make comparisons based on metrics, we also must understand the mechanics of the tool and critically evaluate both the appropriateness of its application and the results it produces. As the forum revealed, metrics are useful and powerful tools but differences in practice can make a particular metric inappropriate for use in seemingly related contexts and/or can result in misleading results. In the case of this eForum, the apparent conclusion is that the discipline needs an overhaul in the metrics it uses for measuring cataloguing and metadata work. Keeping this in mind, are there other areas of library work where changes over time and/or slight variations in practice have rendered our “tried and true” metrics less than useful as evidence?
Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (2016) “Career Progression in Cataloging and Metadata” [eForum archive] ALCTS eForum Archive. Dates of event: Tuesday, 2/16/2016 – Wednesday, 2/17/2016. Retrieved from: http://lists.ala.org/sympa 29 February 2016
Robinson, Lisa and Traill, Stacie (2016) “Career Progression in Cataloging and Metadata: eForum Summary” ALCTS News, features. Retrieved from: http://www.ala.org/alctsnews/features/e-forum-career 26 February 2016
This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.