Discovery tools with search engine functionality are increasingly being introduced to replace traditional library OPACs. What does this mean for those creating or managing metadata, the catalogers? The role of catalogers gets more important, because however nifty the frond-end is, the underlying data has to be accurate to be useful and to enable findability, and this is even more true now than it was in the days of the OPAC. Catalogers thus have greater responsibility towards the user. Fill in fields correctly or not at all, but not carelessly – data has to be as reliable as possible for machine processing and for the display generated from it. Fields that seem insignificant today may be essential for tomorrow’s technology. We don’t create metadata just for current systems or tools, we also want it to be usable in the future that may yield possibilities we can’t yet foresee.
Discovery systems uncover mistakes or blind spots in the data which in OPACs no one would really have noticed. MARC (or in Germany and Austria MAB) fields that have thus far not been used for display in OPACs now become more visible and actually influence findability to a considerable degree. Some key elements merit special attention. For example, certain facets for browsing are determined by the content of fixed fields (media type, language, country of publication…). If these fields are filled in incorrectly or not at all, search quality suffers and users might be led in wrong directions. The same is true for media type icons. Classification faceting pretends to be meaningful – but can the user be sure that all records in the system have subject headings? I know for a fact that in the cataloging network I’m working in, many records don’t, and these are lost to this particular facet.
Any discovery tool is only as good as the metadata, and the metadata is, in the current cataloging workflow, only as good as the skills of those handling it. Catalogers should be involved in the implementation process of a discovery tool, and awareness has to be raised about what consequences their work has on users’ search and discovery experience. Some cataloging guidelines might have to be adapted in order for the metadata to be fully exploitable in this new environment. This should happen early to keep the amount of metadata to be manipulated later as small as possible.