Monday, 13 October 2014

ETL 505 Reflections

Whilst the role of a librarian is rapidly changing in the 21st century, their fundamental responsibilities have not. Librarians must assist individuals to find, identify, select and obtain information (Hider, 2012), and this should be done effectively and efficiently. As a subject, ETL 505, Describing and Analysing Educational Resources, had these responsibilities as its key focus and purpose; in particular, how the description of these resources aids effective information retrieval (CSU, 2014).

When I began this course, I assumed that this would be one of the first topics I would learn about, believing it to be crucial knowledge for a school librarian. Given its complexity and difficulty, I am thankful it was one of the last! I’ve also altered my beliefs- whilst school librarians do need to understand how the Dewey Decimal System works and how Resource Description Access (RDA) works, they do not need to be experts as they will likely never be responsible for assigning the descriptive information of resources. However, the importance of the data models, Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) (IFLA, 1998) and Functional Requirements for Authority Data (FRAD) (IFLA, 2009) and the content standard RDA, as frameworks for organising bibliographic information was highlighted as they promote consistency across information agencies, allowing librarians a shared language and therefore a shared understanding. Thus, information can be exchanged expediently.

Through these frameworks and the standardisation of metadata (such as controlled vocabularies), users are able to increase their access to information resources. Prior to this subject, I had never really given much thought to the actual organisation of information. I knew it was organised and that particular systems were used, I just didn’t think about the how, or the why. The assessment tasks and workbooks have been practical and challenging, yet very valuable in developing my understanding of these processes. ETL505 also highlighted the fact that although resources can be catalogued and standard vocabularies and descriptions used, there is still room for interpretation, and with this interpretation, sometimes human error.

This interpretation of a resource’s metadata allows Teacher Librarians flexibility in the organisation of their school libraries. Resources can be organised more traditionally, by subject, using the Dewey Decimal System (DDC), and subject headings assigned by SCIS (Schools Cataloguing Information Service). These tools allow easy access to resources, however, Teacher Librarians must also know their students and staff and the keyword approach means that TLs can add their own subject access points to some records in the school library through creating additional controlled vocabulary terms or adding more pertinent notes that can be retrieved through keyword searching. This can assist with an item’s accessibility.

With resources becoming increasingly digitised, this presents many challenges for the future of resource description and organisation. Social tagging, whereby the users (or authors, or contributors) index the information, can be useful when a controlled vocabulary is not viable. The vocabulary afforded through social tagging can be more authentic to its users, and can cover more search terms, however, significant control over the information must be forfeited and this can reduce access to the resource as precision in its description is reduced. I’d like to think that there can be a balance struck between controlling the integrity of metadata, and increasing access points, and therefore accessibility of resources.