Weekly Response 4 — Diana Rosenthal

Most of this week’s readings focus on the shortcomings of current metadata standards and catalog information for digital and web sources, as well as multiple versions of essentially the same item. Though Eden, Tennant, Coyle, and Hillmann make interesting arguments for revising current practices, they all seem to be on somewhat different pages about what’s necessary to improve the cataloging system and, by extension, to improve the library.

My initial thought while considering our readings this week wasn’t about the metadata fields I find the most essential, or about whether I’m “Team RDA” or “Team MARC,” but about library outreach and reference services. During the spring semester, I took LIS 652, which deals with reference services and helping patrons find information. In many cases, my classmates and I first searched Google and then utilized the services of the 24-hour chat available on most library websites, rather than searching the catalog on our own. In his article “The New User Environment: The End of Technical Services?” Eden quotes Martha Bates:

People do not just use information that is easy to find; they even use information that they know to be of poor quality and less reliable—so long as it requires little effort to find—rather than using information they know to be of high quality and reliable, though harder to find…

On a related point, Coyle and Hillmann discuss the “invisible library” and the lack of knowledge among users of the full collections their libraries contain. According to Coyle and Hillmann,

It does not seem to matter to most users that libraries currently are the only conduits for a wealth of published literature that is not available for open access on the public Internet. Users will engage with services that provide materials quickly and with the least effort. The “invisible library,” like the dark web, is of no interest to those who do not know it exists.

This is going to be a bold statement, but the thought crossed my mind: why do so many of these authors seem to hold users accustomed to keyword searches on the Internet in such disdain? Perhaps this is a chicken and egg scenario, and librarians’ frustration with the inflexible nature of the catalog and book-inspired metadata has transformed into contempt for the users who most need rich metadata and the ability to search by key terms. It seems to me that library outreach, education, and reference services should also be at the forefront of the conversation about restructuring metadata and the library catalog.

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About Diana Rosenthal

Scientific publications editor and archivist at the American Museum of Natural History with a Master of Science in Library and Information Science from Pratt Institute. New York City enthusiast.

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