oXygen Review from New Metadata Learners

The following post was submitted by students enrolled in LIS2407 – Metadata at the University of Pittsburgh School of Information Sciences. For more information on the series, see the introductory post

By Gesina Phillips and Christie Kliewer

As this editorial is based on our particular experience with oXygen, it is important to first provide some context for our analysis. We are two MLIS students in our final semester, during which we are taking a class focusing on metadata. The metadata course in our program is an elective (as is cataloging). The class size is far larger than is typical, as many students have chosen to take this class to gain a working familiarity with metadata standards and schema before they enter the job market.

In this course we have the benefit of being able to gain some familiarity with a range of metadata structures in a programmatic environment. In many cases, however, it seems that the primary environment for learning about metadata is on the job. This is also the case for a number of professional competencies, but given the comparatively recent emergence of metadata as a branch of librarianship, it may be challenging for those who are encountering it for the first time to find resources to develop their skills. To that end, it is important that librarians dealing with metadata rely on good tools and effective training from within the library community. Even those fortunate enough to have a metadata librarian working with them would benefit from library-specific support communities and open metadata schema and documentation.

In our attempt to review oXygen, we sought to understand whether there were other resources widely used and accepted among metadata librarians. While our limited experience with cataloging has led us to test (and struggle with) the suite of tools available through the Library of Congress and OCLC resources, we found very few practical resources for learning and exploring practical metadata. We learned to use oXygen through guided work in our course, where we used the tool to create and edit records for a digital collection. We have found oXygen to be frustrating in some ways but also very helpful in others. Overall we felt that the documentation and beginner’s guides were lacking and that the field would benefit from contributing to the realm of online documentation resources.

What oXygen does get right is its constant supportive feedback regarding your work. Considering the relative youth of the metadata field, having a resource that checks whether your records are valid and well-formed without necessarily reading through every record is a huge step towards beneficial computer-assisted librarianship. The software is also very eager to offer assistance upon opening. Under the default installation settings a popup page generated when oXygen is opened offers details on oXygen events, a quick link to the user guide and discussion forums, and quick tips for successful use. The links direct to pages on the company’s website for documentation. Although the guides themselves are lengthy and verbose to the point they were not helpful to us, the design hints that the company is interested in providing assistance.

oXygen is intuitive, but it has the same difficult learning curve as other expert software tools where icons are often only useful when explained by mouseover text. For many of the icon buttons, users are required to click through and experiment with the options to understand what the icon does, and often a web search is required to understand entirely what the option allows for. This type of opacity within the program underlies many of our frustrations with the resource; considering that experienced metadata librarians use this tool, we hope to see librarian-created guides in the future to support development of the field. The software is very responsive in terms of indicating whether your record is valid and well-formed, through the small red-green light found in the upper right corner of the record page, but lacks many intuitive features that would help new metadata librarians become comfortable. Our belief is that if the field seeks to benefit from open schema and standards initiatives, we need to spend time documenting the tools we rely on.

Mike Bolam

Mike Bolam works as the Metadata Librarian in Digital Scholarship Services at the University of Pittsburgh. His primary responsibilities metadata management for digital collections and metadata support for research data management. In his spare time, Mike plays a lot of games and watches too much pro-wrestling.

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