Title: Addressing stakeholder needs
Text: In case folks haven’t seen it or need reminding, I want to share the prompt I was given: “While the UI Libraries has multiple data streams feeding into our discovery layer, the person in this position will primarily focus on MARC bibliographic data. What do you see as the role of a “data custodian” in bibliographic data management? How can a data custodian address the needs of stakeholders who produce or use bibliographic data, including technical services staff, public services staff, and end users?”
I have learned a lot from instructional librarians, including the importance of keeping presentations interesting. That’s no guarantee that this particular presentation will be interesting, but it is a promise that I’m going to try to do my best.
Specifically, what I’m going to do here is answer these questions by using an extended analogy. And, because it’s right before lunch, I’m going to talk about baked goods. And in this metaphor, the data that we use are bakery items. I hope you’ll be willing to suspend your disbelief, especially because I have never worked in a bakery, and, in fact, I don’t even like to bake at home. So, let me say up front that this presentation idea may be half-baked, but I hope it doesn’t make me seem too flaky.
Let me sketch out my ideas here to get everybody on the same page. I’m envisioning that the UI Libraries’ Cataloging-Metadata department is a bakery. Let’s say that this is a large, independent bakery that has lots of folks working in the back, the bakers. In this scenario, the technical services staff are the bakers and the prep staff. The public services staff are the people who work the front counter in the bakery, and the end users are the customers who buy the baked goods. Let’s start off with the back of the house folks.
I quickly want to apologize for the all-the-same ethnicity people icons in this presentation, I don’t have access to a good stock image database.
Technical services staff
Bakeries need folks with multiple talents. They need bread bakers, they need pastry chefs, they need cake decorators. They also need folks who take care of kitchen prep: you need dishes washed, floors swept, ingredients mixed, ovens prepped, and so much more to keep things running.
Some of the baked goods we sell at this bakery are made from scratch. That corresponds to original cataloging or creating finding aids for archival material. But let’s say, for the sake of this analogy, that even at this very large bakery, we sell millions of items a year. Because of the large numbers, many of the goods that we sell we receive already baked, but we put the finishing touches on them. We might order in bulk plain sugar cookies, and our staff reviews them to ensure they’re what we ordered, and decorates them as required. That’s copy cataloging! When this bakery sells their baked goods online, they rely on their webmaster to provide the structure for the online shop as well as some of the infrastructure for electronic payments. That’s the IT department here at the Libraries.
How does this relate to the needs of technical services staff? If we think about those staff as the bakers, we can see that they need the right ingredients to create and manage metadata. Acquisitions staff ensure that the flow of ingredients is both what the end users need and what the bakery, or the library, is budgeted for. They need the knowledge to understand how things are prepared and food safety regulations and they need training to gain skills they don’t have yet. Just like in a bakery, all members of the library technical services staff need to understand what the user needs, because their decisions will revolve around that.
Data custodian role
How would a data custodian address those needs? A data custodian would be ensuring internal consistency and overall quality control. They’re making sure each of the specialists know what’s happening overall, whether that’s ensuring there are the right number of cheesecakes available for sale, or who is responsible for data being imported. A data custodian has an overarching view of the department, so they can develop workflows where everyone knows exactly what they need to do, and who they need to ask when something goes wrong. A data custodian understands what each person in the department does and how that fits into the goals of the department and the institution as a whole, whether that’s washing pans or decorating a cake. A data custodian seeks out and understands the pain points of each person in the department, whether that’s an oven that doesn’t provide consistent heat or a vendor that provides poor quality metadata. A data custodian has a deep knowledge of the tools that each person uses and the capabilities and limitations of those tools, whether a crème brulee torch or MarcEdit. Personally, I think that a data custodian should understand the strengths of each person in the department, potentially pointing out areas where workflows might be reimagined to make the best of use of everyone’s talents, or where cross training might be appropriate.
A data custodian also needs to be able to communicate well with the counter staff in the bakery. So let’s talk about those folks.
Public services staff
In this analogy, the public services staff are the counter staff, the folks who interact with the users. Just like counter staff, library staff who interact with the campus community are focused on providing a valuable service to a group of people with widely varying needs.
