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Xiaoli Li

Library’s Xiaoli Li to Lead National Committee on Cataloging, Metadata

A hearty congratulations to Xiaoli Li, who leads the library’s Content Support Services department — the team that oversees critical work behind the scenes like purchasing our library resources and assigning the metadata, or search terms, that enable people to find what they’re looking for in our online catalog and other discovery tools. Xiaoli has recently been tapped to lead an influential international community that develops cataloging standards that guide how thousands of libraries in this country and elsewhere do their work.

Xiaoli has been selected as Chair-Elect of the Policy Committee for the Program for Cooperative Cataloging (PCC), an organization supported by the Library of Congress that facilitates collaboration among major academic and government libraries like Harvard and the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. While most of the PCC’s members are in North America, English-speaking libraries around the world are also members; the international scope of PCC includes institutions in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Peru. The PCC is widely recognized for its standards development, training activities, and efforts to improve cataloging efficiencies through automation.

“For those of us who care about metadata, this is the one of the most prestigious committees you can serve on,” Xiaoli says in describing the role of the PCC’s Policy Committee. “It’s an opportunity to help shape policy at the national and international level.”

So what is metadata, and why does it matter?

Metadata is information that describes each item in a library’s collection to help people search for and find what they need. It is what powers our online catalog search.

“If cataloging isn’t done right,” Xiaoli explains, “people won’t be able to find what they’re looking for.”

In addition, when libraries share common standards for metadata with one another — meaning they use the same language to describe items in their collections — they can access the description of each other’s materials, enabling library services like Interlibrary Loan to function.

Internally, metadata helps a library keep track of what’s currently in its collections so that staff can identify what other resources the library should acquire in coming years to fill any gaps.

UC Davis leads the way toward linked data: the future of metadata

Based on a survey of its members earlier this year, one of the PCC Policy Committee’s key areas of focus under Xiaoli’s leadership will be helping libraries make the transition to linked data — the language of the Web.

“Right now, the metadata libraries create can only be used by other libraries,” Xiaoli says. “If we make the transition to linked data, you won’t necessarily have to come to the library website to find our materials. Our metadata would become accessible on the Web.” In a world where most people begin their search with Google, this transition could be tremendously impactful in making the resources in libraries easier to find and share.

Xiaoli is well prepared to help lead this transition and advise other libraries, since UC Davis is one of the pioneer libraries in the country to investigate the integration of linked data into its day-to-day work. Some libraries have been experimenting with the conversion of their existing catalog records to linked data, but UC Davis is leading the way in thinking about how to create new catalog records as linked data in the first place. The UC Davis Library’s work on this front is informed by a recently concluded research project called “Reinventing Cataloging: Models for the Future of Library Operations”, for which Xiaoli was a primary member of the research team.

“Libraries are at a stage of transition in thinking about how metadata can be created and used, both within and beyond the library community. I’m honored to have the opportunity to help shape the future of cataloging at this pivotal point,” Xiaoli said.

She added, “By thinking about policy at the same time that we’re getting more practical experience with linked data here at UC Davis, I’ll be able to serve our own community better.”