metadata and my very non-technical job

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As I may have mentioned before, I am currently working part-time at an optical retailer.  We sell both contacts and glasses, but I deal mostly on the glasses end.  And after one no-doctor Saturday (i.e. no appointments, just walk-ins with prescriptions, so more free time for us employees) I keep the walls where the glasses live organized.  The “designer” wall is just grouped with like designers by like designers, as is the kids’ wall; the men’s wall is designers within price points (our schtick is heavily reliant on price points and bargains, so it’s important to keep things where you can say “yes, you’re looking for the blue tags, they’re in these sections”) and the women’s wall, which my desk faces, is… rainbow-ordered frames within alphabetically-organized designers within price points.

I get at least three customers every day I’m there asking me “how do I know where everything goes” or joking that I must have OCD to keep it so organized.  “I designed the system of organization, and I do in fact have OCD,” I reply with a smile.  (It’s true, and not in the dumb way that people sometimes mean on joke t-shirts.  I’ve been clinically diagnosed.  It’s not problematic for me, it’s just part of who I am and I roll with it.  My psychiatrist actually told me that librarianship was a perfect field for someone with what he described as “autism-flavored OCD,” which is how he unofficially diagnosed me.)

But what it comes down to is, I want our glasses to be as easily physically found as they would be on a website, where they are in fact allegedly organized with some basic forms of metadata (search by price, search by color, search by designer).  I like being able to say “the purple Sofia Vergaras [she designs eyeglasses, who knew?] are going to be in this area” and I like knowing where, say, the frames that I know of as being cat-eye are.  I know where all my frames are because I put them there.  I organized it.

And wouldn’t it be nice if people were as accepting of metadata usage in real life as they are on computers!  Everyone expects that say, on my company’s website you can go looking for frames that are $79.95 by clicking the $79.95 designator, or if you enter “pink frames” in the search box it will turn up a list of all of the frames designated as being pink.  Yet the fact that I want to organize things that efficiently in real life is somehow humorous?  Despite the fact that I do it so I can find what people are looking for and they don’t get mad because they accidentally picked up something in the wrong price point.

Or at a library, you expect that the books are going to be shelved according to type or genre – mysteries, plays, nonfiction, graphic novels, etc. – and then shelved in alphabetical order by author, then within that author in alphabetical order.  Love in the Time of Cholera will be shelved before One Hundred Years of Solitude, and they’ll be on a different shelf than Fun Home.  If the librarian sees that The Princess Diaries is for some reason mistakenly shelved by Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy, they will return it to its proper location and nobody will laugh about it.  I suppose what I’m saying is I long for the world where metadata is accepted and even encouraged, and not the world where the regional supervisor says “well, you know your job is sales” when you say that your greatest strength is organizing things so they can be more easily found by customers.

why correct metadata is important

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I was just looking at a Mallory Ortberg piece about paintings inaccurately tagged as being about seduction.

(It’s hilarious, of course, but then again all of her stuff is.  She’s my hero.)

This actually brings up a good point, though: if descriptive metadata had been appropriately applied to these paintings, maybe Wikipedia wouldn’t categorize them so obviously incorrectly.  Librarians, take note.  While it would mean missing out on humorous web articles like this one, it would in the long run lead to more effectively categorized and therefore searchable data if we just put a little more effort into descriptive metadata characterization.

the Dublin Core and Tumblr

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dublin core

  1. Title (this case the bolded post title)
  2. Creator (this would be searchable sitewide by my username)
  3. Subject (in this case the character name tags, the canon tag, the relationship tags)
  4. Description
  5. Publisher (this would be searchable on the web at large by searching username + Tumblr)
  6. Contributor (this is how I would reference either the content of the post – in this case, mcu, whedonverse; in others, specific creator names – or coauthors – other Tumblr users, usually)
  7. Date (6 days ago – a built in mechanism)
  8. Type (in this case, mculadiesweek: the type here, which is a hyperlink in the title, represents the weeklong sitewide organization)
  9. Format (in this case, graphics tag)
  10. Identifier (in this case, made by moi, girlcrushes, geek heroines, etcetera)
  11. Source (see below)
  12. Language (I know that I have multilingual friends who tag non-English posts with the language they’re in)
  13. Relation (see the above mention of hyperlink in the group title, as well as its relevant tag)
  14. Coverage (in this case, the tagged canon; sometimes the tagged seasons or elements of the canon)
  15. Rights

My god I’ve been somewhat using the Dublin Core to tag my Tumblr posts.  Also Tumblr inherently adheres to some of it, some of what is not above (reblogs will link both the original source and the source reblogged from, tags will also show related posts by other users if generally searched, etcetera).  No wonder I’m so fond of select social media.  I can organize the life out of it to professional standarsd

Article Response #3

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My response to this article is honestly mostly incoherent noises of longing.  I am the kind of nerd who loves doing things like this.  Tumblr tagging is a pastime of mine that I’ve mentioned before and that I have been complimented on by friends of friends: a typical fandom post of mine will be tagged with character name[s], actor name[s], canon name[s], overarching universe[s] featured, post type, series of the post if relevant, and at least a few arbitrary personal categories.  I have devoted entire nights to subcategorizing Tumblr posts, or subcategorizing lists of works (how many books on the list are written by female authors of color? etc.), or making giant, essentially pointless charts of relationships between things and categories (my project of the moment is a diagram of characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and organizations/groups they are affiliated with) because it’s just fun.

All of this is to say that reading about data wrangling gives me a weird little glimmer of hope.  Somewhere out there is a job for me that might actually be perfect.

article response #2

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I have a kneejerk reaction to strong-or discussions of print/publishing technology, and that is not because I disagree with online publishing (I’m a nerdblogger in several ways, I appreciate that) but because when the discussion gets often fatalistic in a way.  Books or digital.  One must die to allow the other.  (There can only be one?)

As I alluded on Twitter, so many discussions like this make me frustrated because the tone can be derisive.  Yes, everyone has access to digital publishing mediums.  Yes, some of what gets published is less “consequential” than others.  But describing content in such terms as below strikes me as a bit snobbish sometimes.  “Less valuable,” “trivial” – not entirely untrue descriptions, but they do carry a certain judgment, sort of implying that official publishers serve as a gatekeeper of what is “valuable” and “serious.”

As access to easy-to-use and inexpensive publishing technology increases, it becomes economically feasible to publish smaller and less valuable pieces of content. We have reached the point where anyone with access to the Internet can easily and cheaply publish trivial, tiny pieces of information — even single words.

Maybe that’s just my social justice side talking, though.  No, not everything that gets published online is of the same significance as a history textbook, per se, but – on the other hand, single words sometimes chronicle history as it’s happening and through the eyes of those experiencing it, not just an editorial gatekeeper removed from the situation with untold personal slants, and as a librarian, I celebrate equal access to perspectives, and will do my very best to maintain, organize, and apply metadata to all of those perspectives as necessary.