This blog post is brought to you by Rachael S., a 2021 Knowledge River Graduate Research Assistant working in the Library's Communications and Systems Office.
Before it becomes something you can hold in your hand, and visit on the shelf, information is well, meta. Metadata is the information about books, which is used to categorize and organize them. These are search terms, standardized names, and “access points” all with the purpose of supporting your search.
As a Knowledge River intern working in the Communications and Systems office, I assign keywords and search terms to images that have been used in library marketing materials. Creating these search terms has given me a window into the important work of cataloguing and the ways in which tech services supports the library.
In an area inaccessible to the public, intricate narratives that authors create are transported brand new to our library, in their rustling dust jackets they become a tangible reality and tech services are the unseen people who develop the collection of these books and move them along on their journey. There are many hands that work on something before it becomes that singular experience that is only yours—your experience reading the book.
The static catalog that you see as a customer is the very alive active work and collaboration of many different people with specialized knowledge that makes finding your favorite thing possible.
It’s never just as easy as putting something on a shelf. There is a digital footprint and web of connection that connects every book, from the common subject headings set forth by the Library of Congress, to the standards governing call numbers, there is an exactness and standardization that puts the science in library science.
From my foray this year into digital asset management, I have a deep appreciation for the technical work of the library that makes the process of finding books seamless and intuitive. While not working directly with customers using the catalog, technical services makes the everyday work of the library possible.
In my role, getting to work directly with the images of where we’ve been, unlocks so much potential. Part of the power of archiving is that from the past we can imagine the future. I see the previous events of the library from author talks, and MegaMania, the seeds available from our Seed Library, the everyday work of computer and homework help, career services, and adult education. I see fanciful illustrations of previous event flyers. In these images, I feel like I can see the library planning and dreaming. Coming from a small suburb in Georgia to Tucson’s public library system, I see so much of the work as grand, imaginative, and inspiring. From my perspective in the archive of digital files, I get to see each service, imagine every customer.
Working in metadata is in a way an exercise in imagination and perspective. It is empathizing with people you don’t yet know, and trying to imagine the way that they think and will look for things in the future. So much of the work of tech services is unseen but makes the tangible realities of a library possible, and for, that I am grateful to those who work in tech services, and am able to experience the lovely gifts of being a customer in addition to my work here.