A common goal of libraries has always been to support the interest and learning needs of their users. Once, libraries primarily achieved their goal within the confines of four walls and a finite ‘collection’ collated and accessed through a physical catalogue. Using established systems of organisation, libraries still aim to provide the service of connecting various available information resources with the particular needs of the individual people within their sphere. With time, the world has changed and technology advanced such that the amount of information and the modes of its existence have changed and increased significantly. Though there are still walls and physical resources, the ‘collection’ that patrons can now access goes far beyond one library space, to sites connected via digital technologies. The challenge libraries throughout this connected world now face – with its mass of information resources – is the need to develop and refine existing systems of information organisation to enable the integration of the new and emerging modes – in order to continue to support effective information access to meet their client’s needs
These established systems of information organisation involve the classifying, labeling and arranging of the library’s resources in a logical manner such that staff and patrons can locate particular items via a descriptive catalogue or browse among the shelves. Over many years, the movement of information to new places influenced the need to establish a standard description so each discrete item could be identified throughout the world. Although a computer ‘catalogue’ had been used to describe and access the intellectual data of resources for many years, connections between libraries and other information agencies were still limited until developing digital technologies resulted in the expansion of the World Wide Web – where information resources can potentially be accessed throughout the ‘connected’ world. This has resulted in an abundance of information resources that needs to be filtered for quality, value and accessibility.
For information agencies to achieve their organizational objectives, there is also a necessity for them to consider any need to re-evaluate and reorganize their systems as they participate within an ever-changing global community. Many Australian school libraries (as an example of an information agency) have worked recently to identify resources (both physical and digital) that would particularly support educational staff implementing the new National Australian Curriculum (NAC). School librarians are ‘organizing’ these focused curriculum resources – often with additional identifying metadata – for ready access to support their schools’ needs. These systems can also provide useful reports about the collection and its usage. Librarians can then use this data when conducting audits to help inform future direction within the library with a view to maintaining currency and relevancy.
To participate in a connected global information environment, an information agency needs to have an understanding of the common rules and practices associated with organizing information – and a willingness to agree to them in principle is essential. This involves at least a minimum level of alignment with the standards practiced in the description of information – now moving towards Resource Description and Access (RDA), the participation in a standard recording format for exchanging metadata such as MARC (Machine-Readable Cataloguing) and a willingness to contribute in the cooperative exchange of metadata (Hider & Harvey, 2008 p21).
With such a plethora of information available to connected libraries it is important to fully understand why metadata standards are imperative. If the basis of describing an information resource is to expedite its retrieval as a useful item, a common ‘language’ is necessary to avoid wasting the searcher’s time and efforts. The description needs to have structures and patterns that will enable wide understanding and make items readily recognizable. This can be achieved by improving the quality and uniformity of the metadata produced. This metadata also needs to be produced ensuring its interoperability in an online environment. All these aspects ‘allow for economy in the search process’ (Hider & Harvey 2008, p12). A move to improve the universality of description throughout the connected world is underway with the current implementation of RDA.
In an online environment information agencies are competing with the speed and quantity of information being sourced through Internet search engine tools such as Google. What differentiates a library metadata search from a ‘Google’ search is – quality. James Weinheimer (2011, p203) suggests that ‘quality means that some kind of standards are followed, and that someone using a product that follows those standards . . . can safely rely on it.’ Information resources with a description based on globally agreed standards could provide searchers with the basis on which to make clear choices to suit their needs. This being the primary objective of Information Agencies everywhere, it is essential for all libraries to universally persist with metadata standards implementation as part of the management of information resources.
Images: Personal collection – Careyque2 2013
Harvey, R. and Hider, P. (2008) Organising knowledge in a global society : principles and practice in libraries and information centres. Rev. ed. Wagga Wagga, N.S.W.: Centre for Information Studies, Charles Sturt University
Hider, P (2012) Information resource Description: Creating and managing metadata. London: Facet Publishing.
Weber, M. B. & Austin, F.A. (2011) Describing Electronic, digital, and Other Media Using AACR2 and RDA: A how-to-do-it manual and CD-ROM for librarians. London: Facet Publishing.
Weinheimer, J. (2011) Realities of Standards in the Twenty-first Century. In Sanchez, E. R. (Ed) Conversations with Catalogers in the 21st Century (pp188-205) Santa Barbara, California: Libraries Unlimited.
Welsh, A. & Batley, S. (2012) Practical Cataloguing: AACR, RDA and MARC21. London: Facet Publishing.