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veritasHarvard University Library Notes, For Harvard Library Staff, Number 1335 January 2007

Harvard University Library Notes / January 2007 / No. 1335

ULC's Task Group on Discovery and Metadata Takes Flight

The University Library Council's (ULC) ad hoc Task Group on Discovery and Metadata began its work during the fall of 2006. The need for the Task Group reflects rapidly evolving realities for research libraries in general and for the Harvard Libraries specifically.

A summary of recent developments in discovery and metadata that led to the Task Group, together with the Task Group's charge, are provided below. The Task Group hopes to complete its work by the end of the 2006-2007 academic year. In the course of its work, the Task Group plans to bring in speakers with valuable perspectives on these issues to meet with the committee and to make public presentations to the Harvard library community.


We are surrounded by dramatic developments in how users discover scholarly resources, including:

  • enormous improvements in searching systems, including highly effective relevance ranking, the use of "social" features ("others who liked this also liked...", annotation and rating, tagging), and faceted result sets (NCSU, OpenWorldCat);
  • explosive growth of full-text search systems (Google Book Search and Scholar, Amazon, JSTOR, etc.);
  • the entry of new powerful commercial players into the library "discovery space" (Google, Amazon, Microsoft); and
  • increasing attention to ways of discovering resources previously scattered across heterogeneous "stove-pipe" applications, including the use of metasearch agents (MetaLib and its competitors) and huge aggregations, such as Google Scholar, Elsevier's Scirus and Scopus, and Microsoft Live.

These have led to a much more aware user population, with new expectations and new habits of searching, browsing, and navigating information spaces.

At the same time, the library community is in upheaval over metadata issues, including:

  • growing use of simplified formats, such as Dublin Core;
  • expansion of library metadata efforts beyond MARC (EAD, GIS, CCO);
  • rethinking of AACR2 (RDA); and debates about the importance of metadata for discovery in a world of full text.

These two domains are of course closely related: much of the library community's investment in metadata is intended to support discovery.

Several libraries have recently conducted studies in the domains of discovery and metadata that have received a fair amount of attention in the field:

These developments and issues are of enormous importance to the Harvard libraries. Hundreds of Harvard library staff members are engaged in the creation and maintenance of metadata of various sorts. A large part of our technology effort is related to the various catalogs (Aleph, VIA, OASIS, HGL); metadata creation and maintenance systems (Aleph, OLIVIA, HGL); and discovery tools (the portal, MetaLib, SFX). The libraries spend significant dollars to license abstracting and indexing databases (Web of Science, EBSCO, etc.); full-text databases (LexisNexis, Proquest, etc.); and metadata services (OCLC, SFX Knowledge Base, MarcIt, sets of records for electronic collections). Given our level of investment, and the importance of discovery services to Harvard library users, it is critical that library administration be informed about environmental changes, current trends, new thinking, and leading-edge developments in this domain.


The Task Group on Discovery and Metadata will conduct a study of developments and trends in the discovery and metadata domains in order to:

  • open the discussion within the wider Harvard library community about the implications of a changing environment;
  • inform library management's planning and decision-making in the domains of metadata and discovery; and
  • initiate new projects, changes in priorities, and changes in operations as appropriate.

The key deliverables for the Task Group will be:

  • A review of the current landscape. This is intended to inform the University Library Council and other administrators of the current state of both thinking and actual developments in the field. Because the environment is changing so rapidly, this should be done fairly quickly, sacrificing completeness and depth as necessary in order to capture a good current high-level picture. Discussion of this report should help inform the second phase of the Task Group's work.
  • A framework for how Harvard libraries should think about change in these domains. This is intended to provide the ULC and other library administrators with a larger picture within which specific decisions on discovery systems and services, and metadata creation and maintenance, can be made.
  • Recommendations for HUL activity. Based on its study and thinking, the Task Group should list both short- and long-term projects or changes in operations it believes appropriate.

Members of the Task Group on Discovery and Metadata

  • Corrina Baksik, systems librarian, HUL Office for Information Systems
  • John W. Collins III, librarian of the Gutman Library, Harvard Graduate School of Education
  • Marilyn Dunn, executive director of the Schlesinger Library and librarian of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study
  • Dale Flecker, associate director of the University Library for systems and planning
  • Diane Geraci, librarian for the social sciences, Harvard College Library
  • Rebecca Graham, associate librarian designate, Harvard College Library
  • David Osterbur, public access and services librarian, Countway Library of Medicine, Harvard Medical School
  • Robin Wendler, metadata analyst, HUL Office for Information Systems


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