Those of you who pay attention to politics (no matter where you are) are very likely to be shaking your head over candidates, results or policy. It’s a never ending source of frustration and/or entertainment here in the U.S., and I’ve noticed that the commentators seem to be focusing in on issues of ideology and faith, particularly where it bumps up against politics. The visit of Pope Francis seemed to be taking everyone’s attention while he was here, but though this event has added some ‘green’ to the discussion, it hasn’t pushed much off the political plate.

Politics and faith bump up against each other in the metadata world, too. What with traditionalists still thinking in MARC tags and AACR2, to the technical types rolling their eyes at any mention of MARC and trying to push the conversation towards RDA, RDF, BibFrame,, etc., there are plenty of metadata politics available to flavor the discussion.

The good news for us is that the conflicts and differences we confront in the metadata world are much more amenable to useful solution than the politics crowding our news feeds. I remember well the days when the choice of metadata schema was critical to projects and libraries. Unfortunately, we’re all still behaving as if the proliferation of ‘new’ schemas makes the whole business more complicated–that’s because we’re still thinking we need to choose one or another, ignoring the commonality at the core of the new metadata effort.

But times have changed, and we don’t all need to use the same schema to be interoperable (just like we don’t all need to speak English or Esperanto to communicate). But what we do need to think about is what the needs of our organization are at all stages of the workflow: from creating, publishing, consuming, through integrating our metadata to make it useful in the various efforts in which we engage.

One thing we do need to consider as we talk about creating new metadata is whether it will need to work with other data that already exists in our institution. If MARC is what we have, then one requirement may be to be able to maintain the level of richness we’ve built up in the past and still move that rich data forward with us. This suggests to me that RDA, which RIMMF has demonstrated can be losslessly mapped to and from MARC, might be the best choice for the creation of new metadata.

Back in the day, when Dublin Core was the shiny new thing, the notion of ‘dumb-down’ was hatched, and though not an elegantly named principle, it still works. It says that rich metadata can be mapped fairly easily into a less-rich schema (‘dumbed down’), but once transformed in a lossy way, it can’t easily be ‘smartened up’. But in a world of many publishers of linked data, and many consumers of that data, the notion of transforming rich metadata into any number of other schemas and letting the consumer chose what they want, is fairly straightforward, and does not require firm knowledge (or correct assumptions) of what the consumers actually need. This is a strategy well-tested with OAI-PMH which established a floor of Simple Dublin Core but encouraged the provision of any number of other formats as well, including MARC.

As consumers, libraries and other cultural institutions are also better served by choices. Depending on the services they’re trying to support, they can choose what flavor of data meets their needs best, instead of being offered only what the provider assumes they want. This strategy leaves open the possibility of serving MARC as one of the choices, allowing those institutions still nursing an aged ILS to continue to participate.

Of course, the consumers of data need to think about how they aggregate and integrate the data they consume, how to improve that data, and how to make their data services coherent. That’s the part of the new create, publish, consume, integrate cycle that scares many librarians, but it shouldn’t–really!

So, it’s not about choosing the ‘right’ metadata format, it’s about having a fuller and more expansive notion about sharing data and learning some new skills. Let’s kiss the politics goodbye, and get on with it.

By Diane Hillmann, October 12, 2015, 10:08 am (UTC-5)

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