This September I spent three days in Canterbury, at the University of Kent, attending the CILIP Cataloguing and Indexing Group conference. Held every two years the CIG conference is an ideal opportunity for cataloguers and those working with metadata to get together. The theme this year was the impact of metadata and a variety of sessions arose looking at different aspects. Over the three days we looked at the Impact of metadata standards, the Impact on the organisation, the Impact of metadata on users, and the Impact of metadata professionals. There were formal papers, lightning talks and a poster session; as well as a couple of optional tours at the end of the conference which I also managed to attend. Plus the best freebies I have so far received in a conference goody bag – including a fridge magnet of cataloguing words!
Impact of metadata standards
The ‘hot’ new metadata standard to be talked about these days is ‘Linked Data’ and the conference got off to a sizzling start with Thomas Meehan from University College London talking about Bibframe – which is the Library of Congress’ replacement for MARC and is based on linked data. If you want to know what Linked Data is you should look at Tim Berners-Lee’s four principles of linked data, which Meehan referred to. Unlike MARC, Linked data is not a cataloguing or library standard, it is greater than that and assumes an openness. MARC is difficult to share outside of the library world which is one reason why Linked data is seen as the future. Various libraries have published linked data, such as the Swedish National Library, German National Library and Cambridge University Library, whilst the British Library has been using it for the British National Bibliography (BNB).
The session moved on to Chris Biggs (Open University) who talked about OUDA – the Open University Digital Archive which will contain all the digital content from the OU from the last 45 years, including video, audio etc. He discussed the problems they faced including extracting metadata from a number of places, how not everything was catalogued in the past, how AV and text records were inconsistent, the standards that have changed or are partial, and how material has changed over the years with different carriers (broadcasts, videos, DVDs, digital files). Biggs detailed some of the processes they went through using MarcEdit, and the challenges they faced. So far the changes have been made in their LMS and are not yet in OUDA – but eventually all the data will be in OUDA and the discoverability will be better than with their LMS.
After a break Duncan Chalmers from Coutts gave a brief talk about RDA (Resource Description and Access) and using it with two metadata formats (MARC and Linked data). He pointed out that ‘metadata’ as a concept doesn’t figure in a user’s workflow, and that when people are used to searching for information on the web when they come into a library they notice when their searching on the library catalogue doesn’t work as well.
Following on from this Alan Danskin of the British Library took a very focussed look at certain rules within the RDA toolkit that need rethinking. His talk RDA and the cascading vortex of horror looked at a chain of instructions cataloguers would get sucked into when certain information was not available on an item; and he suggested some possible changes.
Impact on the organisation
The second day started with a very interesting talk from Laura Williams of the BBC who talked about embedded Media Managers who work alongside other staff at the BBC to capture and archive metadata. She looked primarily at TV metadata which is generated by film crews, and production teams. If the right information is not collated it has a knock on effect – for instance a programme synopsis won’t go into the Radio Times; or the cataloguers are unable to add the item to the archive. Williams also mentioned a couple of projects that are ongoing – the ‘Stockshop’ project which looks at which generated images might have value outside the use they were created for, or which have the potential to be used by someone else – for instance a view over London from a helicopter.
Next up was Natasha Aburrow-Jones from EDINA looking at the impact of metadata within SUNCAT (Serials union catalogue). Originating as a project in 2003, SUNCAT was fully launched in 2005 and there are now 100 contributing libraries which range from large national libraries to small specialised libraries; from Inverness to Cornwall, and includes one in Antarctica! They accept data in almost any format and quite surprisingly with ranging quality of metadata (it is bewildering how/why people submit records which don’t even have titles!). The impact of the (non) use of data standards leads to a lack of consistency and non-matching with other records. They are currently designing a new in-house algorithm for matching metadata with “a multi dimensional radial match” .
