Metadata During COVID – Part II


Mandy Mastrovita, Dana Reijerkerk, and Rebecca Fried of the DLF AIG Metadata Working Group Blog subgroup, and Annamarie Klose of the DLF AIG-MWG Tools subgroup, contributed to this post.


Metadata assessment and remediation continue to be necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the prevalence of remote work opportunities and the loss of access to physical collections. Members of the DLF AIG Metadata Working Group engage in ongoing discussions of how their institutions have increased their capacity for metadata work. This post is part two of a series about COVID-19 metadata projects and activities. 

You can find part one of this series at

Return to in-library work

In some institutions, metadata has now moved to the back seat as physical collections and in-person service return to top priority. However, the demand for access to online content hasn’t dropped. On the contrary, people want more online content now that they know how to use these resources and have higher expectations for how they will be delivered. 

One metadata librarian (who asked to remain anonymous) notes that, at his institution, “there was certainly an assumption that ‘anyone can do this’ and ‘it will be an easy solution for ‘work from home.’” Kate Flynn, Digital Programs & Metadata Project Librarian at the University of Illinois at Chicago, adds, “It also caused shifts in workflows as well as new ones. You may have created metadata before but found that you were doing assessment and corrections instead.”

How do we balance these demands and shift resources to support this work?

Dana Reijerkerk, the Knowledge Management and Digital Assets Librarian at Stony Brook University Libraries, says that in March 2020, various members of Resource Management at Stony Brook University Libraries began working together to remediate and create metadata. Previously, metadata work was ad hoc and dependent on reporting lines. Some colleagues picked up this work as a way to continue operations while being remote. Interdepartmental collaboration is now the norm. For example, the digital asset manager, a cataloger, the Director of Special Collections and University Archivist, and library administrators are working to streamline metadata creation and MARC record ingests of electronic theses and dissertations. This workflow was only possible by piloting remote work and opening opportunities for collaborative asynchronous operations. 

Mandy Mastrovita, a digital projects librarian at the Digital Library of Georgia, says that since the COVID era began in 2020, our metadata unit has become much closer, thanks to the countless sidebar meetings we arranged during the pandemic. We love this! 

Building new workflows requires trial and error. Our workflows for metadata are always changing to match the skills of students, classified staff, and librarians. One size does not fit all!

We’ve spent so much time figuring out what our projects need and designing new workflows with tools like the Google suite, Teams, OpenRefine, and GitHub that let us pick up most of our workflows online. With these reinvestigations of our workflows, our metadata team has been able to cross-train in different parts of our processes more effectively. Now, we’re more flexible, and we’ve made our workflows more modular so they can work better. This work has vastly improved our adaptability.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we embarked on a transcription project to involve student workers. The materials included several collections’ worth of sermons and letters from the 19th century, handwritten in cursive. Although our students completed a good chunk of the work, we decided when we returned to the office that the student output yielded FAR less than a vendor would have for the same project. 

Becky Fried, a digital projects and metadata librarian at Union College in Schenectady, New York, discovered that COVID and the New York Pause allowed her organization to take a step back, regroup, and reorganize how digital projects and metadata are managed and captured. Metadata work mostly paused. Instead, a backlog of projects that were digitized and described but not published was the focus for remote work. Opportunities to partner with other institutional departments to support such events as the Annual Steinmetz Symposium in an online forum flourished. Those partnerships have led to rich collections of material now that in-person events have restarted. Library staff completed a transcription project that served as a trial run for an upcoming crowd-sourced transcription project using Omeka with the Scripto plug-in for an NHPRC grant received in 2021 for “Expanding and Enhancing Description and Access to the John Bigelow Papers at Union College.”

Annamarie Klose, Metadata Initiatives Librarian, The Ohio State University Libraries, notes that COVID metadata projects assisted by staff and student employees significantly impacted her work with Digital Collections (DC). Thousands of records were created and updated due to collaboration with employees who don’t typically work on metadata. Successes included ingesting more than 10,000 issues of the university’s student newspaper, The Lantern, and hundreds of audiovisual materials. However, we also learned important lessons. 

Non-metadata employees worked better on carefully structured tasks and included significant documentation to follow. In the case of The Lantern, this meant verifying that metadata spreadsheets and digital files were matched and prepped for ingest and passed quality review after ingest. In terms of assisting with description, Metadata Initiatives (MI) has to review metadata from non-metadata employees to ensure it conforms to national and international best practices. Subject analysis, in particular, requires more training and expertise to create proper metadata that adheres to established standards. 

Non-metadata employees tended to do better with tasks that involved a set list of options, e.g., limited controlled vocabulary terms, to assign related to content. There were also some successful collaborations with catalogers who don’t usually create Dublin Core metadata. For example, one cataloger remediated thousands of digitized comic strips to provide subject analysis and summaries for each. However, traditional catalogers often found working with a customized version of Dublin Core to be a new experience. MI’s work to provide remote work for staff and student employees also required the creation of new workflows and documentation to manage these efforts. 

Managing a large group of people with virtual tools, including BOX, provided challenges. A few less tech-savvy employees found the collaborative tools daunting. But some employees liked working with metadata and thought it was a welcome change of pace. Typically a small unit, MI is still getting through the backlog of work processed during the early phase of the pandemic.

A couple of great places to go if you want to hear from other metadata librarians who are trying to find solutions to their ongoing projects as they endure COVID growing pains are the AIG-MWG Slack channel and the AIG-MWG Google group.

These are both forums to ask your colleagues questions about adapting workflows, sharing resources, and working collaboratively remotely and in person. So many of us have figured out things that work within the environments we have developed at our institutions. Reaching out to other folks who work in similar situations might relieve you of having to recreate the wheel on your own.

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