Some of you may know that a few years ago (2005 actually, as I look at my files) I worked with the ALCTS Continuing Education group to set up a “Metadata Standards and Applications” workshop, as part of the series of workshops they were developing with LC funding. At the time, I was intrigued by the set of course series objectives I was given by the committee:

• To equip catalogers to deal with new types of resources and to recognize their unique characteristics
• To equip catalogers to evaluate competing approaches to and standards for providing access to resources
• To equip catalogers to think creatively and work collaboratively with others inside and outside their home institutions
• To ensure that catalogers have a broad enough understanding of the current environment to be able to make their local efforts compatible and interoperable with other efforts
• To prepare catalogers to be comfortable with ambiguity and being less than perfect
• To enable practicing catalogers to put themselves into the emerging digital information environment and to continue to play a significant role in shaping library services

All these seemed really important to me, and I was eager to try and set up something to meet those objectives. At the time, the notion was that LC would hold rights to the work, and I would contract to deliver the workshop materials. It wasn’t a lot of money, but I was sensible both of the honor of it and the challenge. After a great deal of back and forth with the committee and others, the first workshop was held in July of 2006, as a “train the trainers session.” The idea, as in most of the other successful ALCTS efforts, was that a group of trainers would be able to spread the effort around, and provide a variety of face-to-face efforts for both general groups of catalogers and specialized groups. At the time, workshop organizers needed to work with LC CDS to arrange for materials to be printed for trainers and participants—but last year LC got out of the business of printing materials (and attempting cost recovery from the workshops) and made the materials available for free.

I think I presented the workshop somewhere between 6-8 times, usually with another trainer (two full days is a long haul for one person, even one who knows the materials as well as I do). I’ve no real idea how many times it was presented by all the folks who were in the trainers group, but it was my understanding that it was one of the most popular workshops in the series. In fall of 2007 I did a full revision of the slides, and sent them to CDS, but I found out later that the updates I did were never integrated with the workshop materials. In April of last year I was contacted by one of the participants in an earlier workshop, who wanted me to present it to a group of Canadians in the fall. We agreed on dates and a co-trainer and everything was going along as usual when I got an email from someone I knew slightly at LC who’d taken over the management of their training efforts.

At that point I was told that the materials had been entirely revised by two LC staffers (both of whom I knew) and that the version they’d created was now the “approved” version. I’d had no idea this was in the works, hadn’t been consulted or even informed, so needless to say I was pretty unhappy about this news. I was reassured that this was inadvertent, that everyone thought that someone else had “informed” me of this, but it seemed to me that if there had been a good faith effort to consult with me about suggested changes, the question of “being informed” would never have arisen.

When I was able to view the slides, I was even more unhappy about the situation. Not only did they now have LC slide themes, but the whole thrust of the workshop had changed. There were many more slides about MODS, MADS and METS (accompanied by more LC examples), and a new emphasis on PREMIS (including what I felt was an unrealistically complex exercise). There were also errors introduced about OAI-PMH (that section was cut drastically), and misstatements about Dublin Core, and a number of other worrying changes. I told my contact at LC that I would not present the Canadian workshop with the “approved” slides but would update the slides I had to reflect some of the changes in those slides that I thought were improvements. Thankfully I had help from Rhonda Marker, who’d presented with me before and was booked for the Canadian adventure, and we finished a new improved version of the slides in time for the Canadian workshop. We tweaked them a bit more, and shipped them to LC.

There were a few more interchanges, but it became increasingly clear that what was at issue was not the examples, or the specific content of slides, but a very basic difference of approach. My approach was not necessarily to provide solutions for librarians, but to survey the landscape with them and try to affect how they thought about their choices and how they make decisions. When I presented the workshop I spoke frankly about the advantages and disadvantages of the available metadata formats, and particularly how I thought they might hold up in the future. I tried to provide perspectives that were not just library perspectives on the world, recognizing that they were probably working with technical people with whom they had no shared language or frame of reference. It seemed to me that they needed to understand what was going on outside libraryland, and to think differently about how technologies being discussed in that world might affect their work.

I didn’t see that in the LC slides. I was told that the changes made were in response to comments by other trainers and participants, but yet, the evaluations from the workshops I gave were quite positive, and this sense was confirmed by several other trainers I knew, who did the workshop frequently and had made their own modifications in the slides and exercises to suit their styles and experience (this was always fine with me, by the way). One statement in the back-and-forth between me and LC stands out—the LC revisers of the slides felt that the workshop should be more “practical,” which their version indeed was, if one bought into the notion that what librarians really needed was more about MODS, METS, MADS and PREMIS.

