Saturday, September 10, 2005

Metalibrarian

When I created this blog, I decided on the spur of the moment to call it Metalibrarian, short for Metadata Librarian. However, the more I’ve thought about it, the title makes sense. This blog is a librarian writing about librarians or librarianship. A Google search on metalibrarian turns up a few hits (although this blog isn’t there yet), but it seems that no one has used this word often. I did find an interesting article by Stephen Abram from Information Outlook (June 2004): “What About Us? The Meta Librarian: Information for Information Pros.” In it, he discusses librarians’ need for information about our profession. He makes a nice point by saying, “Every article, book, list posting, discussion thread, and blog entry is a gift to the profession.” Librarians need to share information about our projects with each other so that we can benefit from other’s experiences. As a new librarian, I agree completely with this statement. Every little piece of information I can gather helps me learn about my profession and makes me think about what I’m doing, and the long-range consequences of my decisions.

I also spent the week thinking about the prefix “meta.” Where did it come from, and why do we use it the way we do? According to Wikipedia, “The current English usage is accidental, deriving from the classification of Aristotle's works to include the category of metaphysics, which could more or less be described as the study of the physics of physics itself. This was initially merely the extras left over from the physics category.” According to this entry, the Greek prefix meta has several meanings including a prepositional use meaning with, or the verb use connoting change.

So where did the word metadata come from? The Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t give metadata its own entry, but lists the word in the definition for the prefix meta. According to their article, “metadata” was first used in 1987 in the Philos Trans Royal Soc. (OED abbreviation) with the sentence, “The challenge is to accumulate data..from diverse sources, convert it to machine-readable form with a harmonized array of metadata descriptors and present the resulting database(s) to the user.

I also learned from answers.com that the word Metadata is a trademarked name a company. They trademarked the name in 1986, before the word had a common usage.

The more time I’ve spent learning about metadata, the more I realize how little other people know about it. Even more surprising is the fact that few librarians even understand what metadata is. Maybe the metadata librarians’ gift to the field should be educating other librarians as to what our job is really about. After all, shouldn’t all librarians understand what other librarians do?

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