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The URM Metadata Management System: Bringing Library Catalogs to the Network


John Larson, Requirements Analyst, Ex Libris

The Ex Libris Unified Resource Management framework (URM™) provides libraries with a suite of the traditional functions necessary to streamline current management tasks across print, electronic, and digital resources. In addition, the framework is designed to support the transformational activities—for example, managing e-research, institutional repositories, and preservation—that are required to meet the changing needs of a library’s parent organization and user community. Offered primarily as a network service, the framework leverages the collective effort of its participating libraries in such areas as collection development, metadata management, and resource sharing. The URM framework embraces the Ex Libris open-platform strategy, which enables libraries to customize or extend functionality based on local requirements.

Within this framework, a metadata management system (MMS) addresses the need for high-quality metadata in a streamlined management environment. The system provides a centralized cataloging infrastructure that enables libraries to share the work of describing resources without limiting each library’s ability to manage its unique collections.

Institutional requirements for metadata management are changing. Libraries must connect users to an increasingly complex array of resources that are in a variety of formats and are stored in a variety of locations—locally and remotely, in digital repositories and in vendor databases. To manage this intricate web of resources, libraries need rich descriptive metadata more than ever. But in times of financial pressure, libraries have to maintain their high standard of metadata quality without the associated costs.

In the URM architecture, a library has a local inventory that describes the library’s collection. Inventory records store all the information needed to access an actual resource—be it physical or digital, local or remote—and are linked to descriptive metadata residing in the MMS. An advantage of this decoupling of the catalog and the inventory is that the items in the inventory record the distinct characteristics of the individual resources, while the MMS unifies the description of resources across many different collections.

The MMS merges centralized and local approaches to library cataloging. The system is divided into two parts: a community zone and a library zone.

The library zone is similar to a traditional catalog: it's composed of local catalogs over which individual institutions or consortia wish to maintain stewardship.

The community zone is a central repository of bibliographic and authority records. A community catalog contains bibliographic records that are accessed and managed by the whole community. Today, libraries across the world are describing and managing many of the same resources. If every library has the English version of War and Peace, for example, they’re all using the same basic version of a record to describe the item. Today’s cataloging environment requires each library to download and manage the record locally. With a community catalog, libraries can bring their catalogs out of their silos and onto the network. When one library enhances a record in the community catalog, all libraries linked to that record benefit immediately. Not only is the maintenance burden of local metadata management reduced, but the central records are improved by ongoing community enrichment.

The world of bibliographic description is becoming more complex, and libraries need a way to manage that complexity without sacrificing quality. The MMS supports shared bibliographic description and is tightly integrated with system processes and staff workflows. By sharing the workload, libraries can balance the reduction of costs with the need to continue providing rich descriptive metadata that binds increasingly varied collections.