The counter staff in a bakery might not know everything that’s involved in the baking process, but they need to have a thorough understanding of what’s being sold. When customers have questions about specific baked goods, like whether the oatmeal raisin cookies have nuts in them, the counter staff need to know, or at least to know that they don’t know.
Likewise, circulation or reference staff may or may not be able to read a XML file or know the intricacies of specific MARC fields. But they rely on the work of the technical services staff, whether that’s providing access to databases or searching the millions of books in the catalog. (Of course all library staff go far beyond just being counter staff in creating and sharing knowledge!)
Data custodian role
So how would a data custodian fit into a bakery in terms of the needs of public services staff? A data custodian would ensure that the folks doing the preparation are aware of the needs of the public-facing staff. In a bakery, that would look like asking for feedback from the counter staff: are people finding the items they want in the store? In a library, that would translate to whether people are finding the materials they need to succeed. Are people coming into the bakery looking for more savory items than we sell? Are people using library resources spending a lot of time trying to find what they need? Is the layout of the store overwhelming for customers? Are the elements being displayed in the catalog overwhelming for students? A data custodian would seek out answers to those questions, working with public services staff to evaluate current processes, identifying any challenges, and determining potential solutions. The counter staff might hear that their sweet rolls are too sweet, and they may not know exactly how to address that, but a data custodian would have the knowledge to work with the bakers to modify the recipe. Reference librarians might complain that when they do searches in the catalog, they’re getting too many reviews, and not the actual item they’re looking for. A data custodian would have the knowledge to work with IT to revise Alma settings, or to request changes from Ex Libris.
Finally, in this analogy, end users are the customers who eat the delicious data, I mean, baked goods. Just like in a bakery, a library’s user base is not homogenous: if everybody just wanted the equivalent of a blueberry muffin, we’d probably all be out of a job. Or, probably we’d just make a really, really good blueberry muffin? Anyway, that’s not the case. No library can collect everything, but we strive to meet the diverse needs of our students and staff and faculty.
Every bakery in the world sells different things, because regional ideas of a good pastry differ. You couldn’t have a bakery in Minnesota without bars. In libraries, we have international standards to adhere to in metadata description, but we have to know when to deviate from that to best serve our own local users.
Each time someone goes to the bakery, they want to know that the cookie they bought will taste like the cookie they bought last week. The quality has to be consistent, just like our metadata has to be consistent in libraries for users to be able to rely on the recall of their searches, that they can trust that they’re finding everything that’s relevant to their information needs. Customers also need accurate information. If we tell them an item is gluten-free, that needs to be true. Likewise, users have to be able to trust what they find in the library catalog. And different people need different information: some people want to know the number of calories in that jelly-filled donut, but others definitely don’t want to know that information. Our undergraduate students are likely looking for different information than the genealogical researcher.
Data custodian role
How would a data custodian address the needs of end users? Just like in the bakery, almost everything that the Cataloging-Metadata department does should benefit the end user in some way. I’m sure it’s not a surprise if I say that it can be challenging for back of the house staff to keep that at the forefront of our efforts, since we might more often interact with folks in IT or technical services. A data custodian would recognize the benefits of consistency for the end user, whether that results in a flaky pastry or a dependable search strategy. At the same time, a data custodian would know enough about the value of consistency to recognize when to deviate from consistency for the benefit of the end product. A data custodian can also put themselves in the place of the end user: they can envision what it’s like to be a student overwhelmed by a search result of 7,000 catalog records, or a stressed-out professor who’s not finding what they’re needing, and use their knowledge of metadata standards and systems to ameliorate those frustrations.
I’ll end by saying I think that’s the most exciting part of the data custodian role for me: the opportunity to make those connections, to be able to use my knowledge of metadata standards and the systems we work within, to be able to improve the user experience and to be able to help plan future improvements.
That’s my presentation for you today, I know it’s a little short but I want to leave plenty of time for questions. Thanks so much for being indulgent with my extended, imperfect analogy. I know I’m going against the grain but hopefully I didn’t go too far a-rye.