As I pointed out to my contact at LC, I disagree pretty strongly with that approach. Librarians need to look beyond standards (whatever your definition of standards) created within the library community, based on the ways we’ve always done things in libraries. New standards are coming down the pike: RDA, FRAD, etc. Unlike MODS and MADS, these are based on the FRBR model, not the MARC model (if there is indeed such a thing) and have formal structures that can be used easily by libraries and by others outside libraries. We do our colleagues no favors by promoting solutions based primarily on how comfortable and familiar they seem, and what institution is responsible for maintaining them. Will MODS and MADS survive the transition to RDA, FRAD and FRBR-aware data? I don’t think so, and I can’t therefore recommend those solutions to librarians looking for answers to their digital project questions. As I said to my contact at LC:

“[Librarians] need to be able to THINK about these standards in a broader context, ‘get’ the issues they present in an implementation environment, and understand how they can make decisions today that will still seem sensible five or ten years down the road.”

If that’s impractical, so be it.

So, the upshot is that I’ve asked that my name be taken off LC’s version of the slides, and I’ve made it very clear that they should take me off the trainers list too, because I won’t present their version of “Metadata Standards and Applications.” I’ve also told them that they are welcome to use any of the slides I’ve sent them for any version of the workshop. My slides will continue to be available on my website at and I’m hoping to continue to develop them to include RDA and other new standards as they become available. So, for those of you planning to present the workshop, expect to be asked to agree to give the workshop as LC has revised it (I hear that the LC slide themes will be removed, but the content will remain the same) or you won’t be able to advertise it as a Cat21 workshop.

I’ll be doing my workshop, or nothing; but that’s okay. I’ve got places to go, many interesting things to do, and I’m done arguing about this one.

By Diane Hillmann, February 6, 2009, 4:55 pm (UTC-5)

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Currently 5 comments

  1. Comment by Diane Hillmann


    I have thought seriously about doing the workshop as a screencast and adding more zing to it in the form of examples and such, but it IS a big commitment in time. I would also like to re-think the entire slide set before doing that, given the difference in presentation mode, and perhaps re-jigger the order, given that I’d be more “in charge” this time around and have some ideas about improvement festering.

    Right now I’m spending most of my time trying to keep the stuff we’re working on with RDA Online moving (more on that in later posts), and it’s hard to balance that with teaching. But the balance is important over the long term–I like teaching and I learn a lot from trying to distill what I think I know to those whose background and experience is different than mine.

    I appreciate your pushes in that direction, and will very likely get back to you when I start to think about this again. I think your perspective on the slides and the thrust of the course would be very helpful …


  2. Comment by Jonathan Rochkind

    Diane, I know you’ve got no time for it, but I’d love to see a ‘textbook’ version of that workship, that could be used as education for people on their own time (in class or self-), without needing to attend a workshop with a particular trainer (if it were even still being given!)

    Wouldn’t necessarily need to be an actual printed textbook (it’s not as if there’s probably much money in library school textbooks), could be an online format too, which would allow useful hyperlinks to external content. But something primarily textual.

    It would be incredibly valuable.

  3. Comment by Chris

    Hi Zoe,

    I think it’s unfair to attack MODS and METS without suggesting alternatives. For example, what are the problems you see with METS? For many digital libraries METS is the standard that we are counting on for the future. I know my library is.

  4. Comment by Diane Hillmann

    Thanks, Zoe–it’s nice to know that I’m not alone in thinking that looking beyond the usual suspects is essential at this point. The insight you provide is really important!

  5. Comment by Zoe


    Thanks for sticking to your guns on this one.

    I’m not a librarian, I work in online publishing. For us on the commercial end (especially in journals!) talk of MODS and METS gets one of two responses: a) laughter (from those who haven’t seen them before and can’t believe how wobbly they are) and b) fear (from those who have and do).

    MARC was great for it’s time, but that time was fifty years ago. The LoC is not backing a winner in their constant tweaking of a dead technology.

    So yes – train your librarians to assess for themselves, to spot trends, to ignore the LoC whenever they can. We commercial folk are trying to make metadata better for libraries, that’s who we sell to, and frankly we don’t want to give you MODS because you deserve better.

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