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Cataloguing vs. Metadata: What’s the difference?


Metadata (an excerpt): Structured information used to describe information resources/objects for a variety of purposes. Although AACR2/MARC cataloging is formally metadata, the term is generally used in the library community for nontraditional schemes such as the Dublin Core Metadata Element Set, the VRA Core Categories, or the Encoded Archival Description (EAD)

Catalog(u)ing:The process of creating entries for a catalog. In libraries, this usually includes bibliographic description, subject analysis, assignment of classification notation, and activities involved in physically preparing the item for the shelf, tasks usually performed under the supervision of a librarian trained as a cataloger.

Yesterday in my AUTOCAT digest, someone asked if there was a similar list for people interested in metadata. Of course then there was a reply stating that that is exactly what AUTOCAT is and then another response that people who work with metadata do essentially the same as cataloguers but get a fancier title and higher pay and I’m sure the discussion goes on from there.

Why is it that we seperate cataloguing and metadata? I’m no expert and I certainly haven’t done much (if any, really) reading in the area but if the essentiel activities are the same, how come metadatists (or whatever they’re called) and cataloguers don’t interact quite as much as one would expect? Why is the notion of metadata not really discussed in cataloguing classes but instead in technology classes? Or at least that was my case. I learned and used Dublin Core in my Digital Libraries course. Sure I read one article about it in my Intro to Cataloguing class, but in general it was breezed over. I get the feeling that some people like to think of cataloguing for print and A/V materials, while metadata is for websites and other dynamic resources. I’m fine with that, I just don’t see much collaboration between the two “sides”. Sometimes it seems the metadata people want to “reinvent the wheel” – but they don’t quite want it to be the same wheel (sure it’s still round, they just want it simpler and snazzier looking).

I’m still a newbie cataloguer; I only catalogue books and even that’s a bit different experience since I only do French books (I have to say, I like RVM much better than LCSH sometimes). So, I still know very little in general on the world of cataloguing, but it concerns me when I’m talking with a co-worker who has her Library Tech diploma and has been cataloguing for five years and she tells me she has a friend who works with metadata and that she, herself, would like to learn more about it so she might find a job in that area one day. When she said that I just stared at her and said, “You are working with metadata – that’s what cataloguing is”. I guess I was just disappointed that my co-worker, along with others, don’t see that the skills learned through cataloguing are most definitely adaptable to working with metadata.

I never thought I’d be a cataloguer at all being one of the majority who preferred reference, but I like it and I love where I work but I do want to learn more. Despite the comment to my friend, I too want to learn more about metadata and how I will be able to use it. Maybe one day my work will start “cataloguing” websites. I know there’s been a bit of discussion about electronic resources; that’s an area I’d be interested in looking further into. I guess, what I want to know is, how can integrating the principles of metadata with cataloguing knowledge help make better solutions? Ok, maybe that question doesn’t make sense – but not much I think ever does.

I just wanted to say, I’m a cataloguer and I like metadata.


About Jen

An instructor, a reader, a dog-owner, and advocate; that's how I define myself and these aspects directly impact my interests and conversations.


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