Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Missing university already: or, a note from a Metadata Wrangler

I've worked for over a week now and it is difficult to remain enthused about my particular role at LAC. The workplace itself has some good qualities, including a cubicle with big, great windows. My department supports archivists, so it is not professional work per se. That said, I am appreciating how technical services works.

In contrast to other places, I don't actually work with archival materials here. I have not seen any actual archival materials - I spend my days fighting with uncooperative bits of metadata. There was a brief and sad debate today about how these systems serve two different goals; internal use (e.g. to track workflow, to monitor the collection, and so on) and user use (i.e. retrieval, general research). I see no intrinsic conflict between these goals, but if there is a circumstance where one had to make one a priority, then I would always advocate for the user.

I don't know if the following makes me a statistical outlier in the field, but I think all services (espcially those that can be accessed by users) in archives should always have the user in mind. Do user research, ask them what they want, and try to match that, as much as is feasible. I wonder if professionals in this field sometimes get preoccupied with other concerns.

About a month after finishing my last paper, I find myself missing university. The challenge of it, the discussion of (generally) interesting issues and the great promise that it offers. I live in hope that I might become the kind of professional who writes interesting books such as Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles (rare books librarian at Harvard), a volume I recently picked up at an Ottawa used bookshop, or The commerce of cartography : making and marketing maps in eighteenth-century France and England by Mary Sponberg Pedley.


Autumn said...

I hope that you get to like your job more as time goes on!

I agree that the user perspective is key but, to be the Devil's advocate, if the internal processes are not seen to, then might not the user be the worse off? I mean, if there was negligence in tracking materials and something got lost then the user ultimately looses out.

Accidental Archivist said...

Thanks for the comment. Thus far, the job is just more of the same...

What I left unsaid about user vs internal is that plenty of people just focus on the internal, admin side of things so having one more voice on the user side is good for balance.