The Evolving Role of the Metadata Librarian: Competencies Found in Job Descriptions

By Han, Myung-Ja; Hswe, Patricia | Library Resources & Technical Services, July 2010 | Go to article overview

The Evolving Role of the Metadata Librarian: Competencies Found in Job Descriptions


Han, Myung-Ja, Hswe, Patricia, Library Resources & Technical Services


Metadata librarian positions have been increasing in academic and research libraries in the last decade, paralleling the expanded provision of, and thus description of and access to, digital resources. Library literature has only begun to explore the significance and implications of this new, still evolving role. In the context of a twenty-first-century academic library, what knowledge and experience should a metadata librarian have? How different is the job of a metadata librarian from the job of a cataloging librarian? One way to determine the kinds of qualifications and skills' being sought is to consult job postings for metadata librarians. The authors' examined job descriptions dating from 2000 through 2008 that were featured in advertisements for both metadata librarians and cataloging librarians, to determine where these two roles converge and diverge, and what these commonalities and differences convey about the role of metadata librarians today.

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The roles and responsibilities of cataloging librarians have evolved alongside changes to both cataloging systems and the resources to which libraries provide access. The appearance of the title "metadata librarian," beginning in the late 1990s, reflects the changing role of cataloging librarians as well as a shift in library resources and technology (e.g., developments in digital library initiatives and information technology (IT) with a concurrent increase in the provision of digital resources). (1) While metadata is often defined broadly as "data about data," librarians generally mean descriptive metadata that facilitate discovery and access. (2) Thus Machine-Readable Cataloging (MARC) format records are technically metadata. However, librarians continue to use the term "metadata" to refer to non-MARC descriptive metadata encompassing a variety of standards, schema, and so on. Perhaps because of this ambiguity, the responsibilities and competencies of metadata librarians have yet to be clearly defined, and job descriptions can vary markedly in terms of the requirements and preferred qualifications listed.

The purpose of this study was to determine the competencies of metadata librarians in comparison with those of cataloging librarians. The authors sought to answer the following research questions:

1. What is the required skill set for a metadata librarian?

2. Has the skill set changed over time, specifically from 2000 through 2008?

3. Has the organizational home for metadata librarians changed over time?

4. What are the differences between metadata librarians and cataloging librarians in terms of competencies and qualifications?

Literature Review

To date, metadata librarian roles and responsibilities have not been discussed extensively in library literature compared to the attention given cataloging librarian roles and responsibilities. Research on cataloging librarian job descriptions, based on surveys and empirical studies, tends to focus on how differences in resource formats and developments in IT have affected the roles and responsibilities of cataloging librarians.

Twelve years ago, Buttlar and Gareha surveyed 271 catalogers to see how automation and technological innovations had changed the profession. (3) They found that automation had shifted cataloging duties to nonprofessionals as catalogers participated more in bibliographic instruction and database maintenance or upgrading, and acquired more management responsibilities. Chaudhry and Komathi analyzed descriptions of cataloging librarian jobs posted in 1990 through 1999. (4) The authors divided the descriptions into two periods to consider the effect of technological developments on job qualifications. They determined that job descriptions dating from 1990 through 1994 belonged to the "traditional environment," while those dating from 1995 through 1999 fell into the "electronic environment." (5) In their analysis, the majority of cataloging librarian jobs in the electronic environment called for a "knowledge of automated cataloguing systems," signaling a "dependency of cataloguing on technology and the importance of technology related skills and knowledge on this profession. …

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