Hider’s analogy (Hider, 2012, p. xi) compares the quality and quantity of information to the air we breathe. Access ‘can make a big difference, perhaps even a life-changing or life-saving one’. People often don’t realise that the information accessed is not always the best quality. Hider (2012, xi) calls this an ‘invisible problem’. School students tend to focus on the quickest, most instantly accessible information. As long as the question is answered, it’s not really important whether the answer is the best.
The information age has resulted in a greater emphasis on how information is described and disseminated. Resource Description Access (RDA), underpinned by the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) considers relationships between resources and the user is able to locate information with minimal knowledge at the outset, even using keywords within a notes field. (Hider, 2012, p.17) Perhaps the biggest change in accessing information is the shift from humans cataloguing information to a reliance on computers to generate descriptions. It has become physically impossible for humans to generate descriptions for all information.
As a Teacher Librarian using the Schools Cataloguing Information Service (SCIS), I have never really considered the intricacies involved with cataloguing information. It is certainly taken for granted by librarians and end users. Metadata practices used by SCIS are effectively targeted to school libraries (Manifold, 2014, p.3). I am certainly now more appreciative of the service it provides.
Metadata is diverse with authors, subjects, identifiers and classification numbers impacting the effectiveness of information retrieval. Additionally, these values need to be understood by different systems to be transmitted effectively. Other considerations are the high costs associated with creating metadata and issues around the preservation of the data in a rapidly changing digital world (Hider, 2012, p. 89)
School libraries still have a way to go in maximizing the user’s experience with locating information. Students that have grown up in the ‘Google generation’ want the same experience from a library catalogue. Once users fail, they quickly resort to Google for a more immediate result (Rowlands et al., 2008, p.293).
A recent study of search engine user behavior found that users chose search engines over databases and OPACs as they were generally easier to use. (Cordes, 2014, p. 7)
The future lies within the Semantic Web as ‘efforts are directed to standards that increase interoperability’ (NISO, 2004, p. 12). There is still a way to go for it to be totally effective, mainly due to high costs and rapidly changing technologies (Hider, 2012, p. 194). Metadata and vocabularies will still need to be standardised by humans. There will be more user input as OPACs take advantage of folksomonies (O’Connell, 2011, p. 38). This will then have the potential to be an educational tool as students are encouraged to ‘value-add’ to metadata and gain more of an awareness of digital citizenship and authentic learning. Federated searching, where there’s ‘a single point of entry’ will also improve the user experience, even to the extent of integrating searches with major search engines like Google (David Allan Hubbard Library, 2010).
As school libraries become more digitally orientated the need for effective resource description becomes more crucial. Positive developments are occurring with more user-centered library interfaces and as interoperability across the internet improves, hopefully increased access to quality metadata will too.
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Manifold, A. (2014). Libraries and metadata in a sea of information. Connections, 89(2), 4-5. Retrieved from http://www2.curriculum.edu.au/scis/connections/issue_89_2014/articles/libraries_and_metadata_in_a_sea_of_information.html
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