Volume 37 no.2 June 2017


Richard N. Leigh, Column Editor

Metadata Standards and Web Services in Libraries, Archives, and Museums: An Active Learning Resource / by Erik Mitchell

This text is intended for library and information science graduate students and for practicing professionals who need “a cursory understanding of the role of metadata in information services and information communities” (p. 13). I disagree with Dr. Mitchell that this work provides a cursory understanding; rather, the book provides too much detail. It is dense, overloaded with computer jargon, and does not really help the reader to understand the concepts presented. I have gained a superficial understanding of metadata and web services and realize the complexity of the intersection of cataloging, metadata, information science, web services, and computer programming; I couldn’t, however, sit down and write some good XML code or Dublin Core after reading this book.

Dr. Mitchell is Associate University Librarian and Associate CIO at the University of California, Berkeley. His doctorate is from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is well qualified to write a book about metadata and it is clear from his writing that his understanding of the topics presented is well advanced. The problem is that too often he shoots over the head of his reader. To give you an example, here’s a sentence where he is explaining figure 8.15, which is two and half pages of MARCXML: “The <xsl : value-of> statement will output into the generated document the text contained within the first element of the XML document that matches the specified XPath path specified in the ‘select’ attribute, in this case the first <subfield> element child of the first <datafield> child of the first <record> XML element” (p. 231-232). Note that this sentence refers to XPath, but it isn’t until several paragraphs later that he begins discussion of what XPath is.

I found the footnotes to be annoying. The footnotes don’t appear on the page where the citation occurs, but rather at the end of the chapter. These are abbreviated references, like in-text citations, so that I had to flip to the bibliography at the end of the book to get the complete citation. I did this a number of times until I realized that I was losing the thread of the discussion each time that I followed the footnote.

The bibliography does provide cross references, but there is no glossary in this book. In light of the many acronyms, it would be helpful to a reader to have a glossary to consult (e.g., “what is AJAX again?”), if not an actual definition of each term. Some of the terms in the book are italicized, but I did not see an explanation for why that was done, as one would typically expect to find within the introduction; also, these terms are not always in the index (e.g., “boundary spanners” on page 265).

I disliked the diagrams in this book because they are often too dark and the text is blurry, making them difficult to study. Many are fuzzy white text on a dark background, like a negative image, when a positive image would be easier to see. If a revised edition of this book is published, I think most of the diagrams should be completely redone.

Words are frequently missing in this text, like in this sentence: “The information lifecycle is a useful framework for thinking [about] the aspects of information and information services” (p. 9). That may seem like a little thing, but when the concepts become dense, it is an even greater struggle to understand what Dr. Mitchell means. There are so many examples of editorial errors that I eventually stopped marking them all because it would be too long to list them in this review. The most egregious—and funniest—error: table 5.2 has a last row labeled “Organization structure,” but the next box says: “THIS WAS INCOMPLETE IN THE MANUSCRIPT. NEED ADDITIONAL INFORMATION FROM THE AUTHOR” and the rest of the row is blank! I would be embarrassed to be the editor of this book. S/he seems to be asleep at the wheel. I think it would be helpful to have Dr. Mitchell read through it word for word, correct each error, and have a corrected edition published.

As to the content, I did not find a great deal that should have been briefly discussed, but I did find one thing. When discussing the barriers to change (p. 37 and elsewhere), Dr. Mitchell could mention the staff costs in learning and retraining on a new system.

There are online worksheets and answer keys that can be used in conjunction with the text. These are considerable extra resources; one worksheet that I selected at random was fifteen pages long. Interestingly, I noticed “LASM” used as an acronym at the website, whereas “LAM” is used in the text (for Libraries, Archives, and Museums). Apparently “schools” was considered an added venue at one point.

One of my co-workers is currently taking classes in an ALA-accredited school. For his “Metadata” class, he used a text by Steven J. Miller, Metadata for Digital Collections: A How-To-Do-It Manual (New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2011). After examining this text, I heartily recommend that it be used in an LIS introductory metadata class, instead of Dr. Mitchell’s book. Dr. Mitchell’s text may be an acceptable choice for the practicing professional who has a computer programming background; however, I think Dr. Mitchell’s expertise would be better reflected in a text at a more advanced level than an introductory metadata course.

Published in 2015 by: Libraries Unlimited (viii, 290 p. ; 26 cm.) ISBN 9781610694490 ; softcover : $75.00


Reviewed by: Shelley L. Rogers
Senior Cataloger & Associate Professor
Irvine Sullivan Ingram Library
University of West Georgia