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Part 4: How Embedded Librarians Add Value to Catalogues and Databases

Posted by Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD on 7/31/2018
Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD
How Embedded Libraraians add value to Catalogues and Databases

Through being part of a digitization or processing project, embedded special librarians add value to catalogues and databases. Their “In-The-Know” positions mean they can act as liaisons between the project designers and managers and the processors, catalogers, and input specialists. Specialized vocabulary and carefully crafted thesauri add precision to catalogs, metadata, tags, and, best of all, search results.

Making Hidden Collections Accessible

Utilizing the ideals of “More Product, Less Process” (Greene, M and Meissner, D (2005), projects and exhibits push cataloging and input of hidden and unprocessed collections to the front of the line. This may require learning new subject matter, exploring the history of the collection, and incorporating new controlled vocabulary into local databases and catalogs.

Studies show that the minute a collection or resource is added to a database and made available through a catalog or search engine, researchers will find and use it. Embedded information specialists help increase the visibility of these collections by recommending targeted subject headings, terminology, and access points for describing the objects—and by researching the broadest number of users and subject specialists.

As your organization embarks on a project such as digitization or records processing for a long-ago acquired collection or a new acquisition, you’ll have a host of search terms to incorporate into your database and online catalog. Embedded information professionals use their subject expertise to choose from controlled vocabularies available for use. Common sets of controlled vocabulary include Library of Congress Subject Headings; specialized thesauri like MESH subject headings, Art and Architecture Thesaurus (AAT), and even the SAA Glossary and Records Terminology. There are other sets of controlled vocabulary as varied and targeted as geographic and geologic terms, religious terminology, and, of course, natural language tags.

Embedded librarians bring knowledge of the subject, search terms, and search strategies to the project group. They are well-versed in how researchers search for required materials and documents, the natural language terminology they employ, and the mixture of results from retrieved records. Using their expertise as information professionals, embedded special librarians serve as a bridge between the project participants, catalogers and data input staff members. Whether cataloging newly processed archival collections, digitizing new materials, or enhancing records, embedded librarians use their subject knowledge to recommend targeted vocabulary and subject searching terms.

Internal staff and external users often use different search terms while researching the same topic. Embedded special librarians bring knowledge of both sides of the search process and improve access by harnessing the power of both controlled vocabulary and natural language terms.

For example…

Your organization is processing and digitizing a large photograph collection of the city, its buildings, and events from the period photographed. The project group includes archivists, historians, and staff members with genealogy and local history backgrounds specializing in the local area and time period of the photographs. Archivists gain in-depth knowledge of the collection's scope and content while working daily with the objects. Historians use their subject expertise to recommend architectural terms and identify architects who worked in the locale when in the photographs were taken.

For this project, the embedded information professional has knowledge of photographic processes, the local community, and potential users, as well as cataloging and archival processing expertise. Together the project team assigns subject headings and develops a list of controlled vocabulary and natural language terms, while the embedded information professional identifies appropriate metadata tags and linked data URLs. The embedded librarian works with the reference staff and an external user group to test access points to the collection and recommend additional terminology used by both groups of users.

Working collaboratively, the embedded librarian, the cataloger, and the indexer make certain that the search terms and specialized vocabulary used describe each item within a collection. Drawing on their combined subject expertise, they will take into account natural language terminology used by internal users and external researchers.

Can your database incorporate new thesauri and sets of controlled vocabulary?

When designing a new project, embedded librarians know what questions to ask about the flexibility and adaptability of your database and online catalog. As subject specialists, they have a firm grasp of the subject matter of the new project and the types of subject terms needed to make the collection visible to researchers, both internal and external.

Embedded librarians might ask these and other questions when recommending controlled vocabulary sets and thesauri for the project:

  • How easy is it to incorporate controlled vocabulary sets into the existing database software?
  • Does the database have cross-referencing capabilities?
  • Do the thesauri suggest broader and narrower subject headings?
  • Will the project create or incorporate a glossary for use by internal and external users?
Increasing access points

Librarians and archivists know that harnessing the power of controlled vocabulary brings hidden collections into the light. Information specialists embedded into projects assist with testing database software and controlled vocabulary sets to ascertain retrieval accuracy of newly indexed and cataloged objects.

Embedded librarians liaise with database software companies to discuss incorporation of expanded and updated controlled vocabulary sets and subject specific thesauri. These terminology sets complement and supplement DDC and LCSH, thereby enhancing the search accuracy and information retrieval.

Embedded librarians, in collaboration with catalogers and indexers, may recommend embedding SAA Glossary and Records Terminology, ARMA Glossary of Records and Information Management Terms, and subject specific thesauri, along with highly targeted metadata tags and natural language terms.
Serving the organization by making information broadly accessible

Using embedded librarians with deep subject knowledge to add and recommend subject headings and access points, corporate knowledge and division specific projects will be widely and easily discoverable throughout the company. Essential information is retrieved and disseminated through shared search terms and subject specific vocabulary. Knowledge, information, and technology are seamlessly integrated into intranets and databases for targeted retrieval. Robust catalogs, finding aids, and indices where controlled vocabulary is routinely assigned connect the knowledge in one division to another, from one plant to another, and even cross the language barrier. Embedded information specialists working as liaisons with all project partners help make specialized subject matter accessible.

Summing it up

Embedded information specialists working as liaisons with project teams and cataloging personnel help coordinate implementation and application of controlled vocabulary and special subject thesauri to newly accessioned and hidden collections, thus making them accessible to internal and external users. Embedded information professionals use their subject expertise to identify new user groups, external interest in the subject matter, and to recommend specialized terms, subject specific thesauri, and targeted natural language tags.

My next blog post will cover continuing education, sharing subject expertise with other members of the library and information center, and honing your knowledge of your organization's focus and subject specialty.

Further Reading and additional resources:

Topics: Professional Development, Special Libraries