Guest blog post by
Manager, Metadata Analysis & Design
University of Virginia
When Liz and Jeremy announced their survey in Spring 2016, I couldn’t wait to see the results. I think about this topic often: I’m a metadata librarian turned metadata unit manager and veteran of several reorganizations. As they note in the About section of their research site, cataloging units in academic libraries have changed and continue to do so in response to institutional priorities, shifting responsibilities, and changes in staffing. This has been absolutely true for my institution and my goal here is to provide an on-the-ground view of organizational change to pair with their data.
I am no stranger to a changing organizational structure. In 2011, I was hired as a metadata librarian into what was then called the Cataloging & Metadata Services (CatMet) department, itself a new concept to the library as the department had been called simply Cataloging until 2010. In 2012, a second departmental reorganizational occurred, creating the new Metadata Management Services (MMS) unit. The MMS unit functioned until 2015, when a library-wide re-organization of all departments and services resulted in the creation of three new metadata units: Resource Acquisition & Description (RAD), Metadata Creation & Organization (MCO), and Metadata Analysis & Design (MAD). In this arrangement, the RAD unit combines acquisitions and cataloging functions to obtain materials and connect those materials to description already available, the MCO unit creates description for materials for which there is no description already available, and the MAD unit – for which I am the manager – develops metadata policies and workflows, assesses and implements metadata management tools, and provides information organization and content description expertise throughout the library and university.
We have reorganized multiple times for a variety of reasons: to effectively respond to rapidly evolving requests for service within the library (aligning with the survey’s findings on integration with digital library functions), to shift with changes in staffing (our university offered an early retirement incentive program last year, which significantly impacted the library) and to adapt to new institutional directives, especially in the form of a recently published strategic plan for the university. For us, it means integrating the technical goals of developing staff expertise in BIBFRAME, RDF, and scripting with creating a culture of organizational agility. The latter is much more difficult to define; however, as a manager and an individual contributor I have come to value four competencies and characteristics when I think about cataloging and metadata librarianship:
- Openness to possibility. Our library’s reorganization in 2015 represented a shift away from discipline-based library services and to function-based library services. In my view, this is excellent news for those involved with metadata work, because metadata expertise powers every function of the library and can unlock research potential through partnerships within the university. Was this conceptual shift easy? No. Was the physical disruption of moving departments and individuals within the library and multiple buildings seamless? No. An ameliorating factor for this sea change has been an openness to possibility on the part of many involved with metadata work, especially since our shift in organizational philosophy has increased the visibility of metadata staff within the library and university.
- Comfort with ambiguity. I know this seems like a violation of everything metadata librarians and catalogers hold dear what with our expertise in consistent application of rules and ardent passion for disambiguation. Hear me out: that expertise can be practiced within ambiguous organizational contexts, and I’m convinced that the CatMet and MMS departmental reorganizations were a kind of endurance training that prepared us for the marathon of the whole library reorganization in 2015. Those staff involved with the previous reorganizations demonstrated considerable skill in mentoring colleagues for whom the library reorganization was either the first reorganization they had experienced or the first in many years. Developing tolerance for ambiguity has proven critical for our organizational success in acquiring new or adapting existing skills and in making adjustments when developing and testing workflows.
- Interest in learning new methods, philosophies, and service strategies. Besides the creation of three new metadata units, the library’s re-organization also represents the integration of special collections and non-special collections expertise within the RAD, MCO, and MAD units. For MAD especially, this has necessitated that we analyze and modify our previous philosophy (“basic access to more things”) to account for the specialized organization and description needs for rare and unique materials. In addition to that, we have developed new services for researchers in the form of on-call expertise in content arrangement and description. We have had ongoing relationships with and one-time, point-of-need services for environmental scientists, political scientists, art historians, biomedical engineers, and archaeologists (to name a few). These two shifts – integrating with special collections staff and developing metadata services throughout the university – represent the cumulative effect of points one and two above combined with interest on the part of metadata librarians to learn and absorb ideas that challenge our status quo.
- Curiosity. Last week, I fielded a research question from an undergraduate about metadata strategies for locating works on the democratization of Cameroon by authors from Cameroon, had a spirited conversation with a colleague about the merits of Library of Congress Subject Heading strings versus a fully atomized Faceted Application of Subject Terminology approach, and began studying EAD3 as a successor to EAD 2002 and the specific user tasks supported in the new schema. I derive a tremendous amount of energy and inspiration from working alongside curious and engaged colleagues who are game to explore my favorite two words put together: “what if?”
I believe strongly in a phrase in Liz and Jeremy’s presentation to the Cataloging & Classification Research Interest Group meeting at ALA Annual this year: “Change is a process, not an event.” Put simply: the last five years have for us been a period of significant inquiry into cataloging and metadata librarianship, what we want to accomplish, how we want to do that work – all within a changing library and university context. The four points I’ve outlined here are my guiding principles for metadata work and organizational change in an academic library – what are yours?
Academic Institution Name: University of Virginia
Academic Institution Type: Public/Research
Academic Institution student FTE: 24,054
Multi-library system? : Yes
If so, how many libraries are in the system? : 10
Library Name: University of Virginia Library
Library staff FTE: 220
FTE of cataloging unit(s): 26
ILS used: SirsiDynix Symphony Workflows
Digital Library used: Hydra/Fedora
IR used: Hydra/Fedora
About Ivey Glendon:
Ivey is the manager for Metadata Analysis & Design and has responsibility for coordinating metadata policy development across content management systems, overseeing workflow assessment initiatives, and providing metadata consultation throughout the Library and University. Prior to joining the University of Virginia Library in 2011, she was a digital conversion specialist for Chronicling America, a production of the National Digital Newspaper Program at the Library of Congress. She holds a B.A. in History and Government from the University of Virginia and an M.S. in Library and Information Studies from Florida State University.
You can contact Ivey here.