I had the opportunity last night to attend a meeting of the Data Management Specialist Group of BCS, the Chartered Insitute for IT. I wish my classmates had been there because my learning outcome from this experience was special indeed.
With three talks taking place at BCS simultaneously, I had to peer through cracks in the wall in order to determine the correct venue for An Evening of Metadata. There was an acronym on the door that I didn't recognise, and the evening went from there. Arriving as the talks began, the only accessible seating was on the front row, where I noticed on either side of me some interesting gadgets that I hadn't actually seen before - someone's large personal microphone connected to a digital recorder, that seemed disproportionate to both the size of the venue and the occasion, and a computer writing tablet of some description.
Shortly into the first talk, I felt confident that I had no idea what was being communicated here. I couldn't tell you what metadata this was, or what it was for; I couldn't tell you who had designed it or why; I certainly didn't know how it functioned. It was a strange feeling of registering every word that was being said, writing most of that down in my notebook, and yet not understanding the meaning behind any of it. While the talk was in English, I had so little grasp of any context that I may well have benefitted as much had I received the talks in an antique dialect of the jungles of Yucatan.
So, was a semester of metadata a total waste of time? I had, after all, registered for this event at the recommendation of my tutor. Actually, for me, feeling like some kind of undercover agent about to be smoked out if he opened his mouth, there was something much more interesting going on here. In a simplistic way, DAM lies at a convergence between traditional information science and information technology. It would seem that both are employed more or less equally, with some solid management thrown in. I've already thought a great deal about the meeting of traditional preservation and digital preservation - I see it all the time (it's in my last posting, in fact). But until last night, I had never engaged with the IT sector in any way. My realisation was that, if one drew a line between the traditional information sciences and IT, then I was very much clinging to the former extreme, and much more so than I had realised previously.
This is important, because I feel that DAM needs to operate amongst all of these sectors. Increasingly, I am beginning to appreciate the importance of mediation in DAM. It's hard to imagine communicating the content of last night's event to a rare books librarian, for example, but at times, that's exactly what you need to do. We're 'migratory animals', as my colleague put it, and a good understanding (or sensititivy, at least) for information science, IT and business is just the beginning. From there, you can get on with the actual task of doing your DAM job.