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Metadata management in times of uncertainty

Metadata management in times of uncertainty

June 15, 2020 - by Karen Smith-Yoshimura - Posted in Hanging Together the OCLC Research blog

Abstract: That was the topic discussed recently by OCLC Research Library Partners metadata managers, initiated by Erin Grant of University of Washington, Jennifer Baxmeyer of Princeton, Roxanne Missingham of Australian National University, and Suzanne Pilsk of the Smithsonian Institution. The COVID-19 crisis has caused a dramatic change in how libraries deliver services to patrons. Many libraries have increased the number of e-book acquisitions to meet the continuing research, teaching, and learning demands of their institutions. Discovery of resources through catalogs and federated search services has become more important than ever before. In addition, working from home has become the “norm” but not necessarily for everyone. Staff that process physical material are unable to do so from home, so they are either not working, or their work assignments have changed. Metadata managers have been learning many lessons from this period about how they should think about future crises and about how they might operate differently once staff return to work at their physical locations. 

Most libraries closed abruptly, and few staff had previous experiences with working remotely.  The issues shared among the metadata managers in three virtual discussions and 58 pages of commentary from nine countries are summarized below.

Existing or new metadata work that could be done remotely: Online resource and digital collections work translated very well to working from home. Libraries could request and process invoices digitally. Some catalogers were able to take physical materials home to catalog, but others couldn’t. Libraries had to experiment with new workflows to accommodate copy cataloging physical materials without the item in hand using online accession lists, spreadsheets, or scanning specific pages of materials serving as digital surrogates. The University of Sydney produced this short video of scanning rare books with mobile phones so that other staff could catalog them from home.
The general shift “from p to e” (print materials to electronic versions) that had started pre-pandemic accelerated as libraries swiftly had to support online instruction when their campuses closed. Staff that had previously focused on processing print collections had to quickly learn to catalog electronic materials instead, and this period saw a surge in cross-team training and re-training to carry out essential tasks to support key services. Shifting to online thus required a much more holistic approach across the library, leading to much discussion, juggling, and ad-hoc training sessions.
Cataloging print materials was generally deferred to when staff could return to the libraries. With all professional conferences cancelled, more time could be directed to research, writing, and participating in Webinars. Staff had more opportunities for professional development of their skills. Administrative work such as budgeting, writing reports, and performance reviews continued, with staff meetings moved to video conferences. More time could be devoted to what had previously been long-deferred “rainy day”  tasks such as authority work, processing backlogs, database maintenance, record mediation and enhancement, correcting holdings, writing and reviewing documentation, troubleshooting metadata issues surfaced in the discovery systems, automation projects (such as automatically generating MARC records from spreadsheets), and writing new code for in-house applications. This experience highlighted how much of current metadata workflows are normally driven by physical collections at some institutions.

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