Following on from this was a paper by Arwen Caddy who works in a corporate library for the company Reckitt Benckiser Healthcare. You probably won’t recognize the company name, but would certainly know the products – ranging from Gaviscon to Durex. About 4,000 books make up a small part of the research and development library, alongside a state of the art archive. This is a ‘Dim archive’ – meaning that it is a controlled repository which locks down documents so they can’t be tampered with; and they have permission from the CLA to store and give out papers to a select audience. By ‘locking down’ documents they are maintaining the integrity of the originals, regulating authentification and providing a trusted, non-tampered with copy (remember this is the corporate world!). However, once the documents have entered the archive you can’t correct any mistakes – if you upload it to the wrong folder, that’s it, it has to stay there; if any errata are published you have to upload a whole new version as well; embarrassing mistakes stay on the catalogue. Caddy provided some tips on how to avoid mistakes; these included taking responsibility in the approval process and learning where mistakes were likely to happen, concentrating, and getting into a rhythm. There were a variety of other pitfalls in the process including confusions about chapter authors and book editors, and dates to file by (year the paper was accepted or the year it was published). She also provided some very good advice when dealing with her users: If you can’t always be right, be helpful!
Impact of metadata on users
The afternoon session looked at the impact of metadata on users. This included lightning talks on social media by Claire Sewell (Cambridge), which focussed on the use of Pinterest particularly in relation to their library science collection; Improving subject based metadata for LGBTQ related young adult books by Ruth Jenkins, a library school student; and enhancing the user experience and promoting bibliographic services at De Montfort University by Lynne Dyer. Alongside these were a paper by Anne Welsh (lecturer at University College London) which discussed metadata output and its impact on researchers. She identified four user tasks of finding, identifying, selecting and obtaining. Whilst the ‘searching’ process is something that librarians are good at improving, there are problems at times with getting an ‘output’.
Impact of metadata professionals
The final morning looked at metadata professionals, and started with a paper by Deborah Lee from the Courtauld Institute of Art focussing on training new cataloguers to use RDA, when they have never used AACR2 – in contrast to all the conversion training that has been occurring for cataloguers who are used to one set of rules and now face a new set. Although training from scratch in RDA took a bit longer than training in AACR2 (due to relationship entities); on the whole, the beginner cataloguers didn’t have the same issues as established cataloguers because this is all they have known. Lee’s training programme did highlight the impact of local policies, and she emphasised the need to ensure that not only were these people trained to do the job in hand (and satisfy local requirements), but also that they were equipped with the skills to be excellent general cataloguers with the ability to do the job well elsewhere.
There were two talks from staff at the University of Kent looking at the changes, improvements and challenges they have been facing over the last few years. At one point they had enormous backlogs of items waiting to be catalogued and undertook a three year strategy to simplify and streamline services; this included establishing standard classification, RFID tagging core and main stock, and introducing shelf-ready. They worked to improve discoverability before they implemented their resource discovery tool. One of the talks was by two metadata assistants who had been recruited during this process and had come from non-academic library backgrounds and had brought fresh view points to the team.
The morning also included a paper from Celine Carty (Cambridge) entitled Holistic cataloguing, or the fundamental interconnectedness of all things which provided some reflection on managing cataloguing projects and being aware of the impact on other teams. Whilst the cataloguing team may be improving their workflow, what about the people who may be processing or shelving the books – can they cope with an increased workflow, or are they involved in different projects? The key theme was ‘communication’ and she emphasised the need to speak to everyone – not just line managers, but all staff.
At the end of the conference there was the chance to participate in some visits, and since I had planned to stay in the area for a few days and didn’t have to rush off to catch a train, I was able to do both visits on offer. Firstly I went on a tour of the University of Kent’s special collections; they house the British cartoon archive and have an extensive theatre collection, and were kind enough to put out some great displays representing many of their collections. Finally I went to see the Canterbury Cathedral library, which felt like going behind scenes at the cathedral. They house several parish collections including a ‘library in a cupboard’; and over 30,000 pre 1900 items.
Overall I had a great experience during the three days; I gained a lot from all the papers, managed to catch up with a few people, had my first proper attempt at tweeting from a conference, and was pleased that there was a greater representation from Wales than the last time. Apologies if I have misrepresented anyone’s talk, and also if I haven’t mentioned you (purely down to space – it was all great!).
Post-conference I stayed on in the area for a few days and even managed to find Bagpuss’ shop!
Tweets from the conference have been collected in Storify, the slides will be made available on the CILIP CIG webpages, and papers published in the CIG journal later this year.