Ada Lovelace Day

Ada Lovelace was arguably the first computer programmer. (And first to find/fix a bug!)

Ada Lovelace day is today, and is “an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology.”

I’d like to take the opportunity to mention some women doing great things with library technology — not programmers, but metadata technologists. I suggest that metadata design and control is technology.  It’s a key component of the technological systems that are necessary for library’s past, present, and future. Understanding metadata as a technological component, that interacts with other technological components in larger systems, understood and designed in terms of technology and computational thinking (an incredibly useful idea being formalized by Jeannette Wing) — this is our future (and not such a departure from our past, really).   Here are some women making this future happen by treating metadata as the technology it is.

Elaine Svenonius

I entered library school with a computer science background and an interest in metadata. At first I was rather disillusioned by what the library approach to metadata seemed to be. But then I found the writings of Elaine Svenonius, including The Intellectual Foundation of Information Organization, which was used as a textbook in one of my classes.

Svenonius’ approach to metadata, simultaneously  rigorously analytic and practical,   appeared to me to be the computer scientific approach to metadata I was looking for, and reassured me that the library science tradition did have something interesting and useful to say on metadata.  She writes clearly and brilliantly.

Diane Hillman

Diane Hillman is to my mind a pioneer in the current era of putting into practice the recognition that cataloging is metadata is technology.  She has a comprehensive and incisive understanding of library cataloging traditions, modern metadata methods, and where the two overlap (and are disjoint) that comes from a long career of service to the library community.

Hillman has worked to expand the library metadata community’s understanding of these issues by ‘taking her show on the road’, through many workshops and presentations on libraries and metadata.  After focusing on “non cataloging metadata” for a while, Hillman (along with Karen Coyle) has become principal in the efforts of the RDA project to describe library metadata using structures appropriate for contemporary technology. I have the impression this effort was sort of an afterthought to the RDA process, but I think it’s actually the most significant contribution the RDA process is making to the future of library metadata. And it’s happening largely through the initiative, service, and capabilities of Hillman and Coyle.

Wants Libraries to Win, and Doing Something About It

Treating cataloging/metadata as technology is not neccesarily new to us. (I think Svenonius may have worked/studied with Lubetsky?).  But it seems to have been forgotten or left aside. Maybe it’s got something to do with the de-professionalization of cataloging.  Maybe it’s got something to do with gender roles, where IT is a traditionally male thing, and cataloging a traditionally female thing.

Other smart women working on interesting metadata projects which are both practical and forward-thinking — bringing a technological understanding of metadata to bear, investigating what our metadata needs to do as technology in a technological system — include Jenn Riley and Kelley McGrath.   I wonder if there’s something about working with non-print (music and motion picture) data that encourages people to take a more technologically activist attitude toward metadata?

One of my favorite compliments toward the Code4Lib community comes from a  Code4Lib conference report to be published in a forthcoming Code4Lib Journal. Joanna DiPasquale writes “[Code4Lib] wants the library to win, and it is doing something about it.”  An encomium that I think applies equally well to the women mentioned in this post.  Metadata design and control understood as technology is a key contribution the library science tradition has to offer,  and key to the continued relevance of libraries. And these metadata technologists are doing something about it.

7 thoughts on “Ada Lovelace Day

  1. Nice Bryan. I was also struck by this quote from Martha Yee in that Lubetzky tribute:

    “Call me Cassandra, but the fact that we can’t carry out the objectives of the catalog so eloquently described and urged upon us by Lubetzky does not bode well for our future as a profession. The rest of the world has become enamored of Google. Google cannot carry out the objectives of the catalog either. But if our choice is between online public access catalogs that are expensive but cannot carry out the objectives of the catalog, and Google that is cheap and cannot carry out the objectives of the catalog, I know what the choice is likely to be. And when we try to argue for the continuing existence of our profession on the basis of our expertise in the organization of information, what scholar in the humanities is going to stand up for us, after spending a career trying to navigate the chaos we have created in our catalogs for searchers of known prolific works?”

  2. Jonathan:

    Thanks for the kind words–I’ll definitely keep your post around to read during those times when I feel like a voice crying in the wilderness! And how flattering to be mentioned in the same post as Ada Lovelace, Elaine Svenonius, and my good friend and partner-in-crime, Karen Coyle.

    You definitely made my day, week, month, and maybe even year (it’s only March!).

    I read your blog all the time, and find it rewarding even when it doesn’t mention me :-)


  3. Thanks Diane.

    I’m actually listening to that interview with you I linked to above for the first time. It’s such good stuff!

    I’d encourage you to write some kind of article about a lot of the content in there. How MARC came to be a content standard, and what that means. Why the kind of formal description you are working on is important, what it enables. So much good stuff in there.

    I think many professional catalogers still don’t understand what the formal description stuff you are doing with RDA _means_, why it matters. You explain it quite well in that interview.

    Makes me wish there were interviews with Lubetzky on his work.

    Also makes me realize that my transformation to library geek is complete and irreversible — I’m finding this interview absolutely fascinating, and thinking how any non-library (and some library) friends of mine would find it incomprehensibly dull.

  4. Great post, Jonathan. I agree with you on all the ladies mentioned. I had a similar ‘watcher of the skies’ moment when I discovered Svenonius’ book. One of those books where every word carries weight and value.

    I laughed so hard when I first read that Lubetzky poem. I _was_ going to say as a poet she makes a great cataloguer — but every time I read it I grow fonder of it. Who else but a cataloguer could come up with these lines:

    “The truths Panizzi adumbrated
    Seymour Lubetzky elevated…” lol

    And I agree with your comment to Diane about the DC-RDA work not yet clicking with the general cataloguing community. I expected it to create an earthquake. To me that jump from AACR-in-MARC to RDA-in-RDF is mind-blowing in its implications. Up there with Cutter’s Rules, Dewey’s DDC and the Paris Principles in impact. But at a day-long RDA seminar here last year it rated one throw away sentence. Perhaps listening to Diane’s presentations and interviews can bring about satori.


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