Cataloguing and metadata skills in the publishing world: a visit to the Cambridge University Press offices

A blog post from Kim Taylor, cataloguer, who joined us at the visit to the Cambridge University Press offices:


On the 30th of April, I joined a small, friendly group of cataloguers and metadata professionals in a visit to the Cambridge University Press (CUP) offices. The day-long event was brilliantly organised and hosted by CIG Social Media Manager Concetta La Spada, who is the Metadata Specialist and Senior Library Data Analyst at CUP. As attendees, we represented a healthy mix of cataloguing experiences and perspectives, coming from academic, special and public libraries, as well as the vendor and freelancing side of the spectrum. Hence, none of us required convincing of the value of good metadata in promoting discovery of resources. Improved metadata equals improved discoverability, right? While obvious to cataloguers and metadata experts everywhere (certainly those reading this blog), this dictum has not been so readily embraced by the publishing world – that is, until recently, with institutions such as Cambridge University Press leading the way.


The visit began with a morning tour of the Press museum – where, amongst other exhibits, we were treated to the fascinating story of the 11th edition of the CUP Encyclopaedia Britannica that accompanied, and provided intellectual sustenance for, Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men on their ill-fated, though heroic, Antarctic expedition. While the documents and artefacts on display each held significance in their own right – including an assortment of steel punches designed by John Baskerville, of the Baskerville font fame, and a folio edition of the King James Bible (1638) – I was struck by the fact that they so pointedly traced the development of the world’s oldest publisher, whose first book was published well over four centuries ago (1584, to be precise).

DSC_4809_Press Museum

As enjoyable as it was to browse items from CUP’s collections, the afternoon sessions provided some of the even more enlightening moments of the day. Presented by various representatives from CUP’s marketing and content operations, these informative and informal talks offered unique insight into the world of publishing and, more importantly, the expanding role of bibliographic metadata within that world, particularly e-resources. We learned, too, that Cambridge, in another first, was also one of the earliest academic publishers to provide ‘in-house’ cataloguing – and for free, it should be mentioned – to its customers, a move that more publishers are now following. Specifically, the provision of accurate, comprehensive metadata to customers is now viewed as an integral component of CUP’s products and services.

The presentations by CUP staff covered a range of topics: from the challenges of compatibility between CUP’s many bespoke services and customer systems (some of which are still very print-centric) to the resistance on the part of some authors (and even some customers) in accepting the critical role of metadata in supporting access to and use of resources. Cambridge, like other publishers, has begun to place more onus on its authors to supply keywords and indexing of the works they submit for publication. This action underscores the growing commitment of CUP to facilitate the essential service provided by people like Concetta. It also helps to educate those librarians who might still need to be convinced of the value of quality metadata in supporting their work, particularly with respect to the ever-increasing challenges – and opportunities – of the linked data environment.

The work Concetta performs has helped to elevate the Press beyond its stature as one of the premiere publishers of academic content to that of a respected provider of comprehensive bibliographic metadata, confirmed by the decidedly positive reactions of customers to CUP’s efforts. In fact, the response further encouraged CUP to undertake retrospective enhancement of its existing bibliographic records, spanning over 20,000 titles.

The key takeaway of the day (apart from the much appreciated reusable, thermal bottle) was the unqualified commitment on the part of CUP to invest in cataloguing talent so crucial to this still relatively new initiative on the part of publishers – i.e., to provide not just published works, but quality metadata to promote the discovery and use of these works. As such, CUP, and publishers who follow suit, now find themselves in pursuit of the knowledge and skills offered by professional cataloguers and metadata experts, which is good news for the library and information profession overall and, not least, the employment prospects of those seeking work within it.



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