Tuesday, February 22, 2005

What we're up against

I was in a meeting recently, in an observation capacity only, that reminded me just how much work we really have to do to educate librarians about the changing needs of our users in the 21st Century. The meeting started out discussing an area of traditional librarianship, including updates of new developments within the traditional framework. A report was then given on an initiative using some traditional library data in a new way. This report was brief, and to my mind represented a misunderstanding of the point of the initiative. The report focused on the mechanics of how a cataloger would interact with the new service (the part still under development), and completely ignored the end-user. No mention at all was given that the point of the initiative was to make the older practice more transparent to end-users.

This in itself was disappointing, but the meeting went rapidly downhill from there. Based on this report, the group concluded that the initiative at this time held no benefit for their community. They would keep tabs on its development, but their explicitly stated conclusion was "No news is good news." An idea was then presented that the initiative was "probably" (this was a guess, not based on any information from the initiative in question) meant for use with electronic resources, with the strong implication that resource description must be fundamentally different for electronic resources than for "traditional" resources. A sigh of understanding spread through the group, and they further concluded that the initiative was definitely not relevant, since it was used for "other stuff, not our stuff." The discussion then progressed to saying "this must be for metadata, not cataloging," and therefore further not relevant to the group.

I was shocked. I've certainly come across my fair share of resistance to the sort of work I do as a metadata librarian from technical services folks, but I have never come across this level of intellectual separation. It was as if the group did not understand the new initiative and was doing everything they could to rationalize a view that it didn't matter. I definitely see as one of my primary job responsibilities education of the people I work with about metadata issues. I'm doing my best to tackle them, one person at a time. I know it's a big challenge - here's wishing me some luck on this road!

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